As you might have guessed, it’s the 12 inch long starchy root of the burdock plant, which is a member of the asteraceae family of plants that also includes ragweed and daisies. Both the burdock root and its leaves are eaten as a carbohydrate rich tuber in many Eastern European countries similarly to potatoes and carrots, and in Japan it’s cultivated and eaten as a vegetable called Gobo.
The plant has bright purple flowers and it grows all over the world now after having originated in Europe and Asia. Burdock is often where the spiky round burrs that you find attached to you or your dog’s ankles after a walk in the meadows come from.
Burdock root is one of the classic “magical herbs”. It’s been used for hundreds of years and Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine both recommend it for detoxifying, removing impurities, as a diuretic, etc. Since an overload of toxins and an unhealthy liver is believed by many acne patients to be the true cause of acne, burdock is one of the more popular herbal supplements among acne patients…
…but is there any truth to it, or is it simply marketing hype?
The truth is that burdock has some very promising powers for acne, but its main detoxification power is total nonsense.
The claim – burdock helps to detoxify acne causing toxins
- Burdock root increases perspiration and removes toxins through the skin.
- Burdock root has been used as a blood purifier by herbalists worldwide for hundreds of years.
- Herbalists use burdock for almost any liver toxicity condition, including eczema, psoriasis, boils and acne.
- Burdock can increase blood flow to the skin and displace toxins there.
- Burdock can help the kidneys to process and detoxify toxins.
- Burdock has been used for hundreds of years as a detoxifying herb.
- Burdock root aids detoxification by supercharging the liver.
Many acne patients have read these claims and decided that burdock was some sort of miracle, but many have then wasted their time too. There’s little explanation of how burdock can actually achieve these benefits.
There’s no study showing that taking burdock root leads to increased removal of toxins through urine or any result you’d expect from a potent detoxifying agent. Most of the detoxification claims are sourced from Traditional Chinese Medicine or Ayurvedic Medicine, schools of health which are often very informative, but often superstitious too.
If you read a webpage that authoritatively states that burdock can detoxify and remove impurities from your body, then the author is likely taking traditional, alternative medicine as gospel and not being scientific. Generally, there’s a lot of that circulating alternative health websites.
“X herb aids detoxification” is generally the fall back story for promoters who want to sell a herb but lack any evidence of its miraculous benefits. Don’t be a sucker for the detoxification industry and their marketing!
Some herbs have been proven to aid detoxification through specific mechanisms, including herbs such as milk thistle which increase the detoxifying agent glutathione. Many herbs that have the “detoxifying agent” label slapped on them have other interesting powers, and that includes burdock root.
But the “detox industry” is full of more nonsense than any other area, so to avoid getting misled, don’t fall for the claims instantly. Burdock root is not proven to aid detoxification.
You don’t need herbs to detoxify yourself
The central theory you might have read is that your liver gets overloaded with toxins, it has to relegate some of its detoxifying duties to the skin, toxins get pushed out of the skin, they react with p.acnes bacteria and acne is born. But there’s not a shred of evidence to support that theory. Liver heath is somewhat important for acne; for instance, a fatty liver caused by high sugar consumption can cause very oily skin and acne…
…but liver flushes and extensive detoxification protocols are pointless. Toxins are not stored in your liver. As for the toxins themselves, many chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides herbicides, and so on are unhealthy for acne when stored long term in your fat cells and other bodily toxin stores. They can impair many cellular functions like insulin sensitivity and add to acne-causing inflammation by making your immune system chronically overactive.
However, you don’t need magic herbs, the type of herbs sold by crazy hippies and idiotic fitness celebrities, because every human alive already has a potent strategy you can use within a day. All you have to do is stop eating for a while. You see, when your body has gone without consuming calories for 10-12 hours, a process called autophagy begins in your cells.
Autophagy is basically when your cells begin to remove waste materials from themselves, including toxins like phthalates and mercury and whatever else burdock is supposed to remove.
Autophagy is one of the most basic functions of the human body. It happened all the time during the Palaeolithic era. Think about it: we didn’t have food available all the time. We couldn’t guarantee that we would successfully hunt a gazelle or deer and have food available all the time…
So in between, our cells were removing toxins a lot of the time. It’s a basic evolutionary mechanism which should ideally be triggered on a daily basis, but nowadays we’re eating non-stop.
