Dandelion are a family of flowering plants that grow in many parts of the world. They are also known as Taraxacum spp., though Taraxacum officinale is the most common species. You may be most familiar with dandelion as a stubborn weed that never seems to leave your lawn or garden. However, in traditional herbal medicine practices, dandelion is revered for their wide array of medicinal benefits. For centuries, they have been used to treat many different physical ailments, including cancer, acne, liver disease and digestive disorders. Here are 13 potential health benefits of dandelion, and what science has to say about them.
- Highly Nutritious
In terms of nutritional content, the dandelion patch in your backyard can join the rankings with the rest of your vegetable garden. From root to flower, dandelions are highly nutritious plants, loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Dandelion greens can be eaten cooked or raw and serve as an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K. They also contain vitamin E, folate and small amounts of other B vitamins. What is more, dandelion greens provide a substantial amount of several minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. The root of the dandelion is rich in the carbohydrate inulin, which is a type of soluble fiber found in plants that supports the growth and maintenance of a healthy bacterial flora in your intestinal tract. Dandelion root is often dried and consumed as a tea but can also be eaten in its whole form.
- Contains Potent Antioxidants
Dandelions are full of potent antioxidants, which may explain why this plant has such broad applications. Antioxidants are molecules that help neutralize the negative effects of free radicals in your body. Free radicals are a product of normal metabolism but can be very destructive. The presence of too many free radicals contributes to disease development and accelerated aging. Therefore, antioxidants are essential for keeping your body healthy. Dandelion contain high levels of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is known to provide strong protection against cellular damage and oxidative stress. They are also rich in another category of antioxidants called polyphenols, which are found in the highest concentration in the flower but are present in the roots, leaves and stems as well.
- May Help Fight Inflammation
Dandelion may be effective in reducing inflammation caused by disease due to the presence of various bioactive compounds like polyphenols. Inflammation is one of your body’s natural responses to injury or illness. Over time, excessive inflammation can lead to permanent damage to your body’s tissues and DNA. Some test-tube studies have revealed significantly reduced inflammation markers in cells treated with dandelion compounds. A study in mice with artificially induced inflammatory lung disease showed a significant reduction of lung inflammation in those animals that received dandelion. Ultimately, more research is needed to clearly define dandelion’s role in reducing inflammation in humans.
- May Help Blood Sugar Control
Chicoric and chlorogenic acid are two bioactive compounds in dandelion. They are found in all parts of the plant and may help reduce blood sugar. Test-tube and animal studies show that these compounds can improve insulin secretion from the pancreas while simultaneously improving the absorption of glucose (sugar) in muscle tissue. This process leads to improved insulin sensitivity and reduced blood sugar levels. In some animal studies, chicoric and chlorogenic acid limited the digestion of starchy carbohydrate foods, which may also contribute to dandelion’s potential ability to reduce blood sugar. While these early study results are encouraging, more research is needed to determine if dandelion work the same way in humans.
- May Reduce Cholesterol
Some of the bioactive compounds in dandelion may lower cholesterol, which may decrease heart disease risk. One animal study resulted in dramatically reduced cholesterol and triglyceride levels in mice that were treated with dandelion extract. A rabbit study evaluated the impact of adding dandelion roots and leaves to a high-cholesterol diet. Rabbits that received dandelion had noticeably reduced cholesterol levels. Though these outcomes are intriguing, more research is needed to determine dandelion’s potential effects on cholesterol in humans.
- May Lower Blood Pressure
Some people claim that dandelion may reduce blood pressure, but supporting evidence is limited. Traditional herbal medicine practices use dandelion for their diuretic effect based on the belief that this can detoxify certain organs. In Western medicine, diuretic medications are used to rid the body of excess fluid, which can lead to lowered blood pressure. One human study found dandelion to be an effective diuretic. However, this study was done over a short period and involved only 17 people. Dandelion contain potassium, a mineral associated with lowered blood pressure in those with previously elevated levels. Thus, dandelion may have an indirect effect on blood pressure due to their potassium content. It is important to keep in mind that this effect is not unique to dandelion but applies to any potassium rich food consumed as part of a healthy diet.
