When Suzanne Somers
announced on Larry King Live that she was using Iscador in her
breast cancer treatment, there was a surge of interest in mistletoe.
Iscador is a derivative of Viscum album,
a mistletoe plant that grows in many parts of the world. Medical
mistletoe is the result of many years of painstaking effort to
explain the suggestion made by Rudolf Steiner (1981-1925) that
mistletoe could be rendered effective in the treatment of cancer.
This is the story:
Steiner was a mystic and founder
of Anthroposophy, considered by some to be an offshoot of Theosophy
that came into being during the war years when communications
to the German-language world were disrupted. Steiner was not,
however, entirely derivative. He was, in many respects original.
The researchers who developed Iscador took
their hints from the vision that Steiner had that mistletoe could
be emancipated from both Cosmic and terrestrial forces. How so?
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant. It does
not grow in the soil (not the species referred to by Steiner) but
in the bark of trees. It grows perpendicular to the branch in which
it thrusts its sucker, and it does not obey many of the laws of
the plant kingdom. For instance, its berries ripen in winter, without
warmth. It stores up chlorophyll and is green all year long and
is indifferent to light. It is thus neither geotropic or phototropic
and this is the fact that fascinated Anthroposophical researchers
Kaelin and Leroi.
While Steiner felt that mistletoe
could replace the scalpel, Anthroposophical doctors are quick
to admit that Iscador is not there yet. They use Iscador in conjunction
with conventional therapies, such as irradiation, to protect
against injury. Iscador itself comes in many varieties. It is
made by fermentation, not the usual powder or alcoholic extracts.
The Doctrine of Similars
did not make it easy for those who wished to make practical
use of his understanding. He suggested making a preparation
of the winter and summer Viscum album, a parasitic plant
that grows on trees and may have some behavioral characteristics
similar to cancer. It took a number of Anthroposophic doctors
many years to develop a treatment based on mistletoe.
Mistletoe does not grow on healthy trees. When it does grow on
trees, removing the mistletoe results in the death of the tree.
This is truly fascinating. The mistletoe may actually be performing
a service to the tree, but what would happen to the mistletoe
if the tree is healed?
Facts of the Somers' Story
Suzanne Somers was diagnosed with breast
cancer in April 2001. The routine mammogram had failed to reveal
a 2.4 cm tumor; the mass was found using ultrasound. Somers had
a lumpectomy. The lymph nodes that were removed were clean. The
surgery was followed by radiation. Experts could not agree on
whether or not to recommend chemotherapy. She made the the decision
not to undergo chemotherapyand she has gone to great lengths
to emphasize that this was a personal decision, not necessarily
something she advocates for others.
In her announcement, Somers referred to
the 1000-page book by Burton Goldberg. Here are some relevant
excerpts from the material on Iscador:
Iscador is "made from fermented extracts of European
mistletoe, some forms of which are combined with small amounts
of metals to produce certain desired, anticancer effects."
Further down, there is a quotation from a a Dr. Richard Wagner
of Stuttgatt who says, "it is immediately apparent that
patients given mistletoe treatment have better survival quality
(than those on chemotherapy), with the survival period presumably
the same. We would therefore always prefer mistletoe treatment
in this particular situation."
Somers seems to believe that
Iscador is a homeopathic remedy and has published
on her choices on her web site. Her confusion may be due to the
fact that the doctor providing the treatment is a well-known homeopath;
however, Iscadorin the form developed in Europeis not
a homeopathic remedy.
Office of Technology
In a 1990 report, the OTA published the
Mistletoe has long been
used in the treatment of a variety of acute and chronic conditions.
It was not widely used for treating cancer, however, until the
1920s, during the early development of Anthroposophy, a modern
'spiritual science' applied to medicine and a variety of other
disciplines. At present, mistletoe is given to patients either
as the central component of a complex, broader treatment regimen
in the practice of Anthroposophic medicine mainly in Europe or
as a single agent partially or completely removed from the overall
context of Anthroposophic care (e.g., in the United Kingdom and
other countries). At present, mistletoe preparations are advocated
mainly by Swiss and German physicians practicing Anthroposophic
medicine, but are also used by other European physicians not
necessarily associated with Anthroposophy. A larger group of
researchers in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the United States,
has focused on the study of mistletoe's biological properties
in various experimental systems.
Iscador is used extensively in a well-known
clinic in Switzerland, the Lukas
Clinik. Taking its cue from Steiner, the clinic offers
the following comments on cancer:
Cancer can be many things - disease,
destiny, opportunity, life drama or tragedy, a biographical
turning point. But it is always a biological process and
part of life.
It goes on to discuss the biological
processes in a mixture of scientific, philosophical, and
poetic speculations. According to them, cells come into being
through a process of division, and they have a certain life
expectancy based on the genetic potential. The death of cells,
apoptosis, is assumed to be subject to the vagaries of fate
and genes. Cells have a life cycle, birth to death, and before
death, they pass information to the new cell, basically explaining
to the new cells its functions as well as what it should
look like, how it should divide, and when it will die.
