It is known for inspiring Christmas-time kisses, and now, scientists have concluded that mistletoe may help prolong the lives of cancer patients.
Yes, you heard it right. According to Swiss researchers, a medicine made out of fermented mistletoe may extend cancer patients' lives.
The plant is Viscum album, the most common holiday mistletoe of Europe, and the species that first inspired the tradition of couples sharing a kiss under its evergreen leaves and waxy berries.
The fermented mistletoe medicine is called Iscador.
"For the production of Iscador, mistletoe plants are harvested in the summer, the stems and leaves and in the winter the stems, leaves and berries and then are fermented with lactobacillus," Renatus Ziegler, a research scientist at Institute Hiscia in Arlesheim, Switzerland, told Discovery News.
Various species of lactobacillus, a type of bacteria, are also used in the production of many foods and drinks such as yogurt, beer, wine and pickles.
To reach the conclusion, Ziegler and co-author Ronald Grossarth-Maticek studied cervical and ovarian cancer patients to see how they might benefit in the long run if mistletoe extracts, such as Iscador, were added to their treatment regimes.
The study has been published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine.
Over the course of a few decades, cancer patients who added mistletoe preparations to their standard therapies lived an average of half a year longer, the study found.
The two related studies, conducted by different teams, found that other cancer patients, including individuals suffering from pancreatic cancer, experienced reduced drug reactions, could better withstand chemotherapy, and had prolonged remission periods with the added fermented mistletoe preparations.
Ziegler explained that, "mistletoe is an old medical drug in Europe, particularly in Germany, and goes back at least to Hippocrates."
"The exact mechanism of its (healing) actions are not known," she said, adding that prior studies, both on animals and in the lab, have indicated it curbs the growth of cancerous tumors.