- May Promote a Healthy Liver
Animal studies have found that dandelion have a protective effect on liver tissue in the presence of toxic substances and stress. One study revealed significant protection of liver tissue in mice exposed to toxic levels of acetaminophen (Tylenol). Researchers attributed this finding to dandelion’s antioxidant content. Other animal studies have shown that dandelion extract may reduce levels of excess fat stored in the liver and protect against oxidative stress in liver tissue. However, the same results should not be expected in humans due to differences in human and animal metabolism. Further research is needed to determine how dandelion impact liver health in humans.
- May Aid Weight Loss
Some research indicates that dandelion and their bioactive components may support weight loss and maintenance, though the data is not entirely conclusive. Some researchers theorize that dandelion’s ability to improve carbohydrate metabolism and reduce fat absorption may lead to weight loss. However, this notion has yet to be scientifically proven. One study in mice showed weight loss associated with dandelion supplementation, though it should be noted that this was an accidental finding and not the focus of the study. Another study in obese mice revealed that chlorogenic acid, a compound found in dandelion, was able to reduce body weight and levels of some fat-storage hormones. Yet again, this research did not specifically evaluate dandelion’s role in weight loss and obesity prevention. More focused, human-based research is needed to determine a clear cause-and-effect relationship between dandelion and weight management.
- May Fight Cancer
Perhaps one of the most intriguing health claims of dandelion is their potential to prevent the growth of cancerous cells in many different organ systems. One test-tube study revealed significantly reduced growth of cancerous cells that were treated with dandelion leaf extract. However, extracts from dandelion flower or root did not lead to the same result. Other test-tube studies have shown that dandelion root extract has the capacity to dramatically slow the growth of cancer cells in liver, colon and pancreatic tissue. These findings are encouraging, but more research is fundamental to fully understand how dandelion may be useful in treating or preventing cancer in humans.
- May Support Healthy Digestion and Treat Constipation
Traditional herbal medicine utilizes dandelion to treat constipation and other symptoms of impaired digestion. Some early research seems to support these claims. One animal study revealed a significant increase in the rates of stomach contractions and emptying of stomach contents into the small intestine in rats who were treated with dandelion extract. Additionally, dandelion root is a rich source of the prebiotic fiber inulin. Research indicates that inulin has a strong capacity to reduce constipation and increase intestinal movement.
- May Boost Your Immune System
Some research indicates that dandelion may have antimicrobial and antiviral properties, which could support your body’s ability to fight infection. Several test-tube studies found that dandelion extract significantly reduced the ability of viruses to replicate. Research also indicates that some of the active compounds in dandelion protect against various harmful bacteria. Ultimately, more research is needed to draw definitive conclusions about dandelion’s ability to fight viral and bacterial infection in humans.
- May Be a Useful Skincare Treatment
Animal and test-tube research indicate that dandelion may protect against skin damage from sunlight, aging and acne. In one study, dandelion leaf and flower extracts protected against skin damage when applied just prior to or immediately after exposure to UVB radiation (sunlight). Interestingly, dandelion root was not effective in the same way. One of the characteristics of aging skin is a decrease in the production of healthy, new skin cells. One test-tube study showed that dandelion root extract increased the generation of new skin cells, which could slow the aging process. Additional research indicates that dandelion extract may reduce skin inflammation and irritation while also increasing hydration and collagen production. This may be useful in preventing and treating certain types of acne.
- May Support Healthy Bones
Very little research has been conducted on dandelion’s effect on bone health, though some of its individual nutritional components contribute to the maintenance of strong, healthy bones. Dandelion greens are a good source of calcium and vitamin K — both of which are associated with the prevention of bone loss. Inulin, a fiber found in dandelion root, may also support healthy bones through improved digestion and the promotion of healthy gut bacteria.
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