Dietary gurus preach strategies like eating 6 small meals per day, every three hours. Many people are scared of not eating, because they’ve been told that their blood sugar will get unstable. There’s also cereal manufacturers who have invented the idea that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, and fitness gurus who say that after 10 hours of fasting your body enters starvation mode.
If you want to detoxify your body then you don’t need burdock; just skip breakfast and follow a dietary system known as “intermittent fasting”. Basically, you eat two large meals per day, separated by 6 hours, thus giving you 18 hours without eating and roughly 8 hours where you enter a heightened state of detoxification. You might have noticed that you go to the toilet all the time when you don’t eat; that’s because your kidneys are flushing out all the toxins.
Basically, there’s no evidence that burdock root works for detoxification, and even if it did, this herbal supplement would still be pointless.
If you want to remove the toxic chemicals which cause acne (make no mistake that they do add to inflammation and oxidative stress), intermittent fasting is a much better and totally free option. Or you could simply exercise, or drink more water to aid your kidney function.
Real acne powers – burdock root lowers inflammation
If you’re about to throw away your burdock root supplement, then hold on, because it’s not completely useless for acne. Burdock root has been shown to reduce chronic inflammation, the number one cause of acne, in this study.
Scientists prepared a tea made from burdock root and fed it to several human volunteers with knee osteoarthritis. 10 men and 26 women aged 50-70 years old were randomly divided into two groups in which they received either 1) three cups of burdock root tea daily half an hour after a meal, or 2) three cups containing boiled water daily. The scientists assessed some of the most common markers of bodily inflammation: C – reactive protein (CRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and malondialdehyde (M).
The scientists found that burdock root tea significantly lowered inflammation; IL-6, CRP and M all fell, which is great news for acne because this study found that acne patients have higher levels of interleukin 6 in their skin than average. The scientists concluded that “the results suggested that Arctium lappa L. (burdock) root tea improves inflammatory status and oxidative stress in patients with knee osteoarthritis”.
That’s potentially great news for acne because chronic inflammation is the main reason why pimples are born in the first place. How could burdock achieve these powers? The exact mechanism is unknown at this point, but burdock root does contain some medicinally useful compounds like tannins, arctigenin, arctiin, beta-eudesmol, caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid.
Chlorogenic acid is responsible for the moderate heart protective and anti-inflammatory effects of coffee. Arctigenin is a lignan antioxidant which was shown in this study to inhibit NF-kappaB, a master molecule that controls many pro-inflammatory chemicals behind acne. Arctigenin reduced TNF-a, IL-6 and IL-1beta.
Beta-eudesmol also suppressed NF-KappaB and lowered the activity of the immune mast cells from which pro-inflammatory chemicals are churned out (study).
Therefore, burdock root has some promise as anti-inflammatory supplement.
The study above also found an excellent reduction in oxidative stress, another massive cause of acne. Oxidative stress is basically when you have too many free radicals in your body, which causes acne by depleting important antioxidants like vitamin E. Scientists found that burdock tea reduced malondialdehyde, which is a widely used biomarker of blood free radical levels.
The scientists also measured levels of two bodily manufactured antioxidants – superoxide dismutase and glutathione, which rose substantially and slightly respectively. Another marker of free radicals, thiobarbituric reactive substances, also fell after ingestion of burdock tea.
Burdock root – a possible digestive aid
The burdock root is very high in a starchy form of fiber known as inulin (not to be confused with the hormone insulin). Inulin has a strong prebiotic effect; your friendly strains of gut bacteria feed off it and use it to expand their colonies.
Burdock root inulin was shown in this study to be an excellent prebiotic. Burdock inulin was applied to healthy bacterial strains called bifidobacterium, which reside in your gut and protect against harmful pathogens like candida. The burdock inulin was compared to several other plant prebiotics; chicory inulin (C-INU), long-chain inulin (L-INU) and fructooligosaccharides (FOS).
