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Mistletoe Extracts (PDQ®): Complementary and alternative medicine - Health Professional Information [NCI] - History

Mistletoe has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. Reviewed in [1,2,3,4,5,6] It was reportedly used by the Druids and the ancient Greeks, and it appears in legend and folklore as a panacea. It has been used in various forms to treat cancer, epilepsy, infertility, menopausal symptoms, nervous tension, asthma, hypertension, headache, and dermatitis. Modern interest in mistletoe as an anticancer treatment began in the 1920s. Reports of more than 30 clinical studies of mistletoe as a treatment for people with cancer have been published since the early 1960s.[7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35,36] Reviewed in [3,37,38] Most of the results of these studies were published exclusively in German. (Refer to the Human/Clinical Studies section of this summary for more information.)

As indicated previously (refer to the General Information section of this summary for more information), proposed mechanisms of action for mistletoe that are relevant to cancer include stimulation of the immune system [7,39,40,41,42,43,44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51,52,53,54,55,56,57,58,59,60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67,68] Reviewed in [1,2,3,8,9,10,11,37,38,69,70,71,72] and a direct toxic effect on tumor cells.[73,74,75,76,77,78,79,80,81,82,83,84,85,86,87,88,89] Reviewed in [1,69,71,90]. Another reported activity that may be relevant to optimum functioning of the immune system in individuals with cancer is stabilization of the DNA in white blood cells, including white blood cells that have been exposed to DNA-damaging chemotherapy drugs.[91,92,93,94] Reviewed in [95]

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Mistletoe has been shown to stimulate increases in the number and the activity of various types of white blood cells.[7,40,41,42,43,44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51,52,53,54,55,56,57,58,59,60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67,68] Reviewed in [2,3,8,9,11,29,38,69,70,71,72,93,95,96,97,98] Immune-system-enhancing cytokines, such as interleukin-1, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor -alpha, are released by white blood cells after exposure to mistletoe extracts.[42,47,57,61,64] Reviewed in [1,3,8,11,29,37,38,69,70,71,72,91,93,94,95,96,98] Other evidence suggests that mistletoe exerts its cytotoxic effects by interfering with protein synthesis in target cells [4,73,81,90,99] Reviewed in [3,8,61,69,70,71,72,79,86,89,92,95,98,100,101] and by inducing apoptosis.[83,95,102] Reviewed in [3,63,69,72,87,98] Mistletoe may also serve a bridging function, bringing together immune system effector cells and tumor cells.[46,103]


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
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