Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a hearty plant that has been used medicinally for centuries. Each part of this plant, the root, leaves, and flowers, have different constituent profiles and are all used for medicinal purposes. Some constituents of T. officinale include sesquiterpene lactones, triterpenoids, phenolic derivatives, coumarins, flavonoids, and lignans. Traditionally, T. officinale was used in folk medicine in Central Asia for gastrointestinal complaints, kidney stones, and liver disorders. Studies show that dandelion may support recovery from hepatitis B infection, support gastrointestinal health in the presence of H. pylori-related gastritis, and improve androgenic metabolism. Additionally, many studies demonstrate the diuretic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties of T. officinale.
A recent study assessed the effects of extract of T. officinale on the neuroinflammatory response of microglia. Microglia are macrophages in the central nervous system and are sometimes referred to as the “cleaning crew” of the brain. When microglia are stimulated to respond, they secrete many pro-inflammatory mediators and cytotoxic factors including nitric oxide (NO), prostaglandin (PG) E2, cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, and interleukins. This causes a cascade of responses from other microglia, thus leading to a likely overproduction of pro-inflammatory mediators which can lead to neuronal cell damage and may contribute to neurodegenerative diseases. Heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) is an enzyme that can protect against inflammation, oxidative stress, and cellular damage and is thought to be protective against neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease due to its ability to modulate the expression of pro-inflammatory mediators. The study subjects were given known stressors to microglia followed by an extract of T. officinale. The results showed that certain constituents of T. officinale, caffeic acid, chicoric acid, luteolin, and luteolin-7-glucoside, selectively downregulated the production of nitric acid. The extract significantly reduced pro-inflammatory mediators interleukin (IL)-6, IL-1 beta, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha in the hippocampus, suggesting neuroinflammation attenuation. In addition, HO-1 protein expression in microglia increased in the presence of T. officinale.
Recent research has also focused on dandelion and its supportive role in healthy metabolic function. A recently published review article aggregated data on studies involving supplementation with T. officinale in the presence of diabetes. In animal studies, extracts of T. officinale were shown to have hypoglycemic effects, influence lipid peroxidation, and increase the antioxidant action of glutathione s-transferases in the liver. Fructooliogosaccharides from dandelion leaves and root extracts were shown to enhance carbohydrate metabolism. And polyphenols and flavonoids from dandelion leaf extracts were shown to decrease insulin resistance and assist in the prevention of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease–associated disorders.
Dandelion is a botanical with a great ability to support human health. Traditional knowledge and pharmacologic research both indicate that dandelion supports gastrointestinal health. Recent research also suggests that supplementation with dandelion may also support brain health and metabolic function.
By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT