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Could mistletoe give the kiss of death to colon cancer? According to a press release from the University of Adelaide the answer may be yes.

Dec 12, 2012

A press release from the University of Adelaide issued Friday November 30th indicates that a particular variety of the plant mistletoe may have a strong impact on 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 and in the second experiment 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.

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 Ms Lotfollahi says. ""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," Ms Lotfollahi says. "Mistletoe extract has been considered a viable alternative therapy overseas for many years, but it's important for us to understand the science behind it," says one of Ms Lotfollahi's supervisors, the University of Adelaide's Professor Gordon Howarth, a Cancer Council Senior Research Fellow.

Colon cancer is the second greatest cause of cancer death in the Western world. Mistletoe extract is already authorized for use by sufferers of colon cancer in Europe, but not in Australia. Scientists 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. Note; raw mistletoe should never be eaten due to toxicity.

For more information on mistletoe including safety visit the National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/mistletoe