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Mistletoe

Over the centuries, mistletoe has acquired a reputation as an all-purpose herbal remedy. In the seventeenth century, French herbalists prescribed mistletoe for nervous disorders, epilepsy, and the spasms known as St. Vitus dance.

Mistletoe has also been used in folk medicine as a digestive aid, heart tonic and sedative. It was used to treat arthritis, hysteria and other mental disturbances, amenorrhea, wounds, asthma, bed-wetting, infection, and to stimulate glands.

For centuries, mistletoe also served as a folk medicine treatment for cancer, and as of early 2005, the plant is sometimes used in Europe to treat tumours. Iscador, an extract of the European mistletoe plant, is said to stimulate the immune system and to kill cancer cells. It reportedly reduces the size of tumours and improves the quality of life. Iscador is one brand name of the mistletoe extract in Europe; other brand names include Helixor and Eurixor.

Although in alternative medicine mistletoe is viewed as a multi-purpose remedy, there is disagreement among medical experts about the safety and effectiveness of this herb. The number of possible interactions with other medications, described below, indicates that mistletoe should be used with caution.

Precautions

Opinions are sharply divided on how safe and effective the herb is as a home remedy and in the treatment of conditions such as cancer and AIDS. Pregnant or breast-feeding women should not use the plant.

People considering mistletoe should consult with their doctors or practitioners. Until there is definitive proof otherwise, there is a risk that the herbal remedies will conflict with conventional treatment.

Side-Effects

Mistletoe may be toxic to the liver. For people diagnosed with hepatitis, use mistletoe may cause additional liver damage. However, advocates of mistletoe maintain it is safe, at least under certain circumstances.

Commercial mistletoe extracts may produce fewer side-effects. The body temperature may rise and there may be flu-like symptoms. The patient may experience nausea, abdominal pain, and (if given the extract injection) inflammation around the injection site. Allergy symptoms may result.

Interactions

Mistletoe should not be used by people who take monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor anti-depressants such as Nardil. Potential reactions include a dangerous rise in blood pressure and a lowering of blood potassium levels (hypokalemia). In addition, mistletoe may interfere with the action of anti-diabetic medications, increase the activity of diuretics, and increase the risk of a toxic reaction to aspirin or NSAIDs. Cancer patients considering mistletoe treatment should first consult with their doctors or practitioners.

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