The Health Benefits of Dandelion Root

Root and Leaf of the Dandelion Herb
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Although you may think of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, the plant has long been used in herbal medicine for its appetite-stimulating, digestion-aiding, and laxative effects. 

In traditional Chinese medicine and Native American medicine, the dandelion root was used for stomach problems and liver conditions. In Europe, it was also used for diabetes, boils, and inflammation. Today, herbalists often suggest dandelion for the following conditions:

Although there is some overlap between the root and the leaf, dandelion leaves are said to be a diuretic and galactagogue (a plant that helps to increase breast milk production in nursing mothers).

Capsules, tinctures, and teas containing dandelion leaves, roots, flowers, or the entire plant can be found in many health food stores. Dandelion leaves can also be consumed as food, in salads, or as a cooked green.

The Benefits of Dandelion Root

There is a lack of scientific support for the medicinal use of dandelion root. Studies that have been done have been laboratory or animal studies, not human studies. Here's a look at several findings on dandelion's health effects:

1) Liver Damage

A few animal-based studies suggest that dandelion root may help protect against liver damage due to carbon tetrachloride. These include a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2010, in which tests on mice demonstrated that treatment with a dandelion root extract may help protect against liver fibrosis due to carbon tetrachloride.

A preliminary study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology in 2010 suggests that dandelion root extract may protect against alcohol-induced liver damage. In tests on mice and on cells, laboratory experiments demonstrated that a water-based dandelion root extract shows promise in protecting against alcohol-induced liver toxicity by boosting antioxidant activity. 

2) Cancer

Preliminary research suggests that dandelion root may show promise as an anti-cancer agent. In a 2012 study on pancreatic cancer cells, researchers observed that dandelion root extract may combat pancreatic cancer by inducing apoptosis (a type of programmed cell death essential for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells). slowed the growth of pancreatic cancer cells and stopped the spread of prostate cancer cells. However, neither dandelion flower extract nor dandelion root extract had any effect on either type of cancer cell.

In addition, three preliminary studies found that dandelion root extract may fight leukemia and melanoma, in part by inducing apoptosis in cancer cells.

While these studies demonstrated anti-cancer activity, further research is needed before dandelion root extract can be recommended for the prevention or treatment of cancer. Researchers at the University of Windsor are involved in a pilot study on the effects of a dandelion root extract in people with end-stage blood-related cancers including lymphoma and leukemia.

Possible Side Effects

Some people experience side effects such as heartburn, diarrhea, upset stomach, and irritated skin. As with any supplement, it's important to keep in mind that the safety of regular or long-term use isn't known.

If you have an allergy to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, feverfew, yarrow, and other plants in the Asteraceae family such as sunflowers and daisies, you should avoid using this herb. Dandelions contain iodine and latex, so avoid it if you have allergies to those substances.

Individuals with an inflamed or infected gallbladder, gallstones, blocked bile ducts, or kidney problems should also avoid taking dandelion medicinally. Pregnant and nursing women and children should avoid the medicinal use of dandelion. 

There is some concern that consuming large amounts of dandelion may reduce fertility and, in men, reduce the level of testosterone.

Dandelion absorbs heavy metals (such as lead, nickel, copper, and cadmium), pesticides, and other substances from the environment, so it's generally not a good idea to eat wild dandelion unless the purity of the soil, water, and air are known. Dandelion can contain high levels of other substances, such as iron (which people with conditions like hemochromatosis should avoid).

You should find out the best ways to use supplements, but keep in mind that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences.

The Takeaway

While there are studies suggesting that dandelion may offer some benefits, the connection isn't solid because there aren't any clinical trials. Animal and lab studies aren't enough to put full-stock in a treatment. If you're still considering using dandelion, be sure to talk with your primary care provider first to weigh the pros and cons and discuss whether it's appropriate for you.

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