By Fred Gardner

Why does the presence of mistletoe —a parasitic plant that roots in oaks and other host trees— confer the right to kiss whoever you’re with?mistletoe

The answer occurred to John Lee, MD, a family practitioner in Mill Valley, back in 1967. As explained in this interview conducted in 1994.

The priests of the Celts would find the trees and collect the berries that were growing on the mistletoe because no other tree had berries out. This was life in the center of winter. They would take these berries and mix them with hot mead –and alcohol drink they made from honey. And they would all have a weeklong party where gifts were exchanged and they would celebrate their belief in the coming of the new year. They thought the mistletoe berries were a gift from the Gods, because while it would increase their libido, no one had any babies! It was kind of free sex. And after four or five days of their celebration they would quit, all the women would have their periods, and no babies would occur. It turns out that the mistletoe berry contains a compound which is very similar to progresterone. And when you give progesterone and then quit, it brings on a period. So it acted as a temporary birth control device. I had written a little paper 25 years ago saying that this was the origin of the tradition. As the centuries rolled on people found that other plants had progesterone like effects and they used them in their cattle breeding and for women who had hormonal problems, and so a long folklore developed about it. And the mistletoe berry had been highly revered by all the people who stemmed from the Celts –all the people in that area who knew about it. It’s like people discovering that limes were good for scurvy. They didn’t know it was Vitamin C. Later, in my practice, when I had women who were hormone deficient and had osteoporosis and couldn’t use estrogen, I thought “Well, I’ll use progesterone which is made from plants” and lo and behold it helped their osteoporosis and that’s what started me on learning about progesterone. Lee makes the distinction between natural progesterone and all the synthetics on the market. “Synthetic means that it’s not found in nature, there’s no plant, no tree, no animal that makes it. It’s a plastic compound, whereas real progesterone is a natural compound that’s found in nature and can be synthesized in the body from fats. Our bodies synthesize it from cholesterol and the scientists can synthesize it from the fats in plants. It’s been on the market for 60 years and the medical profession has totally ignored natural progesterone even though all the pharmaceutical companies make it to use as the base for all their synthetic hormones! Why do they prefer the synthetic versions? Because they can patent them! Once you make something that’s not found in nature you can put a patent on them. What’s the distinction between the natural and synthetic progesterone in molecular terms? It’s a totally different molecule. In my book I show all these different molecules. Provera is not progesterone. Are there analogies to synthetic beta carotene? Not quite. The beta carotene they’re selling is identical to the beta carotene in plants. However, in plants there are 600 different carotenes. So when you eat a carrot you get 600 different carotenes. Similarly, in a leaf of spinach there are over 10,000 different chemical compounds. In any carrot there are over 10,000 compounds. And those other compounds play some mitigating or complementary role in the bod uy’s response?  Exactly and the choice of using just one was the original mistake. Does the analogy hold for Cannabis and marinol? Cannabis, I’m sure, has 10 or 12,000 different compounds in it and if you were to isolate one or make on that is similar to it but not quite, it probably wouldn’t work the same way. Hormones work because of their very specific molecular structure. When you first look at estrogen, testosterone, cortisone and the cortical sterones, they all look identical. They only differ by one or two atoms. Just one atom different will convert a testosterone into an estrogen. The specific conformation of the molecule is all-important. Can we have the first slide here? The synthetic progesterones not only do not have the full range of benefit that real progesterone has, but they all have terrible side effects. For instance, if you look up Provera in the PDR they’ll have a big warning about contraindications. Including, “If you give this to a woman who might be pregnant it can kill the baby or cause the baby to be deformed. Well, progesterone is named progesterone because it is the hormone that is necessary for the baby to survive and for all its tissues to develop properly.

