Bernard Integrative Cancer Center

6060 Cunard Street, Halifax, NS

Tel: (902) 877-0061


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Open Hours:

Tue    10am-4pm

Wed  10am-4pm

Thu    10am-4pm

Fri      10am-4pm

Disclaimer: The content on this website is intended for informational purposes only. The information represents the opinion of Megan Bernard and does not replace professional medical advice. Before beginning any dietary, lifestyle, exercise, or supplemental regimen, consult your medical or naturopathic doctor. In cases of emergencies, visit your nearest hospital or call 911. 

Mistletoe: More than a Christmas tradition

Updated: Nov 4, 2019

You may be familiar with mistletoe as a plant that hangs over doorways at Christmas time, waiting for people to wander underneath for a kiss. But mistletoe is much more than a way to flirt!

Mistletoe (viscum album) is an evergreen, semi-parasitic plant that feeds off of and grows on oak, pine, elm, and apple trees (among others) and resembles a circular tumor on the trees. Besides being good for make-out sessions, mistletoe has been used for centuries for many ailments, from arthritis and hypertension to cancer. Even Dr. Oz is in the know with mistletoe, as he had Suzanne Somers on his show to discuss her breast cancer treatment, which included mistletoe injections.

Mistletoe works through a multifactorial approach that includes boosting the immune system, causing cancer cell apoptosis (cell death), inhibiting angiogenesis (new blood vessel growth – the process by which cancer grows and spreads), and inhibiting cancer cell division. The medically active compounds in mistletoe are called alkaloids, viscotoxins, and lectins.

Active Components in Mistletoe

Alkaloids are molecular compounds that are found in things like coffee and vincristine (a chemotherapeutic). The mechanism of action of mistletoe alkaloids is not yet clear, but plant alkaloids in general have demonstrated the ability to induce cancer cell death, inhibit blood vessel formation, to be anti-metastatic, and to inhibit cell proliferation/division.

Viscotoxins have been shown to improve cancer cell death through activating natural killer (NK) cells aka some of the finest soldiers of the immune system[1]. Viscotoxins have also been shown to induce the formation of antibodies within the immune system.  


Lectins are the main constituents in mistletoe and are thought to improve cancer outcomes by interfering with biochemical processes (particularly protein synthesis) within cancer cells, and directly inducing cell death[2]. They have also been discovered to stimulate the secretion of cytokines (immune system chemical signals) and the activity of natural killer cells (immune system soldiers), thereby improving immune cell surveillance and activity against cancer cells.

How Mistletoe Is Used

Mistletoe therapy in Germany is considered a mainstream therapy for many cancers, and the safety and efficacy has been well documented with chemotherapy and radiation. Mistletoe has proven to be beneficial in improving the quality of life of those living with cancer and/or undergoing treatment by improving pain, fatigue, appetite, and sleep[3]. It has also demonstrated its ability to improve white blood cell counts[4,5] (sometimes a limiting factor in conventional treatments) and survival rates[6].  

Mistletoe is most often delivered via a subcutaneous injection (similar to how insulin is given) using a very small needle. It can also be administered intravenously (IV). With subcutaneous injections, we teach patients how to inject themselves at home, or they can choose to receive the injections at the clinic. The subcutaneous injections typically require three injections a week. If delivered intravenously, mistletoe can be given alone or added to IV vitamin C therapy. Intravenous mistletoe is typically administered one to three times a week for one to two months, depending on the patient’s state of health and his/her reaction to the infusion. 

The most common side effects of mistletoe therapy is an itchiness and red circle at the site of injection. Other side effects include feeling “flu-like”, with muscle aches, fatigue, fever, and chills that could last a few days. This is a sign that the immune system is being activated. Like any medication or natural substance, there is also a rare chance of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). This is why we perform a safe “test dose” before any mistletoe therapy to determine if you are allergic.

Could mistletoe provide benefit to your cancer protocol? Consider reaching out by giving me a call, email or book a free 15-minute consultation online to find out if mistletoe could improve your experience with cancer.


[1] J. Tabiasco, F. Pont, J.-J. Fournié, A. Vercellone, Mistletoe viscotoxins increase natural killer cell-mediated cytotoxicity, Eur. J. Biochem. 269 (2002) 2591–2600.

[2] M. Marvibaigi, E. Supriyanto, N. Amini, F.A. Abdul Majid, S.K. Jaganathan, Preclinical and clinical effects of mistletoe against breast cancer, Biomed Res. Int. 2014 (2014) 785479. doi:10.1155/2014/785479.

[3] J. Beuth, B. Schneider, J.M. Schierholz, Impact of complementary treatment of breast cancer patients with standardized mistletoe extract during aftercare: a controlled multicenter comparative epidemiological cohort study, Anticancer Res. 28 (2008) 523–527.

[4] A. Büssing, A. Regnery, K. Schweizer, Effects of Viscum album L. on cyclophosphamide-treated peripheral blood mononuclear cells in vitro: sister chromatid exchanges and activation/proliferation marker expression, Cancer Lett. 94 (1995) 199–205.

[5] N.E. Gardin, Immunological response to mistletoe (Viscum album L.) in cancer patients: a four-case series, Phytother. Res. Ptr. 23 (2009) 407–411. doi:10.1002/ptr.2643.

[6] R. Ziegler, R. Grossarth-Maticek, Individual Patient Data Meta-analysis of Survival and Psychosomatic Self-regulation from Published Prospective Controlled Cohort Studies for Long-term Therapy of Breast Cancer Patients with a Mistletoe Preparation (Iscador), Evid.-Based Complement. Altern. Med. Ecam. 7 (2010) 157–166. doi:10.1093/ecam/nen025.