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Dandelion and Detox

Posted by apollog (My Page) on
Tue, Mar 31, 09 at 17:56

Just ran across this study that found that dandelion led to "... a dramatic increase (244% of control) in the activity of the phase II detoxifying enzyme UDP-glucuronosyl transferase..."

So there herbalists are right!! Dandelion can lead to a dramatic increase in detoxifying enzymes in the liver. A search on Pubmed for the terms "phase 2 enzymes detoxification" turns up over 500 studies ... the term "phase 2 detoxification enzymes" is standard scientific terminology, and dandelion (and a variety of other foods and herbs) increases the amount of these detoxifying compounds.

What are phase 2 enzymes? As a group, they are relatively non-specific protein catalysts that break down a wide variety of carcinogens and toxins (unlike some enzymes that have a specific 'lock and key' activity and only act on a single molecule). Phase 2 enzymes are associated with anti-cancer molecules in the diet, and some suggest that such dietary components work by elevating the phase 2 enzymes, which allows the body to better process and eliminate a wide variety of compounds that would otherwise cause problems.

Phase two enzymes protect against heterocyclic amines, which are considered mutagenic and carcinogenic. Phase 2 enzymes can prevent the elevation of IgE and other immune disturbances caused by diesel exhaust, a common modern toxin.

The specific enzyme that dandelion increases has been described this way: "Human UDP-glucuronosyltransferases (UDPGTs) are a family of enzymes which detoxify many hundreds of compounds by their conjugation to glucuronic acid, rendering them both harmless and more water soluble, hence, excretable."

So it seems that whole notion of an herbal detox is in fact grounded in science. Dandelion does help the body to detoxify and eliminate specifically identified molecules which would otherwise contribute to disease.


Follow-Up Postings:

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A toxic idea resurfaces

Usually when one posts an excerpt from a scientific paper it's a good idea to link to the paper, or at least describe where and when it appeared so we can get a better idea about its relevance and conclusions.

In this case, apollog appears to be referring to this paper (the abstract appears on the linked page):

Effect of herbal teas on hepatic drug metabolizing enzymes in rats.
Maliakal PP, Wanwimolruk S. School of Pharmacy, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.
J Pharm Pharmacol 2001 Oct;53(10):1323-9

This is the second occasion in the last couple of days on which apollog has defended "detoxification" on the basis of a study in rodents (the other time was in the detox thread when he cited a paper on a special breed of lab mice). Maybe he thinks people and rodents are interchangeable, or that rodents are big fans of this forum.

In any event, the authors' conclusions were not as elaborate as what apollog is claiming. What they actually concluded was: "The results suggested that, like green and black teas, certain herbal teas can cause modulation of phase I and phase II drug metabolizing enzymes."

This is not a big surprise, since we know that a number of herbs can interact with non-herbal drugs to increase or otherwise alter their effects.

The study's authors did not claim that that humans (or rodents) are full of nasty "toxins" that their organs cannot remove, that they need "detoxification" to go about their normal daily activities or that dandelion is capable of removing the "toxins".

Here is a link that might be useful: Herbal teas, now with fewer toxins!


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RE: Dandelion and Detox

You are absolutely right in saying that we cannot at this time say exactly how much a given dose of dandelion will affect people when the research was conducted in rodents. It could be less (or none), it could be more.

But contrary to your suggestions, we are not all that different from mice. Millions and millions of rats and mice are sacrificed in biomedical research each year precisely because there are so many similarities. Mice are used to test anti-anxiety compounds, the safety of drugs to the livers and kidneys and other organs, to determine whether something causes cancer, or to compare a new ED drug to viagra. Mice livers are not a perfect model of the human liver, but they are fairly good and do provide valuable information.

Here are two of the main arguments used to dismiss the idea of detoxes:

1) none of the people talking about detox can describe what these mysterious toxins are,
2) none of the people who believe in detox can show how an herb would help the body eliminate them.

The research on phase 2 detoxifying enzymes shows that there are particular enzymes whose activity is increased by various herbs, which then detoxifies a large group of known toxins and makes them easier to eliminate from the body. So detox is going on, and can be modified by herbs, even if you don't want to admit it.

