Korean mistletoe may be an anti-ageing powerhouse. Mistletoe has many active compounds and has been used for centuries to treat myriad ailments including high blood pressure, epilepsy, exhaustion, degenerative joint disease and cancer.
While there is still not enough evidence yet for the FDA to approve mistletoe as an anti-cancer treatment, a 2010 trial showed that mistletoe can alleviate the symptoms suffered by pancreatic cancer patients. Patients with advanced pancreatic cancer and no good treatment options were given mistletoe injections three times a week for up to one year. Mistletoe did not cause any side effects. During the trial 50% of the control patients lost weight, whereas only 5% of the patients given mistletoe lost weight. Also the patients given mistletoe reported having less severe pain, fatigue, appetite loss, insomnia and nausea/vomiting than control patients.
So what does that have to do with ageing? Well it shows that mistletoe is a safe long term supplement for humans. Separate studies have shown that worms lived 10% longer and flies lived 10-20% longer if their food was supplemented with Korean mistletoe extract. Mistletoe supplement didn’t affect food intake, physical activity or reproduction in any of the animals.
Dietary restriction is also known to increase life span in many animals including worms, flies and monkeys. But flies on restricted diets which are also given mistletoe do not live any longer than flies just on dietary restriction. Therefore mistletoe might activate the same cellular signals as dietary restriction. This is a hot area of research because most people want to live longer without dieting.
So just how can mistletoe do that? One way may be through decreasing oxidative stress, which is potentially one of the major causes of ageing. Lectin is one of the active compounds in Korean mistletoe. Lectin has an antioxidant effect in kidney cells that are grown in the lab. It can also stimulate stem cells to grow in vitro and limits the amount of reactive oxygen species produced by these cells (reactive oxygen species are by products of how the cell makes energy and cause oxidative stress). But mistletoe treatment didn’t make worms less resistant to oxidative stress. This may be because the scientists used paraquat to cause oxidative stress in the worms. Paraquat is a really nasty toxin that can be fatal to dogs, cats and humans, so maybe it was just too harsh a treatment for mistletoe to combat.
All in all these results are encouraging, but we still need to know a lot more about the anti-ageing mechanism of mistletoe before we can be sure that it will work as an anti-ageing remedy.
The Scientific Papers: