That Is a Dandy Lion: Dandelions for Health

cup-2176_1280Last week, I stumbled upon several brands of dandelion tea while at my local grocers. The packaging suggested it was an herbal tonic/remedy helpful for liver functioning and aiding with general digestive needs. Most specified that it was helpful for detoxifying or removing toxins. Of course, this came with the obligatory disclaimer statement required by the FDA. It is important to note here, that although I largely adhere to a westernized approach to healthcare, I find myself fascinated by “traditional” approaches to health and believe we should study them for safety and efficacy. It seems that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shares my interest as they have an entire division, NCCIH, devoted to complementary, alternative, and integrative health. I highly recommend visiting their site!
I am always skeptical of products implying a health benefit, especially when they tout the ability to help remove toxins from the body. This term has become pervasive, as well as the term detoxify, both which are overused and misused. While it is understandable to have concerns with manufactured environmental contaminants and want them out of the body, the terminology is wrong. What people actually want is a removal of toxicants or toxic agents. Secondly, adherents to detoxification operate on some flawed logic that the body does not have the ability to break things down and remove them from our system or isolate them within the body. While I could go into this in depth, I believe Kyle Hill provides a wonderful analysis in The Great “Detox” Deception.

Now that we have discussed some of the surface issues with health claims, I started wondering about dandelions themselves. I remember reading several years ago that dandelions were cultivated, and not the invasive yellow weeds that are the bane of those longing for a plush green lawn. There is evidence indicating that Puritan colonists planted dandelions for medicinal purposes. Dandelions also appear as a traditional medicine in other cultures, including Native American and Chinese. This leads us to the question: Is there any basis for the claims made?
According to NCCIH, dandelion greens “are a rich source of vitamin A”. Vitamin A helps regulate the development of cells, supports the development of organs, maintains normal immune functioning and plays a vital role in vision.
According to Linus Pauling Institute, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin A is 700 mcg*.  Vitamin A is stored in the liver and does not metabolize well in individuals with a compromised liver. This alone rules out the idea of using it to somehow cleanse the liver or improve general functioning. Even in a healthy individual, excessive consumption of vitamin A can lead to fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver failure. It is important to note here that most adverse effects are not associated with dandelion tea or consumption of dandelion greens, but with the use of vitamin A supplements. Despite my research, there is nothing to indicate that dandelion has the healing properties appearing on many dandelion products.  However, barring some caveats, dandelion is relatively safe for consumption and many enjoy its bitter flavor.

Have you tried dandelion greens or tea? Leave a comment below. Please come back and visit me soon!

All references for this post are provided as in-text links.  The Eclectic Data Hunter is not affiliated with any of the organizations or websites used in this post.  All rights belong to their respective owners and authors. Usage does not convey endorsement.
* This link leads to a website provided by the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.  The Eclectic Data Hunter is not affiliated or endorsed by the Linus Pauling Institute or Oregon State University.


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