pro-gestation! All the synthetics have these warnings that you can kill a baby or deform a baby –proof that they’re not progesterone! My point is, why does conventional medicine and the pharmaceutical companies –even though they’re the ones who make the progesterone from the fats in plants– why don’t they us it? Absorbed through the skin 70 times more effectively than when taken by mouth. Why aren’t they using it? Because the profit can be made only on patented items. The ovary’s a pretty smart gland, it never put its hormone into anybody’s stomach (because once it gets to the stomach it’s absorbed like all fats into the liver and metabolized into the bile for excretion. So you lose 95% of it passing through the stomach and the 5 percent that does get through has been altered in passage and is not the same thing. The oral doses don’t work; the whole thing should be done through small doses in a cream. It’s so simple, so natural, and so successful and so inexpensive. The med profession doesn’t like it because they lose control. People can buy these creams over the counter. A woman can have menopausal symptoms or osteoporosis or PMS, fibrocystic breast disease and go get this cream and correct her hormone balance and she’s fine! She doesn’t have to have breasts amputated! She doesn’t have to see the doctor! Her body will tell her when’s using the right amount. The ovaries usually make about 20 milligrams a day and a person’s going to use 15 or 20 milligrams a day for 25 days out of the month, you’re only talking about 400 milligrams for the month, and this is what’s in these creams. I was editor of the Marin medical society bulletin late 60s, early 70s. And I was always leafing through medical journals looking for ideas for editorials. In one journal I came across a story that said mistletoe has a lot of progesterone in it. And at the same time, by serendipity, I read a story in the Harvard Alumni Journal (he’s class of 1951) about the mystery of the Celts midwinter celebration. Nobody could figure out how they why they incorporated the mistletoe berry, and so it all kind of fell together in my mind and I said, “Hell, these people had sex as part of their celebration. And it was free sex because no one became pregnant. When you’re kissed under the mistletoe that’s just a symbol for the full sex act and any woman standing there is fair game for any man walks in the door. You see how the shadow of that lingers today? Each Christmas for the time I wrote the editorials I was showing that things we associate with Christmas were actually pagan in origin. The burning of the Yule log represents the sacrifice of a virgin… The further north you got the worse the winters were and the more horrendous was the symbol to appease the gods so that summer would come back. The evergreen was chosen obviously because it’s the one thing that stays green through the winter. It was described by Pliny the Elder when he accompanied the Roman troops when they conquered gaul. 200 years later when Rome became Christianized they demolished all the Celtic religious sites and built their churches on them to obliterate the Celts. They drove em into the western isles now called Ireland, where they persisted with their beliefs. So it was obliterated twice, once by the Roman armies for pure control over the people and secondly by the Christianization that tried to wipe out the remnants of the Celtic religion. Halloween also came as a response to the fear of the winter. The pumpkin is the last thing you could still eat late in the fall. And the pumpkin is one of the few plants that have all the essential fatty acids! Isn’t that amazing –omega 2 and omega 6 and all that… And they would teach the children that you can’t be afraid to get your face cold to get an apple. In the winter when things weren’t growing there was nothing to eat. Halloween was a bunch of activities that prepared the people to tough out the winter. Medical Hypothesis picked it up. Some of the religious orders wrote nice articles to show that people should understand the difference between true faith and the symbols of faith. “The map is not the terrain.” Everybody acknowledged that it came from the Celts but nobody knew why. I figured the celts are people like everybody else. They measured the shadow of a tree at noon and found it was getting longer and longer and longer until one day on the 22nd of December it seemed to stop and in the next few days they could detect that it had stopped “solstice” and then they saw it was getting shorter, the sun was beginning to rise and they said “Let’s have a celebration! The sun’s going to back and the world is going to go on!” So they had a weeklong celebration and then they declared a new year. The American mistletoe has more beladonna it doesn’t have the progesterone. It’s a different phylum. The berry probably has toxic things in it. By luck their extraction in alcohol seems to have… Mexican wild yam full of a fat that scientists can turn into progesterone. Soy has a ton of it. It also has phytoestrogens. Now they’re finding these are much better for women than tamoxifen which is a synthetic estrogen that they give to women to try to stop the breast cancer from spreading There are now 5 or 6 papers showing that the phytoestrogen in soy is better than tamoxifen and safer. Very likely that the synthetic from Taxol will be worse. In the case of progesterone the body converts it in the mitochondria. It set my brain into thinking that real progesterone exists and it might be a very good thing for women to have if they’re deficient in it. It’s been available since 1936, which is when they found out how to convert these fats. Before that get pigs pregnant and squeeze their ovaries. French tried to get it from placenta which had to be freeze-dried. Then in ‘36 scientists found how to extract. Cost down to $7. They found that in one acre of world yams they could produce the entire world’s supply of natural progesterone. Farms in Mexico and China and elsewhere growing yams. It was a great accomplishment. The pharm companies found it’s the perfect base to make all their other hormones. They make cortisone from it, they make estrogen from it, they make testosterone, they even make digitalis from it. But they won’t sell the real progesterone as a medicine because they can’t put a patent on it. And they convinced the doctors that the synthetics were just as good. Politically? A mugwump. I don’t see much difference between the major parties. I guess I’m a little bit more of a libertarian. I think that anything that stifles individual creativity is an evil thing. I think of our society as an Irish mulligan soup and I’m hoping that the good things will rise to the top. 



Post Script

 In 2002 the National Institutes of Health terminated a study of 16,000 women who had been taking an estrogen-progestin combination for “menopausal symptoms” because the drug(s) increased the incidence of breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots. On July 10, 2002, the New York Times ran a front-page story by Gina Kolata headlined: “Hormone Replacement Study A Shock to the Medical System” —as if Dr. Lee had never issued his well-documented warning and published a book read by hundreds of thousands of women. The head of the North American Menopause Society, a male doctor named Wulf Utan, called the study results “a bombshell”   —which is like Claude Raines in Casablanca claiming to be “shocked, shocked that there’s gambling going on here!”

Media critic Alexander Cockburn observed that a story doesn’t have real impact in this country until it is played prominently in the New York Times. When it comes to science, the National Institutes of Health is the official arbiter of truth and importance. Findings by the most observant and humane doctors are dismissed as mere anecdotal evidence —and of course the drug companies don’t invite and pay them to conduct studies that would generate data leading to publication in “the literature.” In reporting the cancellation of the HRT study, Gina Kolata was able to overlook the warnings issued by John Lee, MD. His book may have been read by large numbers of women, but it didn’t rate as “scientific literature.” Thus the scientific and journalistic establishments re-enforce one another.