There is really nothing new about
this theory except the assumptions about how information
is transferred. We all know that cells divide and that when
they do, they may be absolutely normal or deformed. Some
abnormal cells die and others replicate. Basically, cancer
is a disease characterized by excessive reproduction of abnormal
cells. The theories that affect why a cell mutates during
the course of division are numerous: alcohol, tobacco, infection,
pH imbalances, radiation, toxicity, nutrient deficiencies,
message errors, and, of course, the catchall: stress. One
theory is that the more deviant the cell is, the faster it
reproduces; however, in the case of healthy individuals,
these cells have a lower survival potential: they die and
are consumed by white blood cells.
Development of Medicine from
With the thoroughness of German scientific
inquiry, a botanist named Karl von Tubeuf began in 1907 to
collect all that was known about mistletoe, this from science,
mythology, and cultural traditions. He published a monograph
in 1923. Both von Tubeuf and Steiner were fascinated by the
anomalies of the plant.
Mistletoe has little white berries
that are quite toxic to humans, but birds enjoy them. The
birds either eat only the pulp and leave a sticky seed in
the tree or they eat the whole berry, seed and all, and deposit
the sticky payload when they eliminate the undigested seed
when they pass fecal material. The seed sinks a sucker rootlet
into the tree from which it derives water and nutrients.
This is why it is called a parasitic or semi-parasitic plant,
but the European species seldom cause the death of their
growth process of the ball-like mistletoe plant is slow.
It flowers after 5-7 years but is only harvested for use
in medicines after 10-15 years. The first "Anthroposophical
were made by a Dr. Ita Wegman in 1917. Working with a pharmacist,
she developed an injectible form of mistletoe. Scientific
papers were presented at an Anthroposophical conference in
1920 and then in 1935, Dr. Wegman established the Society
for Cancer Research in Arlesheim. Production of Iscador was
first carried out by the highly respected Anthroposophical
firm, Weleda AG, but it is now produced by the Hiscia
Institute which belongs to the Society for Cancer Research.
The name Iscador comes from the Greek for mistletoe, ixos os ixia.
Steiner used complex metaphysics to express
his understanding, in general as well as specifically when applied
to mistletoe. He felt that science and spirituality could work
together to create medicines of the future. Where cancer is concerned,
he felt that there are various organizing forces that result
in degrees of chaos or order. His theories are basically nearly
impossible to address with the tools of modern medicine. It is
therefore necessary to look at results rather than mechanisms
Iscador is not seen by those who use it
as a cure for cancer. It is a treatment that most often is used
in conjunction with other conventional treatments, especially
radiation but also surgery. It is given both before and after
these procedures so as to promote rapid recovery and reduce adverse
reactions, such as metastasis. Different
studies seem to suggest different assessments of the treatment.
When used instead of chemotherapy, the quality of life is significantly
better for patients being treated with Iscador than for patients
undergoing chemotherapy. For those who are treating localized
tumors, especially of the breast but also of the cervix, ovaries,
breast, stomach, colon, and lungs, survival may be as much as
40% longer for patients using Iscador than those going a 100%
conventional route. As this OTA statement suggests, no one who
has studied the results refers to Iscador as a cure, merely as
Treatment with Iscador is generally
not claimed to result in dramatic destruction of tumors. Instead,
it is thought to slow the growth of tumors or even stop tumor
growth altogether, and then lead to gradual tumor regression.
It is believed that tumor cells may undergo a transformation
from malignant forms to semimalignant forms, then to chronic
inflammation, and finally to normal forms.
Having devoted more than three decades
to medical philosophy and alternative treatments, it is with
some reticence and yet support that I wish to note that many
of the serious investigations of unusual protocols have been
carried out in Germany where: (1) holistic medicine is not a
step child but rather an optional pursuit in normal medical schools,
and (2) mysticism and medicine have found an alliance, not only
in Anthroposophical medicine but Hildegard medicine and Father
Kneipp's therapies. I said
"reticence" not because of any personal hesitation
but rather awareness that science invariably wishes to prove
matters on its own terms.
Copyright by Ingrid Naiman
For more information on Iscador:
what is known about medicine made from mistletoe from the National
Cancer Institute is as follows:
- Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that has been used
since ancient times to treat a variety of human ailments.
- Extracts of mistletoe have been shown to kill
cancer cells in the laboratory and to stimulate
the immune system.
- Three components of mistletoe (lectins, alkaloids,
and viscotoxins) may be responsible for its biologic
- Mixed results have been obtained in animals
studies that have investigated the ability of mistletoe
extracts to slow tumor growth.
- There is no evidence from well-designed clinical
trials that mistletoe or any of its components
are effective treatments for human cancer.
- Mistletoe plants and berries are toxic to humans,
and mistletoe extracts are not sold commercially
in the United States.
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