Fact check: Limited study on cancer-fighting potential of dandelion root

·5 min read

The claim: Dandelion root may kill 98% of cancer cells in 48 hours

For anyone with a green thumb, the sight of dandelions across a manicured lawn may be irritating, but a recent Instagram post suggests the hardy yellow flower is potent enough to treat cancer in just two days.

"Dandelion root may kill 98% of cancer cells within 48hr," the April 25 post reads. "Not only that, but it also acts as a powerful anti inflammatory, immune booster, antioxidant, and organ detoxifier."

USA TODAY reached out to the user for comment on the post, which has accumulated more than 6,000 interactions on Instagram, according to data provided by CrowdTangle, a social media analytics tool owned by Facebook.

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The post is attributed to Herbacy, an account that describes itself as a resource for "natural, reliable, and cost-effective remedies for improving overall health & wellness."

While dandelions have been used for centuries as an herbal remedy across the world, it's premature to label it as a potential cure for cancer.

Anti-cancer effects not shown in humans

There is some evidence to suggest dandelion root extract (or DRE) may have anti-cancer properties.

In studies looking at melanoma, leukemia and pancreatic cancer, the extract appeared to be helpful in coaxing cancer cells to self-destruct, getting the body to kill the cells itself, or slowing down cancer's overall cellular growth.

However, to date, there have been no conclusive clinical studies suggesting DRE can treat cancer in humans, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

The "48 hours" element emerged online in a September 2016 article claiming "Scientists Find Root That Kills 98% of Cancer Cells in Only 48 Hours."

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The article references a 2012 Canadian news story of a 72-year-old man whose aggressive leukemia went into remission after drinking dandelion root tea.

No actual research is provided, but the news article cited did mention that the patient's case inspired researchers at the University of Windsor in Ontario to investigate DRE's potential anti-cancer properties.

In 2016, a group from the university published a study finding DRE triggered cell death in more than 95% of colon cancer cells within 48 hours.

But this observation was based on a petri dish of cancer cells, which is not comparable to cancer in a human body, Siyaram Pandey, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and co-author of the study, told USA TODAY.

"Indeed, most of the (cancer) cells are dead within 48 hours, but that does not mean a patient who takes dandelion root will be cured in 48 hours," he said.

Pandey and his group have also found DRE alongside lemongrass extract appeared therapeutic against prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. according to the American Cancer Society.

A 2019 study found cultured prostate cancer cells exposed to DRE, LGE and conventional chemotherapy drugs were better at getting the cells to kill themselves compared to chemotherapy alone.

Mice transplanted with human prostate cancer cells, who were either fed or drank water laced with the extracts, also exhibited a decrease in the weight and volume of their tumors.

How exactly is DRE able to do this? One 2017 study suggests natural compounds in the root may be targeting proteins that promote cancer cell growth and migration, at least in gastric cancer.

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Pandey said that while the accumulating research on DRE is encouraging, clinical studies are absolutely necessary to establish both efficacy and safety in humans. He recommended patients first consult their physicians before deciding to add DRE to their medical regimen.

Our rating: Missing context

The claim that "Dandelion root can kill 98% of cancer cells in 48 hours," is MISSING CONTEXT, because without additional information it could be misleading. There is research on dandelion root as a cancer-fighting substance, but no published clinical research has proven an anti-cancer effect in humans. The 48-hour time period is derived from a 2016 study of DRE's effect on cancer cells in a petri dish, not in human patients. While cell culture is a helpful research tool, its dynamics are not comparable to a human body.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Limited study on anti-cancer potential of dandelion root