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Is dandelion root effective in treating cancer?

Dandelion, typically thought of as a pesky weed, can be traced back to 659 B.C. for its medicinal purposes. Dandelions are highly nutritious and are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. [1]

Scientifically known as Taraxacum officinale, the dandelion is a hardy perennial. This vibrant yellow flower has hundreds of species that can be found in North America, Europe, and Asia, and can grow to up to 12 inches in height. [2]

The entire plant is edible, nutritious, and can be eaten from flower to root. Dandelions can be eaten cooked or raw. The greens and flowers of the plant can help brighten up any salad. The flowers can be dried and boiled into a tea, or if you are looking for something with a little more kick, fermented into wine. The root of the plant can also be roasted to create a caffeine-free coffee.  

When used medicinally, the root can be made into tinctures, infusions, teas, poultices, and is available over the counter in capsule form. [3] 

So, before you dig out your weed killer, let’s take a gander this small but fascinating plant that has been used for centuries to help many different ailments, including cancer. 

Origins of dandelion as medicine

Medicinal use of the dandelion can be traced to 659 B.S. in ancient China (and is still used in today’s traditional Chinese medicine). Dandelions were used by Native Americans as well as in Arabic, Welsh, and European medicine. [1]

In Native American medicine, the root of the dandelion was typically chewed or boiled. People would use it to help relieve pain, ease sore throats, treat kidney disease, swelling, heartburn, and upset stomach. [2] 

Traditional Chinese medicineA medical system that has been used for thousands of years to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. Also called Oriental medicine and TCM, it includes acupuncture, diet, herbal therapy, meditation, physical exercise, and massage. uses for dandelions are in aiding digestion, appendicitis, an increase of lactation production, and liver healing. [1-2]

For centuries this small but mighty plant has been used in treating many ailments. Some of the claims are better supported by research than others.

Health benefits, cancer, and what the research says

Lowers Cholesterol and Rich in Antioxidants

McDonald’s for lunch and pizza for dinner, sounds good right? Think again. 

“Several studies have shown that an increased dietary intake of cholesterol results in hypercholesterolemia, which is known to eventually generate atherosclerosis and enhance the risk of coronary heart disease, fatty liver disease, and cancer-associated with hydroxyl radical formation.” [4] 

In 2010 a study was done on dandelion root and leaf and its effect on rabbits fed with a high-cholesterol diet. The objective was to find the hypolipidemic (lowering of cholesterol) and antioxidative effects the dandelion might have. The findings showed that after treatment with the dandelion root and leaf positively lowered the total cholesterol, triglycerides, and “bad” LDL. It also increased the HDL “the good cholesterol” and reduced the oxidative stressors. [4] 

Even after all those hamburgers, the dandelion root lowered Roger the rabbit’s bad cholesterol. Of course, we are kidding; they did not feed the rabbits hamburgers, but one of the 28 male rabbits could have been named Rodger or Bugs.  

Liver Protection

A 2017 study was conducted on the dandelion root polysaccharides (DRP) and the effects it had in preventing liver injury. The research was done in vitroThis means "outside the body" – or in the laboratory. and in vivoThis means "in the body." (in mice) and given large amounts of acetaminophen and DRP. The ones who were given the DRP showed that the DRP protected the liver from acetaminophen injury by activating the body’s metabolic pathway (Nrf2-Keap1). [5] This suggests that DRP may be beneficial to liver health and may help prevent liver injury. 

Cancer

The dandelion root has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. The current research for dandelion root and cancer is promising. Most of the studies that have been done are in vitro and animal studies. 

A study done on mice with colorectal cancer were given dandelion root extract (DRE) daily and resulted in selectivity induced programmed cell death in the cancerous cells. It also showed that the DRE’s molecular complexity was responsible for anti-cancer activity engaging multiple signaling pathways inside the cancer cells, including “the powerhouse” mitochondria. [6]

Observations on a study conducted on dandelion root extract and liver cancer cell lines (test tubes) showed that DRE demonstrated potency against liver cancer by inducing apoptosisA type of cell death in which a series of molecular steps in a cell lead to its death. This is one method the body uses to get rid of unneeded or abnormal cells. The process of apoptosis may be blocked in cancer cells. Also called programmed cell death.. [7]

A 2019 study on mice with prostate cancer used dandelion root extract and lemongrass extract to see if there were interactions with chemotherapy. If successful, the extracts could be a complementary therapy adjuvant with chemotherapy.

Both exhibited selective anti-cancer activities. When both were introduced with chemotherapies, they enhanced the induction of apoptosis (programmed cell death). The addition of DRE and LRE led to reduced dosages of the chemo, which reduced the drug-related toxicity. Furthermore, they were well tolerated by the mice and saw a reduction in the tumors. [8]

Many current conventional therapies for cancer treatments have many side effects and are not suitable for long term usage. Natural health products that have been used for centuries are typically well-tolerated and safe, including dandelion root extract.

Although the current research involving cancer and dandelions appears to be promising, most studies have been done in vitro and in vivo. There are little research and a lack of human studies done to this point. 

Precautions and drug interactions

While dandelions typically are considered safe, some people may be allergic and should avoid them. If you’re whiffing then you’re sniffing, it might be a good idea not to take a big ol’ bite. 

You should avoid dandelions if you have allergies to ragweed, marigolds, chamomile, chrysanthemums, daisies, yarrow, or iodine. These may cause an allergic reaction when eaten or applied topically. 

Anytime you experience itching, redness, or swelling, you should discontinue use. If the symptoms do not subside, please contact a health care provider immediately.  

Dandelions can act as a diuretic, which can cause drugs to leave your body faster with less absorption. You should avoid dandelion leaf or talk with your healthcare provider, especially if you are taking the following.

  • Antacids
  • Antipsychotics like lithium and Haldol
  • Antidepressants 
  • Blood-thinning medications
  • Diuretics 
  • Antibiotics
  • Medicines broke down by the liver
  • Medications for diabetes
  • Statin drugs 
  • Estrogen-based contraceptives

In some cases, only a dose of modification is needed. As with anything, if you plan to start a new supplementA product, generally taken orally, that contains one or more ingredients (such as vitamins or amino acids) that are intended to supplement one's diet and are not considered food. and are on a prescription drug, you should always talk with your health care provider to avoid any interactions. [2-3] 

FAQs

Can dandelions cure cancer?

Although many promising animal studies have been done on dandelions and their effects on cancer, no human studies have been done.

How are dandelions taken?

The plants can be eaten from root to flower and can be made into tinctures, infusions, teas, poultices, and is available over the counter in capsule form.

Should I add dandelion to my daily supplementation?

While dandelions typically are considered safe, some people may be allergic and should avoid them. If you plan to start a new supplement, and are on a prescription drug or have an existing health condition, talk with your health care provider to avoid any complications or interactions.

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