In the rush to find more powerful (and sometimes dangerous) drug solutions, many traditional treatments and remedies are often forgotten and abandoned. One such example is the humble dandelion. Dandelion is often dismissed as little more than a stubborn garden weed, but it has been used in many forms of traditional medicine for centuries.
Not only can the leaves, roots, and flower add a little of colour to your plate, but they are also often used in herbal teas and supplements. They are used as a natural remedy to support blood sugar management, and to boost skin, liver, and heart health.
Here are listed some potential health benefits of the various parts of the dandelion plant.
From root to flower, dandelions are highly nutritious plants loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Dandelion greens can be eaten cooked or raw and are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K. They also contain vitamin E, folate, and small amounts of other B vitamins. In addition, dandelion greens provide a substantial amount of several minerals, which includes iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. The root of the dandelion is rich in the carbohydrate inulin, a type of soluble fibre found in plants, that supports the growth and maintenance of healthy gut bacteria in your digestive tract. Dandelion root is often dried and made into tea, but you can also eat it whole as you do other root vegetables.2.
Contains powerful antioxidants
Dandelion is full of potent antioxidants, which may explain many of its medicinal benefits. Antioxidants are compounds that help neutralise free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that are a product of normal metabolism, but contribute to chronic disease risk if levels become too high in your body. Therefore, antioxidants are crucial for keeping your body healthy. Dandelions contain high levels of the antioxidant beta carotene (pro-vitamin A), which may protect against cell damage and oxidative stress. They’re also rich in another type of antioxidants called polyphenols, which are found mostly in the flower but occur in the roots, leaves, and stems as well.
Dandelion may reduce inflammation, thanks to certain compounds such as polyphenols. Inflammation is a normal immune system response to injury or infection. However, long-term inflammation may lead to permanent damage to your body’s tissues and DNA. Studies have noted significantly reduced markers of inflammation in cells treated with compounds extracted from dandelion, and in lung disease, a reduction of lung inflammation when given dandelion.
Chicoric and chlorogenic acid are two bioactive compounds in dandelion that may help decrease blood sugar levels. Studies show that these compounds may improve the secretion of insulin — a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels — as well as the absorption of glucose (sugar) in your muscles. This process leads to improved insulin sensitivity and reduced blood sugar levels. In some studies, chicoric and chlorogenic acid also limited the digestion of starchy, high carb foods, which may further contribute to dandelion’s ability to lower blood sugar levels.
Some compounds in dandelion may decrease triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Both of these are key risk factors for heart disease. In one test-tube study, dandelion leaf and root extract decreased triglyceride accumulation in fat cells. Similarly, other studies showed that administering dandelion leaf extract significantly reduced levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides, and that adding dandelion roots and leaves to a high cholesterol diet lowered cholesterol levels.
Could lower blood pressure
Although some people claim that dandelion may reduce blood pressure, studies are limited. Traditional herbal medicine uses dandelion for its diuretic effect based on the belief that it can detoxify certain organs. In Western medicine, diuretic medications are used to rid the body of excess fluid, which may help decrease blood pressure levels. A limited and brief, older human study found dandelion to be an effective diuretic. Dandelion also contains potassium, a mineral associated with decreased blood pressure in those with previously elevated levels. Thus, this plant may have an indirect effect on blood pressure due to its potassium content, although this applies to any potassium-rich food.
Some studies suggest that dandelion extract may protect against liver damage and disease. In fact, one study found that it helped prevent liver damage in mice exposed to sodium dichromate, a compound used to induce liver injury. Other studies have shown that dandelion extract may reduce levels of excess fat stored in the liver and safeguard against oxidative stress.
Some research indicates that dandelions and their compounds may support weight control, though the data isn’t conclusive. Some researchers suggest that dandelion’s ability to improve carbohydrate metabolism and reduce fat absorption may lead to weight loss. One study also suggests that dandelion extract may aid weight management by reducing fat absorption. Another study found that chlorogenic acid, a compound found in dandelion, reduced body weight, decreased fat accumulation, and altered levels of certain proteins involved in weight control.
Possible anticancer effects
Perhaps one of the most intriguing health claims about dandelion extract is its potential to prevent the growth of cancerous cells in various organ systems. One study showed that administering dandelion root extract modified specific pathways involved in suppressing the growth and spread of breast cancer cells. Other test-tube studies have found that dandelion root extract may slow the growth of cancer cells in liver, colon, and stomach tissue.
May support healthy digestion and treat constipation
Dandelion is often used in traditional medicine to treat constipation and improve digestive health. One study found a significant increase in the rates of stomach contractions and stomach emptying when treated with dandelion extract. Dandelion root is also a rich source of the prebiotic fibre inulin, which has been shown to reduce constipation and promote the movement of food through the digestive system. What’s more, with more than 3 grams of fibre per cooked cup (105 grams), dandelion greens may bump up your fibre intake. Fibre supports bowel regularity and protects against a variety of digestive conditions, including haemorrhoids and diverticulitis.
Some research indicates that dandelion may have antimicrobial and antiviral properties, which may support your body’s ability to fight infection. Several test-tube studies have found that dandelion extract significantly reduces viruses’ ability to replicate. Research also indicates that some active compounds in dandelion protect against various harmful bacteria.
Research notes that dandelion extract may protect against skin damage caused by sunlight, aging, and acne. In one study, dandelion leaf and flower extracts prevented skin damage when applied just before or immediately after exposure to UVB radiation, which is the radiation you get from sunlight. Interestingly, dandelion root did not have the same effect. An older test-tube study showed that dandelion root extract increased the generation of new skin cells, which may support your skin’s appearance as you age. Additionally, older research indicates that dandelion extract may reduce skin inflammation and irritation while increasing hydration and collagen production. This may be useful in preventing and treating certain types of acne.
Very little research has been conducted on dandelion’s effect on bone health, though some of its individual nutrients contribute to the maintenance of strong, healthy bones. Dandelion greens are a good source of calcium and vitamin K, both of which play a key role in bone health. One small study linked an increased intake of vitamin K-rich leafy green vegetables to lower blood levels of osteocalcin, a protein found in your bones. This suggests that eating more leafy greens such as dandelion greens may help prevent bone loss. Inulin, a fibre found in dandelion root, may also support healthy bones by improving digestion and gut health. Additionally, some research suggests that the antioxidants in dandelion and other greens play a key role in bone health and protect against bone loss by decreasing oxidative stress.
Many of the studies and research referred to above, were from animal studies, and more research probably needs to be done in humans