While we’ve known about them for centuries, dandelions are finally getting the recognition they deserve in health and wellness. Like most nutritious plants throughout history, they’ve moved from the wild to our gardens to our homes. They’ve added a ton of health benefits to our diets in the process. Let’s explore them.
Dandelions in nutrition
Often mistaken for a pesky garden weed, dandelions are actually a perennial herb. They’re part of the Asteraceae family, the same group as sunflowers, chamomile, and sage. While it's commonly known as the daisy family, it also includes lettuce and artichokes – vegetables valued for their nutritional content.
This has people wondering the same thing. Are dandelions anywhere near as healthy as vegetables? According to registered dietician Nancy Geib:
“[Dandelions are] probably the most nutritionally dense green you can eat.”
That’s right. Dandelions aren’t just on par with more popular superfoods, they’re near the top of the list.
Health benefits of dandelions
Dandelions are still a fairly new topic in the dietary world. While dandelions have a long history in traditional medicine, wild plants don’t get as much research until they become part of public consumption. But the potential effects aren’t just promising, they’re powerful.
Rich in antioxidants
Dandelions are an incredible source of antioxidants, which support some of our most vital health functions. They’re essential to neutralizing free radicals throughout the body. Potent antioxidants like beta carotene lower free radical levels, protecting cells from the oxidative stress they cause.
While the body naturally produces free radicals, they can accelerate other conditions in large quantities. Overexposure to the sun’s UV rays triggers an overproduction of free radicals in skin cells, a leading cause of premature aging.
Dandelion extract contains anti-inflammatory compounds like polyphenols. Like oxidation in the cells, inflammation is a normal immune response to tissue damage, but only short-term. Chronic inflammation increases the risk of heart disease, so it needs to be managed.
Blood sugar regulation
Dandelion contains two compounds that may help manage blood sugar levels. Both chicoric acid and chlorogenic acid lower blood sugar, reducing the risk of organ and nerve damage associated with high levels.
Dandelions could potentially boost insulin production and improve insulin sensitivity too. Both effects support blood sugar regulation and help muscles absorb glucose more effectively.
Supports liver health
Studies suggest dandelion extract may help treat diseases like acetaminophen-induced liver injury. Its medicinal effects may even protect the liver against alcohol-related cell damage and oxidative stress.
Dandelion extract shows signs of other health properties that could support liver health. It has antibacterial and immunoprotective effects that minimize infection. Signs of antiobesity activity suggest that it could help reduce excess fat around the liver for improved cell function.
Rich in calcium and vitamin K, dandelion offers good bone support too. Calcium provides the building blocks for strong bones and teeth. Bones are the main storage site for calcium, but its key for other functions like muscle contraction and sending nerve signals. Without replenishing it, bones weaken over time.
Vitamin K plays an equally important role in bone health. It improves calcium absorption and activates the proteins responsible for bone formation and structure.
Beyond regulating blood sugar, chlorogenic acid also slows down fat accumulation and absorption. Combined with its high nutrient content, this could make dandelions an effective aid for weight control.
Dandelion tea has historically been used to treat a host of gut conditions, and the secret may be stored in its roots. Dandelion greens are high in fiber and inulin, prebiotic compounds that have wonderful effects on digestive health.
As a natural diuretic, dandelion increases urinary frequency to help the body flush toxins. Healthy diuretic activity ensures that waste stored in the kidneys is regularly removed, lowering the risk of diseases like urolithiasis.
We need fiber to stimulate bowel contractions and move food along our digestive systems.
Dandelion root extract and leaves have compounds that lower total cholesterol levels. This can improve cardiovascular health while limiting risk factors linked to heart disease. These compounds have a similar effect on triglycerides levels.
Triglycerides are a type of fat the body produces with excess calories. They’re typically found in the blood and stored in fat cells. While this makes them a good energy source, high triglyceride levels come with heart-related risks too.
Lower blood pressure
Dandelions are rich in potassium, which is responsible for their diuretic effects, but this does more than flush toxins. Diuretics are key to blood pressure management. Potassium is particularly effective at lowering blood pressure, especially in people with higher levels.
It’s already available as a daily supplement and has clinically proven effects. As a naturally–occurring compound in dandelions, though, it comes with all the other benefits that support regulatory functions.
Reducing cancer risk
Various studies report that dandelion shows signs of anticancer activity. Dandelion extract has properties that could slow the growth of breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer cells. While early research is limited, the potential benefits could have major implications for our health.
A potent and plentiful herb
Dandelions may grow wild and stubborn, but older cultures cultivated them for all the benefits we’re still studying today. From herbal teas to caffeine-free coffee, no part of the plant goes to waste. Its nutrient density is enough to earn it the superfood label, but its hardy growth habits make it extra special.
Dandelion’s biodiversity is one reason why it takes time to study clinically, but may also explain its potent effects. In our diets, it gives us a connection back to nature, the source of life and energy.
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