When most people think of dandelion, they usually think of it as a weed that grows in their yard. But dandelion has long been hailed for benefits that are both nutritional and medicinal, such as drinking dandelion tea for stomach pain.
Although there are many traditional beliefs about what dandelion can do for the body, there’s little scientific evidence to back up most of it. There are also several unpleasant dandelion root side effects and risk factors that might offset those benefits. Anyone who is looking to use dandelion as a supplement should wise up to this weed before they put too much trust in it.
What Is Dandelion?
Also known as lion’s tooth and blowcall, dandelion is a botanical herb that was traditionally used as a medicine in Native American, Chinese and Arab cultures. In centuries past, it was used as a remedy for such things as baldness, toothaches, fevers and lethargy, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It was also used for problems related to the liver, gallbladder and bile ducts.
Dandelion is still consumed today as both a food and as part of complementary or alternative medicine. As a food, its leaves can be used raw in salads the same as you would with spinach or endive, or they can be sautéed in olive oil and used in soups or pesto. Its roots can be roasted and ground to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute (one with far more antioxidant properties than coffee), and its flower can even be used to make wine.
Dandelion is also used as a botanical herbal supplement, which is frequently available in the form of teas, extracts and pills. To make dandelion tea, per the instructions of the American Botanical Council, you should steep 1 tablespoon of cut root and herb in 150 milliliters of hot water. Sip and enjoy.
It is important to note that despite the health claims that can be attributed to them, herbal supplements are generally not reviewed by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for safety or effectiveness. You should always follow the instructions on the label and tell your doctor about any herbal supplements you are taking because there could be drug interactions with dandelion root tea.
Does It Have Health Benefits?
As a vegetable, dandelion greens are rich in many vitamins and minerals, as discussed by an article published in the summer-fall 2016 issue of the_ Review of Diabetic Studies_. Dandelion greens have vitamins A, B, C, D and E, as well as minerals such as iron, magnesium, sodium, calcium, silicon, copper, phosphorus, zinc and magnesium.
Dandelion greens also contain properties called chlorogenic acid (CGA), chicory acid (CRA), taraxasterol (TS) and sesquiterpene lactones (SEL), all of which may aid in regulating diabetes.
As an herbal tea, dandelion is praised for many benefits, most commonly as a diuretic and for digestive problems, according the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. The problem is that many of the traditional claims about dandelion tea for stomach pain and other ailments is that little of it is backed up by science.
The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center cites that dandelion has anticancer properties in cancer cells, though these properties have not been tested in humans. Additionally, dandelion has been hailed for its ability to lower blood sugar or promote lactation, but neither of these claims are scientifically evaluated either. The center notes that laboratory studies have, however, shown dandelion to be able to kill bacteria and other microbes.
Furthermore, a November 2016 report in Oncotarget found that dandelion root extract has anti-cancer benefits while posing no threat of toxicity to non-cancer cells, meaning dandelion could be a nontoxic cancer treatment alternative, although more research would have to be done.
What Are the Risks?
Dandelion root side effects and risk factors are important to know before taking it. The most prominent one is that some people could be allergic to it, particularly people who also have allergic reactions to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds and daisies, according the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Even for people without allergies, there could be bad dandelion root side effects like heartburn, stomach inflammation, mild diarrhea and low blood sugar.
The American Botanical Council points out that like other drugs and supplements with bitter substances, dandelion could cause some discomfort because of its gastric hyperacidity — the complete opposite of the desired effect if somebody is taking dandelion tea for stomach pain.
While dandelion is sometimes praised for its anticancer benefits, it can be particularly risky for people who have hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast cancer or prostate cancer. That’s because dandelion could cause these cancer cells to grow.
There are a few drug interactions with dandelion root tea you should be concerned about. If you are taking an immunosuppressive agent — which are drugs that help prevent the body from rejecting a transplanted organ — dandelion tea could cause these to build up to toxic levels in your body.
Additionally, you should be careful if you are taking lithium, as dandelion is a diuretic that could further your body’s loss of water and sodium. Dandelion should also not be combined with hypoglycemic drugs because dandelion already has blood-sugar-lowering effects. Ask your doctor about other drug interactions with dandelion root tea.
Considering Other Options
In most cases, you will find dandelion tea completely safe, but if you would rather avoid it, there are other ways of attaining the effects attributed to it, such as treating indigestion or acting as a diuretic.
The Mayo Clinic recommends treating indigestion by avoiding trigger foods, controlling stress and anxiety, and reducing your use of alcohol or caffeine. You can treat fluid retention without the use of a diuretic by focusing on healthy eating, reducing sodium and getting plenty of physical activity.
Dandelion can make a nice addition to your routine as either a healthful vegetable or a soothing tea, but putting too much faith in some of the health claims attributed to it would be unwise.
It is also smart to remember that many herbs have side effects, and you should keep your doctor in the loop about any complementary or alternative medicinal methods you use, in case there are any drug interactions with the dandelion root tea.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Dandelion”
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Using Dietary Supplements Wisely”
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Dandelion”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “The Dandelion”
- American Botanical Council: “Dandelion Root With Herb”
- National Kidney Foundation: “Immunosuppressants”
- Mayo Clinic: “Indigestion”
- Mayo Clinic: “Can Natural Diuretics Reduce Fluid Retention and Help With Weight Loss?”
- Oncotarget: "Dandelion Root Extract Affects Colorectal Cancer Proliferation and Survival Through the Activation of Multiple Death Signalling Pathways"