Mistletoe in Cancer Treatment

Considering mistletoe for cancer treatment? Learn about its uses, benefits, how it works, and where to find qualified practitioners.
Mistletoe extract is probably the best studied alternative therapy for cancer and one of the most effective. It is widely used in Europe – 40% of all cancer patients in Germany use some form of mistletoe therapy – and yet its use is not common in the US. This is most likely because it is an injected therapy but it is still surprising.

Mistletoe extracts have been shown to improve survival times in a variety of cancers in a range of stages. They have also been shown to increase the efficacy and tolerability of conventional therapies for cancer, like chemotherapy. It can also be used for precancerous conditions as well.

The use of mistletoe for cancer was first suggested by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1917. Steiner is perhaps most famous for developing Waldorf schools and Biodynamic agriculture. He said that cancer is “an area of the physical body which revolts against the whole access of the life forces, so that the latter are, as it were, dammed up and stopped and thus a neoplasm is formed; and the mistletoe counteracts this ‘pocketing’ which has been formed and draws the forces again to the area which they do not want to enter.”

There are many mistletoe species and subspecies – most parasitic plants that don’t affect the roots are considered mistletoes. Mistletoe has a long history of mythic appearances, folk associations and medicinal uses. The modern tradition of kissing under the mistletoe probably derives from its ancient use as a fertility treatment. The association with Christmas comes from the fact that it is often harvested when it blooms – in the winter. The oldest legend involving mistletoe is that of the death of Baldur, the Norse god of peace and beauty, who was killed by Loki using a spear made of mistletoe. Mistletoe was sacred to the druids who used it medicinally.

The predominant type of mistletoe used for cancer treatment is European mistletoe (Viscum album). There are three main subspecies that parasitize different types of trees – one mainly attaching to decidous trees like the apple, one largely pines and one firs. Mistletoes from different trees have different characteristics in terms of their constituents and this is important clinically. We use mistletoe grown on different trees for different types and stages of cancer.
Some of the trees used most commonly are apple, pine, oak, fir and ash. Mistletoe plants are harvested twice a year – in Summer and Winter. This is based on Steiner’s recommendations but it is now known that mistletoe lectin activity is highest in the winter, viscotoxin activity in the summer. Winter and summer extracts are processed separately and later mixed at very high centrifugal pressure.

There are a number of different groups of ingredients in mistletoe that have a variety of anticancer effects:

  • Glycoproteins – Mistletoe lectins (similar to castor oil lectins) – inhibit ribosomal protein synthesis, induce apoptosis, increase NK cell activity
  • Polypeptides – Viscotoxins (similar to some snake venoms) – activate macrophages, increase phagocytosis
  • Peptides – activate macrophages
  • Polysaccharides – stimulate Th1
  • Oligosaccharides – increase NK cell activity

If you are interested in incorporating mistletoe treatment into your cancer regimen, please contact us. Dr. Barker has been using mistletoe preparations with cancer patients for over 20 years.


about the author

Dr. Simon Barker, N.D. treats people of all ages for all conditions with an emphasis on the care of patients with cancer and hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism, menopause, osteoporosis and diabetes. He uses a wide variety of alternative health care approaches including therapeutic diets, exercise, nutritional supplementation, herbal medicine, homeopathy and mistletoe. He was named “Doctor of the Year” by the California Naturopathic Doctors Association in both 2015 and 2023.
Naturopathic medicine allows people to maximize health, minimize reliance on prescription drugs, and take active steps toward longer, healthier lives.

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