European Mistletoe

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What is it?

European mistletoe is a plant that grows on several different trees. The berry, leaf, and stem of European mistletoe are used to make medicine.

Interest in mistletoe for cancer has grown in North America, ever since Suzanne Somers announced on Larry King Live that she is using it to treat her breast cancer. European mistletoe has been used for treating cancer since the 1920s, especially in Europe. Several brand name mistletoe extracts are available there: Iscador, Eurixor, Helixor, Isorel, Vysorel, and ABNOBAviscum. So far these products are not readily available in North America. There is no proof that they work for breast or other cancers. Using European mistletoe can also be unsafe. Avoid these products and stick with proven cancer treatments.

It is effective?
Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

Possibly Ineffective for …

  • Head and neck cancer. Injecting European mistletoe extract into the skin before or after surgery or radiation for head and neck cancers does not improve survival.

Insufficient Evidence to Make a Determination for …

  • Bladder cancer. Some early research suggests that administering European mistletoe extract into the bladder for 6 weeks might reduce bladder cancer recurrence in people who have had bladder cancer surgery. Injecting European mistletoe into the skin for several months might slow the progression of bladder cancer.
  • Breast cancer. Some early research suggests that injecting certain brands of European mistletoe extract into the skin might reduce tumor growth and improve survival in people with breast cancer. But these results have been questioned. Also, a higher quality study did not find benefit. So far, there isn’t enough reliable evidence to support using European mistletoe for this type of cancer. Stick to proven treatments.
  • Colon cancer, rectal cancer. Early research suggests that certain specific European mistletoe extracts, given by injection alone or with conventional therapy, might improve survival in people with colon cancer. But these results have been questioned. So far, there isn’t enough reliable evidence to support using European mistletoe for this type of cancer. Stick to proven treatments.
  • Common cold. Early research suggests that a specific European mistletoe extract, given by injection for 12 weeks, might not treat or prevent the common cold.
  • Stomach cancer. Early research suggests that a specific European mistletoe extract, given by injection under the skin, might improve survival in people with stomach cancer. It might also increase immune function. Benefits of European mistletoe have been questioned. So far, there isn’t enough reliable evidence to support using European mistletoe for this type of cancer. Stick to proven treatments.
  • Swelling (inflammation) of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (hepatitis C). Research about the effectiveness of European mistletoe in people with hepatitis C is conflicting. Some research suggests that injecting a specific extract of European mistletoe may help to fight the infection that causes hepatitis C and improve quality of life in some people. Other research shows that injecting a different European mistletoe product does not help fight the hepatitis C infection but may improve symptoms of hepatitis C.
  • Cancer of the white blood cells (leukemia). Early research suggests that injecting a specific European mistletoe extract might increase the survival of people with chronic myeloid leukemia by more than 2 years.
  • Lung cancer. There is some limited contradictory evidence about the effectiveness of European mistletoe on survival in people with lung cancer. So far, there isn’t enough reliable evidence to support using European mistletoe for this type of cancer. Stick to proven treatments.
  • Build up of fluid and cancer cells in the space between the chest wall and lung (malignant pleural effusions). Early research suggests that giving a specific European mistletoe extract into the pleural space decreases cancer in those with cancer of that area.
  • The most serious type of skin cancer (melanoma). Early research suggests that injecting a specific European mistletoe extract into the skin does not improve survival or increase the time period without the disease in people with melanoma.
  • Ovarian cancer. Early research suggests injecting a specific European mistletoe extract into the skin might help patients with ovarian cancer and undergoing other treatments live longer.
  • Pancreatic cancer. Injecting European mistletoe extract into the skin does not seem to increase remission rates in people with advanced pancreatic cancer. But it might improve survival by about 2 months in people with pancreatic cancer who are no longer able to receive chemotherapy treatment. European mistletoe extract might also help improve survival time when injected into the tumor in people with pancreatic cancer who are receiving chemotherapy.
  • Quality of life. Early research suggests that injecting various European mistletoe extracts into the skin might improve quality of life and well-being in people with cancer when given alone or with chemotherapy.
  • Radiation exposure. Early research suggests that injecting a specific type of European mistletoe extract into the skin for 5 weeks might reduce lung infections and improve symptoms, such as fatigue, sweating, headache, joint pain, emotional instability, and muscle pain in children with repeated lung infections caused by radiation exposure during the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
  • Cancer of the uterus. Early research suggests that injecting a specific type of European mistletoe extract into the skin may to improve survival in people with cancer of the uterus.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Gout.
  • Headache.
  • Hemorrhoids.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Internal bleeding.
  • Menstrual disorders.
  • Seizures.
  • Side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Other conditions.

