Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Taraxacum officinale (dandelion), a member of the Asteraceae family, commonly found in the temperate zone of the Northern hemisphere, is an herb that grows to a height of about 12 inches, producing spatula like leaves and yellow flowers that bloom year-round. Dandelion is used in many traditional and modern herbal medical systems, as particularly has been documented in Asia, Europe, and North America. Dandelion is grown commercially in the United States and Europe, the leaves and roots are used in herbal medicine. It is commonly used as a food. Sesquiterpene lactones impart a bitter taste to the plant, which is especially notable in the leaf but also in the root particularly when spring harvested.
The flower, leaf, and root of this plant are used in traditional medicine for their diuretic, cholagogic (promoting bile), antirheumatic and appetite-stimulating properties. Often used for loss of appetite and dyspepsia, such as a feeling of fullness and flatulence. In traditional Chinese medicine, the herb has been used to expel “heat and fire toxicity, dispel damp-heat in the lower burner, increase lactation and treats all kinds of inflammations”
In vitro and in vivo studies suggest that dandelion has lipid-lowering, hepatoprotective, antiviral, anticoagulant, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activities. A polyherbal extract containing dandelion was reported effective against acute non-bacterial tonsillitis in children.
Among the most important compounds in dandelion are sesquiterpene lactones, also known as bitter elements, principally taraxacin and taraxacerin. Other related compounds include betaamyrin, taraxasterol, and taraxerol, as well as free sterols (sitosterin, stigmasterin, and phytosterin), phenylpropanoids (believed to have inflammationmodulatingeffects), triterpenoid saponins and polysaccharides (primarily fructosans and inulin), smaller amounts of pectin, resin (complexcarbohydrates). Three flavonoid glycosides – luteolin7-glucoside and two luteolin 7-diglucosides – have been isolated from its flowers and leaves. Hydroxycinnamic acids, chicoric acid, monocaffeyltartaric acid, and chlorogenic acid are found throughout the plant, and the coumarins, cichoriin, and aesculin have been identified in theleafextracts (Williams et al.,1996) . Dandelion leaves are a rich source of a variety of vitamins and minerals, including beta carotene, non-provitamin A carotenoids, xanthophylls, chlorophyll, vitamins C and D, many of the B-complex vitamins, choline, iron, silicon, magnesium, sodium, potassium, zinc, manganese, copper, and phosphorous.
Although many people focus on the root or leaf of this herb, the flowers are also a potent medicinal food. Polyphenols in the flowers include ferulic, caffeic, sinapic, chlorogenic, and chicoric acids (phenylpropanoids); and flavonoids including luteolin, isorhamnetin, apigenin, and quercetin; along with flavonoid glycosides: luteolin 7-glucoside, luteolin 7-O-rutinoside, isorhamnetin 3-O-glucoside, quercetin 7-O-glucoside and apigenin 7-O-glucoside. These constituents are anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, and can activate the body’s endogenous antioxidant systems.
Dandelion flowers are also rich in carotenoids and xanthophylls (oil-soluble antioxidants) including lutein and zeaxanthin, which have a well-established role in protecting the macula lutea (yellow spot – it’s yellow because it accumulates these compounds) of the retina against UV damage and the potential development of macular degeneration. The flowers also contain the synergistic xanthophylls called violaxanthin and neoxanthin, along with carotenes. This combination of carotenoids helps to protect cells (including skin cells) against free radical damage. Several studies have also found that Dandelion carotenoids are protective to the respiratory system and may help prevent inflammation in the lungs.
The flowers also contain a low level of sesquiterpene lactones, terpenoid constituents that also have anti-inflammatory and antimutagenic activity; but if you are allergic to other Asteraceae plants like ragweed (Ambrosia) or chamomile (Matricaria), you may want to avoid eating dandelion flowers as it is possible to have a cross-reaction to these constituents.
Dandelion root extract demonstrated anticancer effects against melanoma, and leukemia, as well as pancreatic and colorectal cancer cell lines. It also showed estrogenic activity. Preclinical studies suggest increased proliferation of hormone-sensitive breast cancer cells as well as increased uterine weight in immature female rats. In addition, it can cause allergic reactions and may interact with some prescription drugs. There have been a few case reports of potential benefit in patients with blood cancers, but it is unclear whether this was definitively due to dandelion supplementation. Clinical trials are needed to determine the conditions under which dandelion may be safe and effective.
The diuretic activity of dandelion may be a result of its high potassium content. In murine models of diet-induced fatty liver disease, dandelion leaf extract exhibited hepatoprotective effects with decreased serum levels of ALT, hepatic TG, and MDA, as well as TNF-alpha and IL-6 expression. At the post-transcriptional level, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties were exhibited via decreased activation of procaspase-3 to active caspase-3, and JNK phosphorylation. Linoleic acid, phytol and tetracosanol have been identified as bioactive compounds, with hypolipidemic effects occurring via AMP-activated protein kinase activation in human HepG2 cells.
Dandelion has been shown to decrease human hepatoma cell line viability by increasing tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-1alpha production. Other research has shown that the presence of luteolin and luteolin 7-glucoside in dandelion flower extract exhibits cytotoxic activities against the colon adenocarcinoma cell line (Caco-2). An isolated compound identical to lupeol, a lupane-type triterpene, inhibited cell growth and induced melanogenesis in a mouse melanoma cell line.
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