The study's authors did not claim that the mice were filled with "nasty toxins"? No. But most chronic diseases don't just happen out of nothingness; many are part of a long-term accumulation of chemical insults, and there is evidence that improving the activity of the phase 2 detoxifying enzymes might be able to prevent or mitigate various diseases. One such study talks about creating a "chemoprotected" state to reduce cancer by turning up the phase 2 enzymes. Others talk about the phase 2 enzymes in diseases like alzheimers, parkinson's disease, or autoimmune disease. These have not been developed as medicines for in humans, but there is research and it is reasonable, not fringe nonsense.

End of the day, the herbalists who talk about 'detoxes' are not all loons sploofing on woo - they are making claims that can be partially explained and further explored using science (even if the claims started out in from non-scientific observations and don't pass your semantic purity standards). That's ok.

The perennial weed has been known since ancient times for its curative properties and has been utilized for the treatment of various ailments such as dyspepsia, heartburn, spleen and liver complaints, hepatitis and anorexia. However, its use has mainly been based on empirical findings. This contribution provides a comprehensive review of the pharmacologically relevant compounds of Taraxacum characterized so far and of the studies supporting its use as a medicinal plant. Particular attention has been given to diuretic, choleretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic, anti-hyperglycemic, anti-coagulatory and prebiotic effects.

Here is a link that might be useful: Taraxacum--a review on its phytochemical and pharmacological profile.


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RE: Dandelion and Detox

And at the end of that abstract, this appears: "research needs such as quantification of individual Taraxacum constituents and assessment of their pharmacological activities in humans have briefly been outlined."

Translation: we don't know what pharmacologic effects, good or bad, these compounds may have in humans. Research needs to be done.

Preliminary studies in mice and rats are fine. The danger is in 1) assuming that any results can be generalized to humans (hopes in this regard have been dashed many times) 2) assuming that something safe in rats and mice will be safe in humans (another assumption that has fallen flat on prior occasions).

Another big problem here is making the assumption that revving up a particular enzyme system is necessarily going to be a good thing. Is there a reason we evolved to have a particular level of that enzyme? What might be the negative consequences of greatly increasing its activity? As of right now, if we are to guess that dandelion extracts greatly increase activity of this drug metabolizing enzyme in humans, does that mean that dandelion or its extracts should not be components of teas containing other herbal medicines, because they'll be metabolized so fast they won't get a chance to work?

We are currently having second thoughts about supplementation with antioxidants, after it was discovered that extra vitamin E may not only be ineffective in curbing heart disease and prostate cancer, there's a chance it may increase health risks.

"Here are two of the main arguments used to dismiss the idea of detoxes:

1) none of the people talking about detox can describe what these mysterious toxins are,
2) none of the people who believe in detox can show how an herb would help the body eliminate them."

This is only partly correct. I'd restate this as:

1) The great majority of things that people fear as "toxins" are not toxins at all, at least in the amounts to which we are exposed.
2) What's left over is efficiently disposed of by our livers, kidneys etc. assuming we're not seriously ill.
3) the people who promote "detoxification" cannot show that their products/potions/programs remove "toxins", i.e. there is no clinical evidence supporting their use.
4) the "cleansing" programs themselves can be harmful.
5) Real toxins (for instance, heavy metals in high concentration) can be removed i.e. by chelation, but this is not something commercial supplements and "cleanses" can accomplish, but is rather a job for trained medical professionals.

Dandelion is an interesting and useful herb. What's been presented here, however, does not justify the claims of the "cleanse/detox" industry.

Lastly, I'm gratified to see a civil response to my previous post. I'm sure brendan would be pleased too. ;)


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RE: Dandelion and Detox

>> And at the end of that abstract, this appears: "research needs such as quantification of individual Taraxacum constituents and assessment of their pharmacological activities in humans have briefly been outlined."

Real Translation: almost every experimental write-up concludes with a call for more research. In this case, they called for more investigations into specific chemicals that may be responsible for the effects that they acknowledge from the whole plant extracts, or root extracts. The researchers' conclusions are very different than you suggest; you are summoning up considerably more uncertainty and doubt, and doing so in a way that the study does not support.