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of European mistletoe for these uses.

How does it work?
European mistletoe has several active chemicals. It might stimulate the immune system and kill certain cancer cells in a test tube, but it doesn’t seem to work in people.

Is there concern for the safety of its use?
When taken by mouth: European mistletoe is POSSIBLY SAFE when used by mouth in appropriate amounts. Taking three berries or two leaves or less by mouth does not seem to cause serious side effects. However, larger amounts are LIKELY UNSAFE and cause serious side effects. European mistletoe can cause vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, and other side effects. Short-term, frequent use of European mistletoe might cause liver damage.

When given as a shot: European mistletoe is POSSIBLY SAFE when injected beneath the skin in appropriate amounts. However, larger amounts are LIKELY UNSAFE and can cause serious side effects.
Injecting European mistletoe beneath the skin or into the vein can cause fever, chills, skin rashes, pain, nausea, vomiting, allergic reactions, and other side effects.

Because the correct amount is sometimes hard to determine, do not take European mistletoe without the advice of your healthcare professional.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: European mistletoe is LIKELY UNSAFE when taken by mouth or injected under the skin during pregnancy. It might stimulate the uterus and cause a miscarriage.

There isn’t enough reliable information about the safety of taking European mistletoe if you are breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

"Auto-immune diseases" such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: European mistletoe might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it's best to avoid using European mistletoe.

Heart disease: There is some evidence European mistletoe might make heart disease worse. Don't use it if you have a heart problem.

Leukemia: Some test tube studies suggested European mistletoe might be effective against childhood leukemia. But benefits have not been shown in people. In fact, European mistletoe might make leukemia worse. If you have leukemia, don't take European mistletoe.

Liver disease: There is some concern that taking European mistletoe might harm the liver. In theory, European mistletoe might make liver diseases, such as hepatitis, worse. People with liver disease or a history of liver disease should avoid European mistletoe.

Organ transplant: European mistletoe might make the immune system more active. This would be a problem for people who have received an organ transplant. A more active immune system might increase the risk of organ rejection. If you have had an organ transplant, avoid European mistletoe.

Surgery: European mistletoe might affect blood pressure. There is a concern that it might interfere with blood pressure control during and after surgery. Stop taking European mistletoe at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Are there any drug interactions?

Medications for high blood pressure (Antihypertensive drugs)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

European mistletoe seems to decrease blood pressure. Taking European mistletoe along with medications for high blood pressure might cause your blood pressure to go too low.

Some medications for high blood pressure include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), losartan (Cozaar), valsartan (Diovan), diltiazem (Cardizem), Amlodipine (Norvasc), hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDiuril), furosemide (Lasix), and many others.

Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

European mistletoe seems to increase the immune system. By increasing the immune system European mistletoe might decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system.

Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.

Are there any interactions with herbs and supplements?
Hawthorn: There is some evidence that European mistletoe might counteract any positive effects hawthorn might have on heart health.
Herbs and supplements that might harm the liver: There is some concern that European mistletoe might harm the liver. In theory, using European mistletoe along with other products that might harm the liver could increase the risk of dangerous liver damage. Some of these products include androstenedione, chaparral, comfrey, DHEA, germander, niacin, pennyroyal oil, red yeast, and others.
Herbs and supplements that might lower blood pressure: European mistletoe might lower blood pressure. Using it along with other herbs or supplements that have this same effect might lower blood pressure too much. Some of these herbs and supplements include andrographis, casein peptides, cat’s claw, coenzyme Q-10, fish oil, L-arginine, lycium, stinging nettle, theanine, and others.

Are there any interactions with food?
There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?
The appropriate dose of European mistletoe depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for European mistletoe. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

By what other names is the product known?
All-Heal, Banda, Birdlime Mistletoe, Blandeau, Bois de Sainte-Croix, Bouchon, Devil's Fuge, Drudenfuss, Eurixor, Guérit-Tout, Gui, Gui Blanc, Gui Blanc d'Europe, Gui des Feuillus, Gui d'Europe, Gui Européen, Helixor, Herbe de Chèvre, Hexenbesen, Hurchu, Iscador, Isorel, Leimmistel, Mistlekraut, Mistletein, Mistletoe, Muérdago Europeo, Mystyldene, Nid de Sorcière, Pain de Biques, Rini, Verquet, Vert-Bois, Vert de Pommier, Visci, Visci Albi Folia, Visci Albi Fructus, Visci Albi Herba, Visci Albi Stipites, Vogelmistel, Vysorel, Viscum album.

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