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Mistletoe, Iscador® and Hepatitis C

Nicole Cutler L.Ac.

August 1, 2007

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Learn about mistletoe’s therapeutic applications, including convincing evidence for its potential role in preventing long-term complications associated with Hepatitis C.

As the most prevalent infectious disease of the liver, an estimated 3 percent of the world’s population carries Hepatitis C. Over time, Hepatitis C infection can lead to liver cancer, liver failure or cirrhosis—irreversible and potentially fatal scarring of the liver. Since only a small percentage of those infected can be cured, medical pioneers are striving to find innovative ways for inhibiting the virus’ growth and preventing these long-term complications from developing.

While researchers are hard at work to develop new drugs for treating and preventing the advancement of Hepatitis C, complementary medical practitioners are always investigating alternative, less toxic means for achieving the same goal. When it comes to alternative medical treatments, European physicians often lead the way. Used as a cancer therapy in Europe since the 1920s, the extract of mistletoe is often administered to people battling various types of illnesses.

Mistletoe

Most people associate mistletoe with the leafy, flowering vine to kiss underneath during the Christmas holiday. However, mistletoe is also used medicinally with a wide array of therapeutic applications ranging from epilepsy, infertility, hypertension, cancer, hepatitis and certain connective tissue disorders. Rudolf Steiner first advocated a special preparation of mistletoe to be injected for cancer treatment. In lectures to doctors in the early 1920s, Steiner mentioned the immune system as an important defense mechanism against cancer.

The Immune Link

The immune system’s role in defeating Hepatitis C and fighting cancer is very similar. Every day, hundreds of cells in our body degenerate because of viral infections or genetic changes, both which can become cancerous. Various types of white blood cells, including natural-killer cells, recognize these harmful cells and destroy them. A healthfully functioning immune system defends against the formation of tumors daily with this process.

In cancer patients, this function of the immune system has been weakened rendering it unable to eliminate cancerous cells. According to Steiner, when prepared in a special way and then injected, the mistletoe enhances the immune system by killing off cancerous cells and cells which are damaged by a viral infection or toxic influences from the environment.

Iscador®

An unlicensed, experimental drug, Iscador® is the trade name for an extract of mistletoe produced by the Hiscia Institute in Switzerland and Weleda in the U.S. In test-tube studies Iscador® has been shown to do the following:

  • Improve the ability of immune cells to engulf foreign organisms.
  • Increase natural-killer cell activity against foreign organisms or infected cells that have been “tagged” by antibodies.

In many countries, including those within the European Union, Iscador® is a licensed medication for monotherapy and as an adjuvant therapy in cancer treatment. Because mistletoe is potentially poisonous, Iscador® must be prescribed and administered by a physician.

Treatment

The common route of administering Iscador® is via injection just under the skin. As each day of therapy progresses, a more concentrated version is administered. A short-term fever is a typical effect of Iscador® injections. Many doctors theorize that this fever is a sign of immune system activation, an indication that Iscador® is working. Upon reaching the highest concentration of Iscador®, the injections typically continue for a week or longer, depending upon the clinical situation as judged by the treating physician. The most common side effects of Iscador® therapy include low-grade fever, redness and irritation at the injection sites.

Efficacy for Hepatitis C

Although used for decades as an alternative cancer therapy, reports of Iscador’s results for treating liver disease are primarily anecdotal. Evidence of this treatment helping people with Hepatitis C is limited to shared observations by physicians and recipients. While a few scientifically controlled medical trials have been conducted on Iscador® for this purpose, there is not yet enough proof for Iscador’s general acceptance by the American medical community. Although more human research on Iscador® is warranted, the existing evidence is compelling:

  • A 2005 study in the Netherlands evaluated 21 patients with chronic Hepatitis C who were treated with a mistletoe preparation as monotherapy for one year. The treatment was well tolerated by the participants and significantly lowered liver enzyme levels. Although few effects on viral load were seen, researchers concluded that mistletoe’s ability to improve liver inflammation could reduce the likelihood of long-term complications developing in people with Hepatitis C.
  • A 2001 study also from the Netherlands evaluated 5 patients with chronic Hepatitis C who were treated for one year with Iscador®. Two patients showed 6-20 fold decreases in viral load and normalization of liver inflammation. The treatment was well tolerated meaning that no serious side effects were observed. The authors concluded that Iscador® has potential as a non-toxic therapy for chronic Hepatitis C treatment.

Because of its route of administration and possible toxicity, Iscador® can only be obtained, administered and monitored by a licensed physician. As this is not a mainstream pharmaceutical therapy, doctors of naturopathic medicine are the most likely type of doctor to work with Iscador®.

Until a Hepatitis C cure that works for everyone is available, healthcare practitioners will exhaust every sensible option to conquer this disease. Although there is not yet enough evidence to conclude Iscador® is a person’s best choice to prevent Hepatitis C’s long-term complications like cirrhosis or liver cancer, it is an option to keep our eyes on.

References:

Mansky PJ, Mistletoe and Cancer: Controversies and Perspectives, Seminars in Oncology, December 2002.

Tusenius KJ, et al, Exploratory study on the effects of treatment with two mistletoe preparations on chronic hepatitis C, Arzneimittel-Forschung, 2005.

Tusenius KJ, et al., Iscador Qu for chronic hepatitis C: an exploratory study, Complementary Therapies in Medicine, March 2001.

www.aidsmap.com, Iscador, NAM Publications, 2007.

www.cancure.org, Iscador/Mistletoe, The Cancer Cure Foundation, 2007.

www.healthy.net, Two Studies of Iscador, Robert Gorter, MD, HealthWorld Online, 2007.

www.mayoclinic.com, Hepatitis C, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2007.

www.selfgrowth.com, Iscador: Victory Over Cancer, Phillip Minton, MD, Selfgrowth.com, April 2007.

www.usa.weleda.com, What is Iscador?, Weleda, 2007.

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Posted by Nicole Cutler L.Ac. on August 1, 2007

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