European mistletoe (Viscum album) may improve quality of life for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, researchers at the University of Bern, Switzerland, have found.
Mistletoe contains an active ingredient with a hefty name—beta-galactose-specific mistletoe lectin-1, also called ML-1. Previous work done on this component showed that it can enhance the immune system, decrease the spread of tumor cells, increase production of lymphokines (mediators of the immune response), and increase the brain chemical endorphin, which acts similarly to morphine to decrease pain.
In 1996, the Swiss researchers investigated a mistletoe extract standardized to ML-1 called Eurixor, which is made in Germany, to see whether it would help patients with pancreatic cancer, which is rapidly fatal with severe decreases in quality of life.
Sixteen patients with advanced-stage pancreatic cancer were given injections of Eurixor twice weekly until death (an average of 5.6 months) with no other chemotherapy.
None of the patients experienced a decrease in tumor size or an increase in survival time. But the study did show that, for most patients, the disease remained stable, and based on clinical parameters and patients’ subjective opinions, their quality of life improved or stabilized after mistletoe treatment.
The study doesn’t prove that mistletoe is a valuable cancer treatment. Rather, researchers believe that mistletoe can be used with standard chemotherapy to lessen its uncomfortable side effects.
—Cindy L. A. Jones
Friess, H., et al. “Treatment of advanced pancreatic cancer with mistletoe: results of a pilot trial.” Anticancer Research 1996. 16:915–920.