Apparently, burdock inulin was the most effective prebiotic of all of them. The scientists observed a large increase in the number of bifidobacterium and lactobacilli bacteria.
That potentially means that burdock can be great for acne when its effects are transferred to your gut. Increases in beneficial bacterial strains can enhance acne nutrient digestion and absorption, lower inflammation throughout the body, and restrain the proliferation of deadly yeasts in your gut behind acne like candida.
Gut bacteria is also extremely important for stress, as several strains of good bacteria can actually manufacture the happiness hormone serotonin. Stress is one of the biggest causes of acne ever. We thoroughly discussed in my eBook Annihilate Your Acne how proper gut health is one of the most overlooked causes of acne ever.
Burdock root contains tons of inulin since inulin is most heavily concentrated in root plants, also including garlic, onions, and agave bulbs. Furthermore, the specific type of inulin in burdock root caused no side effects according to the study above; there was no abdominal discomfort or bloating.
The scientists concluded that “results indicated that inulin extracted from edible burdock showed prebiotic properties that could promote health”.
So is burdock root a recommended herbal supplement for acne patients given that it has two tentative powers, despite its detoxification power being unproven?
The answer is that burdock root might help your acne. Alternatively, it could be utterly useless for acne. The evidence is far too thin both for inflammation and its digestive powers; we have no idea whether the effect on inflammation is anywhere near strong enough to lower acne. There’s only a single study on burdock root’s prebiotic powers.
Furthermore, the acne testimonials on the internet are a mess. Many acne patients report positive experiences:
- “Nothing clears my acne except for Burdock root. My skin is completely smooth and no longer the oil slick it used to be. I am thrilled.”
- “Once I started the pills, I just noticed fewer spots popping up after about a week, and things got better and better from there.”
- “After two and a half months I’m completely clear from acne except for one or two pimples here and there.”
- “After my first week of taking burdock root, I was still breaking out. After my second week, the acne breakouts have greatly diminished.”
But many other acne patients were much less impressed:
- “I tried some herbal tablets containing burdock but they did nothing for my acne.”
- “I took burdock root for months, and saw very little improvement. I had high hopes that it would work but it didn’t do much for acne.”
- “I have been taking Burdock for 5-6 days now, and I’m still breaking out with acne, and worse than before.”
What this evidence tells us clearly is that some acne patients may enjoy the observed anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits. It’s entirely possible that you too will enjoy those acne benefits. But some may notice absolutely nothing, depending on their bodily circumstances.
In fact, the prebiotic inulin is known to trigger allergy like-symptoms in some people. That’s why garlic and onions, despite being massively healthy foods for acne, can still cause pimples in people with impaired gut flora. This study also found that applying burdock root topically can trigger the skin condition contact dermatitis, which is characterised by red rashes and inflammation very similarly to acne.
However, this study found that eating burdock root “may have beneficial effects in the treatment of allergic diseases, including atopic dermatitis”. That would be great for acne patients.
One thing is for sure: this acne supplement remains shrouded in mystery.
Conclusion – an acne supplement shrouded in mystery
So does burdock root work for acne? I honestly cannot say and I can’t give it an official Supernatural Acne Treatment endorsement.
But what is interesting is that some people notice excellent benefits. One woman claimed that she had acne for 14 years, but only a burdock root supplement ever cured her.
Therefore if you have plenty of money or have tried all the other dietary strategies recommend on this website, then you never know; you might clear your acne with burdock. It does have anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits. It’s unproven but it certainly has potential for acne. Just don’t fall for the detoxification madmen!
If you want to give burdock root a shot, then you need a supplement with a high concentration, and one that’s free from controversial additives like magnesium stearate. You also need one where harsh processing hasn’t degraded the nutrients. Some manufacturers also cut and splice their burdock pills with belladonna, which has side effects like dizziness and disorientation.
Hence, the best option for acne patients is this Oregon’s Wild Harvest Burdock. This supplement is made with organic burdock and is free from any fillers, BPA and GM material.
Whether you take a burdock root supplement or not, never ignore the basic dietary strategies for acne: avoiding sugar, eating more fruits and vegetables, taking a vitamin C supplement, eating two Brazil nuts per day, and many more.
Thanks for reading!