Did you know that mistletoe, the eternal symbol of Christmas, might also be a life-saving cancer therapy?
In fact in Europe mistletoe extract is already being used to treat colon cancer, the second greatest cause of cancer deaths in the Western world. And when a study at the University of Adelaide in Australia looked at how extract of mistletoe affects chemotherapy, they discovered that not only did it make chemotherapy more potent, it was also an effective alternative to chemotherapy in treating colon cancer.
In all, the effectiveness of three different types of mistletoe extract and chemotherapy on colon cancer cells was assessed in this study. At the same time, the impact of mistletoe extract and chemotherapy on healthy intestinal cells was also examined.
Study authors found that mistletoe extract from the Fraxini species, which grows on ash trees, was highly effective against colon cancer cells compared to healthy intestinal cells in laboratory cell culture conditions. In fact, Fraxini extract was more potent against cancer cells compared to chemotherapy - which kills healthy cells along with cancer cells and can lead to very severe side effects, such as oral ulcers and hair loss.
Of the three extracts tested, Fraxini was the only one that showed a reduced impact on healthy intestinal cells compared with chemotherapy. This suggests this species of mistletoe might be a potentially promising candidate against cancer with fewer potential side effects.
Although Fraxini was the most effective of the three extracts tested, other species of mistletoe that grows on other trees or plants could be even more effective. This remains to be tested.
According to the study authors, this promising discovery of the effects of potentially life-saving Fraxini extract is only the first important step. They hope there will be further research and eventually clinical trials of the various types of mistletoe extract in Australia as cancer therapy.