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Introduction into Wild Endive

Scientific Name: Dandelion

Other Names: Blowball, Canker Wort, Irish Daisy, Leotodon taraxacum, Lion's Tooth, Puffball, Taraxacum officinale, Wild Endive

Who is this for?

Currently, dandelion is used very little in Western herbal medicine. In the past and in other parts of the world, however, its flowers, leaves, and roots have been taken orally to treat a number of conditions that include arthritis, cancer, diabetes, gout, liver ailments, heartburn and rheumatism. Some evidence from case reports suggests that the roots of dandelion may have weak diuretic and laxative properties – which means that they may slightly increase the loss of urine and solid waste from the body. In a study conducted more than 40 years ago, high doses of dandelion leaf increased urination in laboratory mice. Due to this possible ability to increase water elimination from the body, dandelion root has been promoted for weight loss, even though dandelion leaves have also been used to stimulate the appetite and improve digestion. No human studies have been conducted to either support or challenge any of these findings, however.

In laboratory animals, dandelion has been tested for lowering both blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Although one laboratory study showed potential ability for dandelion to increase the production of insulin, results are inconclusive for its actual effect on blood sugar. In one study, when rabbits that were not diabetic were given dandelion, a slight decrease in blood sugar levels was seen. Other studies found no effect on blood sugar in either diabetic or non-diabetic animals. A separate study found that an extract of dandelion lowered triglycerides, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) while increasing the “good” cholesterol, high-density lipoproteins (HDL) in laboratory rats with artificially-induced diabetes. Much more study – including studies in humans – is needed before dandelion can be recommended for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, or any other condition.

Currently, topical use of dandelion is not common, but in the past, it has been used for treating bruises and other minor skin conditions. In folk medicine, warts are sometimes treated with juice made by crushing the leaves of the dandelion plant.

When should I be careful taking it?

Dandelion contains chemicals that stimulate the production of bile, a digestive juice which is stored in the gallbladder. Increased amounts of bile may be irritating to gallbladder tissue. Therefore, dandelion root should not be used by individuals with gallstones or other gallbladder complaints. It should also be avoided by individuals who have obstructed bile ducts.

Dandelion may increase stomach acid production, so it should not be taken by individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastritis, or ulcers.

Individuals with diabetes should take dandelion with caution and monitor their blood sugar levels carefully to avoid hypoglycemia (blood sugar that is too low). Symptoms of hypoglycemia may include shakiness, sweating, confusion, distorted speech, and loss of muscle control. If not corrected, hypoglycemia can lead to unconsciousness and even death.

Precautions

The safety of oral dandelion preparations for pregnant or breast-feeding women has not been studied, but using it in moderate amounts is generally considered to be safe.

When handled, the chemicals in dandelion may cause skin irritation in individuals who are sensitive to it. In at least one study conducted in animals, dandelion was found to be mildly irritating to skin, but several human case reports of more serious contact dermatitis from handling dandelion plants have been published. Individuals who are sensitive to plants in the daisy family may also be sensitive to dandelion.

What side effects should I watch for?

Because dandelion can increase the production of stomach acid, upset stomach is the most reported side effect when dandelion is taken orally.

Skin irritation (red, raw, or itchy patches) may occur after coming in contact with a dandelion plant.

What interactions should I watch for?

Prescription Drugs

Because dandelion may have a lowering effect on blood sugar, taking it may increase the effectiveness of medications used for the treatment of diabetes. Individuals who are using insulin or taking oral medications for diabetes, should talk to their doctors or pharmacists before using dandelion.

Dandelion’s possible diuretic effect could increase the effectiveness of “water pills”. Individuals who take diuretic drugs, should discuss the use of dandelion with a doctor or pharmacist before beginning to take it.

If dandelion is taken by mouth, it may increase the production of stomach acid, potentially interfering with the acid-blocking actions of histamine-2 receptor blockers, such as cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), nizatidine (Axid), and ranitidine (Zantac) and proton pump inhibitors such as Nexium, omeprazole (Prilosec), Prevacid, and Protonix.

Non-prescription Drugs

The possibility that dandelion can increase the production of stomach acid could interfere with the effectiveness of antacids and over-the-counter medications such as Pepcid AC and Zantac AR.

Herbal Products

Although no cases have been reported, taking dandelion at the same time as other herbs (such as squill and yarrow) that also promote the loss of water from the body may possibly result in dehydration.

Some interactions between herbal products and medications can be more severe than others. The best way for you to avoid harmful interactions is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what medications you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals.

Should I take it?

