Researchers say that mistletoe also has the potential to play a vital role as an alternative therapy for sufferers of colon cancer.
Scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia are interested in how the extract of mistletoe could either assist chemotherapy or act as an alternative to chemotherapy as a treatment for colon cancer.
For her Honours research project recently completed at the University of Adelaide, Health Sciences student Zahra Lotfollahi compared the effectiveness of three different types of mistletoe extract and chemotherapy on colon cancer cells.
She also compared the impact of mistletoe extract and chemotherapy on healthy intestinal cells.
In her laboratory studies, she found that one of the mistletoe extracts - from a species known as Fraxini (which grows on ash trees) - was highly effective against colon cancer cells in cell culture and was gentler on healthy intestinal cells compared with chemotherapy.
Significantly, Fraxini extract was found to be more potent against cancer cells than the chemotherapy drug.
"This is an important result because we know that chemotherapy is effective at killing healthy cells as well as cancer cells. This can result in severe side effects for the patient, such as oral mucositis (ulcers in the mouth) and hair loss," Lotfollahi said.
"Our laboratory studies have shown Fraxini mistletoe extract by itself to be highly effective at reducing the viability of colon cancer cells. At certain concentrations, Fraxini also increased the potency of chemotherapy against the cancer cells".
"Of the three extracts tested, and compared with chemotherapy, Fraxini was the only one that showed a reduced impact on healthy intestinal cells. This might mean that Fraxini is a potential candidate for increased toxicity against cancer, while also reducing potential side effects. However, more laboratory testing is needed to further validate this work," she added.