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Mistletoe Extracts (PDQ®)

Health Professional Version
Last Modified: 04/23/2014

Adverse Effects

Although a number of different mistletoe extracts have been used in human studies, the reported side effects have generally been minimal and not life threatening. Common side effects include soreness and inflammation at injection sites, headache, fever, and chills.[1-3]

One meta-analysis using Viscum album L. and isolated mistletoe lectins included both animal and human studies. Doses and application forms varied. No immunosuppressive effects were reported. Side effects included local reactions at the injection site and flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue, mild gastrointestinal symptoms, and headache. High doses of mistletoe lectins resulted in reversible hepatotoxicity in some cases.[4] Another review reported adverse reactions that included local reactions at the injection site, fever, increased intracerebral pressure, headache, circulatory problems, thrombophlebitis, swelling of lymph nodes, and allergic reactions.[5]

A few cases of severe allergic reactions, including anaphylactic shock, have been reported.[2]

References
  1. Kaegi E: Unconventional therapies for cancer: 3. Iscador. Task Force on Alternative Therapies of the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative. CMAJ 158 (9): 1157-9, 1998.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  2. Hutt N, Kopferschmitt-Kubler M, Cabalion J, et al.: Anaphylactic reactions after therapeutic injection of mistletoe (Viscum album L.). Allergol Immunopathol (Madr) 29 (5): 201-3, 2001 Sep-Oct.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  3. Stauder H, Kreuser ED: Mistletoe extracts standardised in terms of mistletoe lectins (ML I) in oncology: current state of clinical research. Onkologie 25 (4): 374-80, 2002.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  4. Kienle GS, Kiene H: Review article: Influence of Viscum album L (European mistletoe) extracts on quality of life in cancer patients: a systematic review of controlled clinical studies. Integr Cancer Ther 9 (2): 142-57, 2010.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  5. Ernst E, Schmidt K, Steuer-Vogt MK: Mistletoe for cancer? A systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Int J Cancer 107 (2): 262-7, 2003.  [PUBMED Abstract]