>> 4) the "cleansing" programs themselves can be harmful.

Where is the evidence that eating dandelions, or drinking dandelion tea is harmful? Again, we see the error of faulty generalization. The crusade against the words 'toxin' and 'detoxification' is unable to separate a simple herbal practice like dandelion tea from all the hundreds of unrelated treatments (many of which have nothing to do with herbs or diet).


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RE: Dandelion and Detox

" The researchers' conclusions are very different than you suggest"

I quoted their conclusions. Do they state anywhere in their paper that humans need to detoxify themselves and that dandelion extracts should be used for this purpose? There's no indication of that in the abstract you quoted from.

"Where is the evidence that eating dandelions, or drinking dandelion tea is harmful?"

"Dandelion is generally considered safe. Some individuals, however, may develop an allergic reaction from touching dandelion, and others may develop mouth sores. If you have an allergy to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, yarrow, daisies, or iodine, you should avoid dandelion. In some people, dandelion can cause increased stomach acid and heartburn. It may also irritate the skin if applied topically.

People with gallbladder problems and gallstones should consult a health care provider before eating dandelion.

Dandelion leaf is a diuretic and may increase the excretion of drugs from the body. If you are taking prescription medications, ask your health care provider before taking dandelion leaf (a list of potential herb-drug interactions follows).

Herbs...contain components that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.*"

That quote is from a link you posted in the current detox/cleanse thread, and the warnings are from the naturopath who wrote the article (the same one who notes, without supplying evidence for the claim, that dandelion is used for "detoxification" purposes).

I dunno, maybe the guy is not very reliable about the potential health downside of dandelion products either. But the part about allergies rings true (some people are sensitive to many plants in the Compositae, which includes dandelion) and if dandelion extracts do markedly boost activity of a certain enzyme as you mentioned (assuming that occurs in humans), it would make sense for there to be a risk of herb-drug interactions, as well as the herb-herb interactions I suggested might occur.

So one the one hand we have an herbal drug with unproven "detoxification" activity in humans, but which even alt med advocates concede can have deleterious effects.

Sounds like the risk-benefit ratio isn't exactly tilting towards benefit.

*for the record, I think this conclusion by the naturopath is overstated. There are certainly herbs one can use without consulting a health care professional if the trouble is taken to learn about them and they are intended to treat minor afflictions.


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RE: Dandelion and Detox

>> I quoted their conclusions.

You quote their conclusion, and then you provided a "translation" where you spun it and tried to make it mean what you want it to mean. Don't pretend that you were objective or unbiased - you weren't.

>> "Dandelion is generally considered safe. Some individuals, however, may develop an allergic reaction from touching dandelion, and others may develop mouth sores.

Yes, that is true. And some people have serious, potentially life threatening allergies when they consume peanuts or shrimp or other foods. It doesn't mean that every person that talks about the nutritional qualities of peanuts or publishes a shrimp recipe needs to medicalize their work with extensive warnings and disclaimers. There is risk that goes with being alive.

>> I dunno, maybe the guy is not very reliable about the potential health downside of dandelion products either. But the part about allergies rings true...

Again, that is your bias talking. Does every doctor who makes a recommendation to eat more fruits and vegetables warn about the possibility of allergies? What about the advice to eat a diversified diet? Won't eating a greater variety of foods increase the risk of exposure to allergens? And does every doctor who writes articles advocating exercise point out the risk of exercise-induced heart attack? Obviously not. You just want to nit-pick and distort.


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Only some words are toxic?

Now you're upset with the naturopath for listing contraindications and potential hazards associated with consuming dandelion products? When you posted the link to his article in the other detox thread, you sounded like you thought it was great stuff.

Feel free to post a link to or relevant excerpts from the full "enzymes in rats" article, so we can judge if there's anything at all in there that recommends people "cleanse" their bodies of "toxins" using dandelion extracts.


