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The healing and nutritional properties of the common dandelion have been known to people for a long time. As a result, this plant is often used in traditional medicine, cosmetics, and even in cooking. However, in professional healthcare, this herb is not quite popular, primarily due to the lack of scientific evidence of its useful effects. Indeed, nowadays, the majority of physicians prefer using a specific approach to their practice, according to which decisions on the use of preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic measures are taken based on the available evidence of their effectiveness and safety. Moreover, such evidence is subjected to search, comparison, and generalization, being spread all over the world for the benefit of patients. Finally, by considering that the dandelion contains a wide array of organic and inorganic compounds, it is possible to say that there is a possibility that some of them may be harmful to people, which may turn to be an obstacle to its use in professional healthcare. The following work focuses on defining the potency of the common dandelion as a medicinal herb by analyzing its chemical components, providing scientific evidence of their efficiency, and relating to clinical studies of the plant.
Therapeutic effects of the dandelion are determined by its chemical compounds. Their content varies depending on the part of a plant. In particular, dandelion leaves and inflorescences contain several glycosides, such as taraxacin and flavoxantin (Pizzorno and Murray 1055). They play the role of regulators of many chemical processes in the plant, as well as perform several other functions. For example, flavoxantin is responsible for the bright yellow color of the flowers of dandelions. On the other hand, the bitter taste of taraxacin protects the herb from being eaten by animals (Pizzorno and Murray 1056). Additionally, leaves and inflorescences contain vitamins C, A, B2, E, and PP, as well as choline, salts of manganese, iron, calcium, and phosphorus. As a result, they are quite nutritious and are often used in cooking. The roots of the dandelion contain triterpene compounds, such as taraxasterol that has a significant effect on the renal activity of the human body (Pizzorno and Murray 1056). Additionally, they contain carbohydrates and fatty oils, which consist of glycerides of palmitic, linoleic, oleic, and cerotic acids. However, despite this fact, their use as food is limited due to the high amount of rubber, mucus, and other resins (Pizzorno and Murray 1055).
The chemical components of the dandelion listed above have a wide array of therapeutic effects, which determine its use as a stimulant and diuretic. Moreover, results of scientific research confirm its efficiency. In particular, glycosides affect taste buds and enhance the secretion of gastric juice due to their bitterness. From the biological point of 1v1iew, a bitter taste reflexively increases the secretion of gastric juice, which is acco1mpanied by an increase in appetite (Pizzorno and Murray 1056). The reflexive effect of this factor on gastric secretion was confirmed in the course of experiments. In case bitter components are introduced directly into the stomach (via the fistula), bypassing the mouth, they have no effect on its secretive function. It is believed that the basis of the mechanism of action of glycosides, such as taraxacin, is related to the excitability of the alimentary center, which is a result of the irritation of taste buds by bitterness (Sherwood 232).
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At the same time, triterpene compounds the plant contains, namely taraxasterol, are potent diuretics. In particular, they remove fluids from the spaces between tissues and the skin, also halting the process of the reabsorption of water and salt in the renal tubule (Pizzorno and Murray 1056). Physiologists confirm that each kidney contains about a million of interconnected entities called nephrons, composed of a vascular glomerulus and tubules. They filter plasma from blood cells and proteins, with the filtrate called primary urine. After the process of filtration, it enters renal tubules. During the day, the kidneys filter about 200 liters of fluid, with only two liters of urine being produced as a result of this process (Sherwood 505). In other words, 99% of the primary urine is absorbed again (reabsorbed) in tubules. As it has been mentioned before, triterpene compounds of the dandelion affect the course of reabsorption, increasing the amount of water and salt in urine. In turn, the volume and rate of urination increases, meaning that the liquid content in the spaces between tissues and the skin will be lower than usual. Thus, the presented facts prove the potency of the dandelion as both stimulant and diuretic.
At the same time, medical science has managed to obtain encouraging results from using the dandelion for the treatment of such diseases as cancer, as well as for the mitigation of effects of free radicals in the human body. As a result, the presented scientific evidence of the potency of this medicinal herb can be supported by experiments and results of the following clinical studies. One of them was conducted in 2010 at the University of Annunzio Chieti-Pasaca, Italy (Pravel). During it, scientists compared the extracts of several medicinal herbs, including turmeric, dandelion, and rosemary. By that time, positive effects of the mentioned plants on internal organs, namely the gallbladder and the liver, had been common knowledge. As a result, the purpose of the study was to examine and compare their anti-proliferation, antioxidant, and protective impacts. It is possible to note that turmeric has proved to be the most efficient drug to mitigate the effects of free radicals on the human body (it is a potent antioxidant). However, in this regard, the dandelion came in a close second. The researchers have found out that effects of the dandelion extract are quite potent after testing it on rats. The liver of these mammals was damaged by carbon tetrachloride, a highly toxic chemical commonly used in refrigerators. The continuous intake of dandelion tea lowered oxidative stress and halted the processes of inflammation in the liver of the test subjects (Pravel).
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Cancer-related studies involving dandelion have been conducted since 2008. The first of them described in The International Journal of Oncology was meant to demonstrate positive effects of a water-based extract of this plant (qtd. in Pravel). Scientists prepared several versions of a drug, leaf- and root-based ones, finding out that the first type of dandelion tea acted as an inhibitor of the growth of breast cancer cells, while the second one did not have such properties. A test on prostate cancer cells conducted later confirmed these results. In turn, the researchers have concluded that leafs of the dandelion contain anti-cancer agents and may be used to inhibit the growth of carcinomas (Pravel). Another study, the results of which were published in The Journal of Ethnopharmacology, took place in 2011 to determine effects of a dandelion root extract on leukemia cells (qtd. in Pravel). It demonstrated that chemical components contained in a plant could trigger the process called apoptosis and destroy the affected cells. The scientists assumed that they had a direct effect on leukemia cell receptors. At the same time, healthy cells experienced none of the described effects of apoptosis. In turn, it was concluded that as an anti-cancer agent, the dandelion did not have an impact on unaffected organs and tissues (Pravel). It makes it a non-toxic herbal drug suitable for almost any category of patients.
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The results mentioned above were supported by another study that took place in 2011, covered by The International Journal of Oncology (qtd. in Pravel). It involved the use of a dandelion root extract to confirm its apoptosis-inducing ability. However, this time, its effect was tested on drug-resistant melanoma cells. Once again, the herbal medicine affected only cancer cells without causing any damage to the healthy ones. As a result, the tests have proven that the common dandelion can be a basis of a non-toxic therapy to treat even forms of cancer that are resistant to usual drugs (Pravel). However, it is possible to note that none of the described studies has pointed out chemical components that are responsible for the anti-cancer and antioxidative effect of the dandelion. Thus, further research and experiments should be conducted to discover them and use in drugs. Nevertheless, its potency as a medicinal herb is unquestionable.
It is possible to say that the common dandelion has a significant therapeutic effect on the human body, which has been proven both by the clinical studies and by the scientific evidence. However, it is not surprising, considering that this plant contains a wide array of chemical components with each of them having a different impact on the human organism. Moreover, given the fact that the exact components responsible for the healing properties of the common dandelion have not been determined, it is possible to assume that it has a significant potential as a medicinal herb. If the research continues, there is a high possibility that the plant will be used widely in the future to treat such diseases as cancer.
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