The familiar dandelion features a bright yellow flower at the end of a hollow central stalk that sprouts from a low cluster of long, sharply-toothed leaves. Usually regarded as a nuisance in the United States, dandelion species grow profusely throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. In some parts of Europe, the plants are grown commercially on farms and marketed as a good source for several vitamins and minerals that include vitamin A, potassium, and iron. Young dandelion leaves are often added to spring salads and both the leaves and the roots of young plants can be stewed and served as a vegetable or cooked in soup. Dandelion wine is sometimes made from the flowers in some parts of the American Midwest. Dandelion roots are dried, roasted, and ground into coffee-like beverages in many parts of the world. Medically, the roots of dandelion are used most, but its leaves also contain chemicals with medical properties.

Dosage and Administration

Usually, dandelion is available as dried flowers and leaves or as a liquid extract made from the whole dandelion plant. Dried dandelion is brewed into a tea by soaking one or 2 teaspoons of dried dandelion in about 8 ounces of hot water. Due to its bitter taste, dandelion tea is usually sweetened or flavored before drinking. One or 2 teaspoons of dandelion extract can be taken orally, instead — either in water or alone. Dandelion is frequently taken three times a day.

Unsweetened dandelion tea may be cooled and applied as a skin wash. Dandelion juice may be made by chopping or crushing the tops of the plants and then squeezing the juice into a clean container. Either dandelion tea or juice may be applied as often as needed.

Summary

When taken orally, dandelion may have mild diuretic and laxative properties. It is also being tested in animal studies for possible lowering effects on blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Risks

Because it may increase the flow of bile, dandelion should not be used by individuals with gallstones, gallbladder disease, or bile duct obstruction. If individuals with diabetes use it orally, they should also check their blood sugar levels carefully to make sure they do not develop hypoglycemia.

Side Effects

When taken by mouth, dandelion can cause upset stomach.

When handled or applied to the skin, dandelion has caused contact allergic responses in a few individuals who are especially sensitive to it.

Interactions

Dandelion may affect the way that insulin, oral antidiabetic drugs and “water pills” work. It could also counteract the effects of antacids and other drugs that reduce stomach acid production.

References

Anon: Dandelion. In: DerMarderosian A, Beutler JA, eds. Facts and Comparisons: The Review of Natural Products. St. Louis, MO, Facts and Comparisons. 2002.

Blumenthal M, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Rister RS, eds. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Austin, Texas: American Botanical Council; 1998.

Cho SY, Park JY, Park EM, et al. Alternation of hepatic antioxidant enzyme activities and lipid profile in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats by supplementation of dandelion water extract. Clinica Chimica Acta. 2002;317(1-2):109-117.

Harkness R, Bratman S. Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interaction Bible. Roseville, California: Prima Publishing; 2000.

HealthNotes, Inc. Dandelion. 2002. Available at: http://www.mycustompak.com/healthNotes/Herb/Dandelion.htm Accessed November 18, 2002.

Hu C, Kitts DD. Antioxidant, prooxidant, and cytotoxic activities of solvent-fractionated dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) flower extracts in vitro. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2003;51(1):301-310.

Hussain Z, Waheed A, Qureshi RA, Burdi DK, Verspohl EJ, Khan N, Hasan M. The effect of medicinal plants of Islamabad and Murree region of Pakistan on insulin secretion from INS-1 cells. Phytotherapy Research. 2004;18(1):73-77.

Jellin JM, Gregory P, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al, eds. Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 3rd Edition. Stockton CA: Therapeutic Research Facility, 2000.

Kemper KJ. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis). Longwood Herbal Task Force. Revised November 1, 1999. Available at: http://www.mcp.edu/herbal/dandelion/dandelion.pdf Accessed December 26, 2002.

Koo HN, Hong SH, Song BK, Kim CH, Yoo YH, Kim HM. Taraxacum officinale induces cytotoxicity through TNF-alpha and IL-1alpha secretion in Hep G2 cells. Life Sciences. 2004;74(9):1149-1157.

Lovell CR, Rowan M. Dandelion dermatitis. Contact Dermatitis. 1991;25(3):185-188.

Miller LG, Murray WJ, eds. Herbal Medicinals. A Clinician?s Guide. Binghamton, New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press; 1998.

Swanston-Flatt SK, Day C, Flatt PR, Gould BJ, Bailey CJ. Glycaemic effects of traditional European plant treatments for diabetes. Studies in normal and streptozotocin diabetic mice. Diabetes Research. 1989;10(2):69-73.

Zeller W, de Gols M, Hausen BM. The sensitizing capacity of Compositae plants. VI. Guinea pig sensitization experiments with ornamental plants and weeds using different methods. Archives of Dermatology Research. 1985;277(1):28-35.


(Note: The above information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional. It is not meant to indicate that the use of the product is safe, appropriate, or effective for you.)

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