Advocates of alternative medicine have always been speaking on the health benefits of mistletoe; a parasitic plant that grows on the branches of other trees.
Botanists believe that the average lifespan of a mistletoe plant is about 70 years, saying that mistletoe is often seen on tree branches of hardwoods such as acacia, chestnut and fruit trees such as plum, cherry, pear and apple trees.
The experts note that the mistletoe plant is hardly found on old trees, while and the ones that are considered to be of high value are those that grow on fruit trees.
They, however, agree that mistletoe, which is a nervine plant, also has some antispasmodic, tonic and narcotic properties that are efficacious in the management of epilepsy and other convulsive nervous disorders.
LiveandFeel.com, an online database of medicinal plants, states that mistletoe extract is typically used to treat convulsive coughing, bronchi asthma and internal haemorrhage.
The plant can also relieve symptoms of anxiety conditions such as hysteria as well as dizziness and hypertension, among others.
Practitioners of alternative medicine claim that mistletoe extract is effective in treating various forms of cancer, adding that it also has some chemical properties that can bolster the immune system.
Mr. Aminu Olawale of the Whomp International Centre for Alternative Therapy, Lagos, says that one of the most important properties of mistletoe is its ability to cleanse or purify the blood and the entire body tissues.
“Mistletoe strengthens and detoxifies the liver; this plays a pivotal role in the prevention and elimination of any cancerous growths anywhere in the human body,’’ he says.
However, Dr Ahmed Danfulani, the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of Kubwa General Hospital, says that although herbal therapy generally is good, it is dangerous because there are no specific prescriptions for its use.
He says that the issues of dosage, research, complications and side-effects are not addressed in herbal medicines.
“Certainly, herbal therapies have been there from time immemorial; they are not new and there is no doubt that the emergence of some modern therapeutic agents is as a follow-up to some herbal discovery.
“Therefore, it means some of the modern drugs we use today may have their origins in herbal products; however, the main problem is that the efficacy of herbal drugs cannot be verified.
“Until we reach a situation where some of the herbal drugs are properly researched into while their efficacy and side effects are well laid out, it will be very difficult to talk about some of them.
“I am aware that in some countries this has been done. In China, India and some other countries, for example, a lot of research on herbal products has been carried out,’’ Danfulani says.
On the other hand, the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, states that laboratory studies have found that mistletoe kills cancer cells and stimulates the immune system.
“The use of mistletoe to treat cancer has been studied in Europe in more than 30 clinical trials.
“Although improvements in survival or quality of life have been reported, almost all of the trials had major weaknesses in their design that raise doubts about the findings,’’ it says.
The centre warns that since mistletoe has not yet been proven to be a safe and effective means of treating cancer, it should not be used outside of clinical trials.
All the same, Dr Cathy Wong, a naturopathic doctor and nutrition specialist, has a different opinion on the use of mistletoe.
She states in her online medical journal that in a study of 21 people with hepatitis C in 2005, researchers found that treatment with mistletoe was well-tolerated and led to significant improvements in liver inflammation and quality of life.
Wong also notes that preliminary research indicates that mistletoe may be useful in the management of diabetes.
“In a 2009 study on rats, scientists found that diabetic animals treated with mistletoe had a significant decrease in blood sugar levels.
“Mistletoe also appeared to stimulate the secretion of insulin in both diabetic and non-diabetic rats,’’ she adds.
Nevertheless, Wong insists that since there is limited evidence on mistletoe’s benefits and risks for people suffering from hepatitis C or diabetes, it is critical for patients to consult a physician before using the herb.
She observes that the use of mistletoe has been linked to chills, fever, headache, chest pain, diarrhoea and vomiting, among others.
She cautions the users of mistletoe herb to refrain from eating raw, unprocessed mistletoe, adding that such habit can cause seizures, a slowing of the heart rate and even death.
Corroborating the position of NCCAM, Wong emphasises that anyone who is considering using mistletoe for treatment of cancer or other health conditions ought to first consult a physician.
She warns that taking mistletoe in combination with certain medications such as blood pressure drugs may produce harmful effects, advising pregnant or breastfeeding women to avoid the use of mistletoe. (NAN)