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RE: Dandelion and Detox

>> Now you're upset with the naturopath for listing contraindications and potential hazards associated with consuming dandelion products?

Not at all. Such side effects can occur, but are rare, and not different from those associated with foods. What I take issue with is the way that you portray these risks - but then I guess you need to do that if your goal is to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt.

>> so we can judge if there's anything at all in there that recommends people "cleanse" their bodies of "toxins" using dandelion extracts.

Did I ever say that the article 'recommended cleansing' of toxins? No. This article merely shows that what you said can't happen is happening - dandelion does increase detoxification processes in the liver, as herbalists have long claimed (while anti-herbalists disparaged their claims). The article was focused narrowly on looking at metabolic processes - they found that dandelion dramatically increases the level of detoxifying enzymes, and they reported that.

Here is a link that might be useful: Effect of herbal teas on hepatic drug metabolizing enzymes in rats.


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help, my lawn is full of a 'detox' herb

"What I take issue with is the way that you portray these risks"

Ah, yet another attempt to personalize disagreement and pretend that it's me (instead of the naturopath in this case) who's raised the issue of contraindications to using dandelion products.

"This article merely shows that what you said can't happen is happening - dandelion does increase detoxification processes in the liver, as herbalists have long claimed (while anti-herbalists disparaged their claims)."

This continues to misrepresent my statements and the conclusions of the paper, as well as falsely disparaging herbalists such as Dr. Edzard Ernst, who don't buy into herbal "detoxification".

An increase in a drug-metabolizing enzyme in rat livers does not mean that clinically useful "detoxification" will occur with use of this product in humans. The study also leads to questions about potential dandelion interference with herbal and non-herbal drugs, which you need to address.

But if your responses are going to be limited to "Does too!" there's not much point in continuing this.

Prince or pauper, beggar man or thing
Play the game with ev'ry flow'r you bring...
Tho' you're older now it's just the same
You can play this dandelion game
...Blow away dandelion

- the Rolling Stones


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RE: Dandelion and Detox

>> An increase in a drug-metabolizing enzyme in rat livers does not mean that clinically useful "detoxification" will occur with use of this product in humans.

You don't know that until it has been tested. Isn't one of the features of a diversified diet rich in fruits and vegetables an increase in these phase 2 detoxifying enzymes? How do you know that this does not improve health or account for difference in longevity in people eating various diets? You don't. You have taken an untested assumption (the organs in healthy people always do a good job) and elevated it into a principle that you believe can disprove other statements. That is pseudoscience.


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RE: Dandelion and Detox

I'm afraid you have it backwards Apollog.

We don't know if it does or does not mean that "detoxification" will occur in humans, that is two statements in one. One you will agree with "we don't know that it will not work in humans", and one you pretty much just contested "We don't know that it works in humans". His statement was one of uncertetainty about an untested claim, that is the safe position. Had he said "It does not detox humans" instead of "[It does not mean that it does detox humans]" Your rebuttal would be relevant, but he did not so it is not.


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RE: Dandelion and Detox

In one of the Sherlock Holmes stories ("A Study In Scarlet", I think), Watson is reading an article on "scientific detection" in which the author claims that by examining a drop of water, he could infer the presence of Niagara Falls. Watson pronounces this "rubbish" (not realizing that his friend Sherlock wrote the article). And this is one of the few instances in which Watson is correct.

What we're discussing here is not a matter of "playing it safe", but rather avoiding an unwarranted conclusion based on very limited data. In the realm of science and evidence-based medicine, one cannot come up with a theory, sprinkle in some preliminary findings and say "This is plausible, you haven't proved me wrong, therefore I am right".

What would be more suggestive in this case is if the researchers had identified a disease or at least deleterious symptoms in their rats, linked the disease with a buildup of actual toxins, and then demonstrated that their dandelion tea had reduced/eliminated the toxins, producing better health in the rats which could be objectively evaluated. That would be a provocative starting point on which to design experiments in higher animals, potentially including man.

But all you have here is a single demonstration of a drug-metabolizing enzyme in a rodent being affected by a particular herb, and nothing remotely substantial on which to make sweeping conclusions about human health.


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