The Benefits and Harms of Licorice
consumption has been a subject of controversy for more than 2,000 years. In ancient China, licorice root was used as a medicine to treat ulcers and coughs. In the United States, extracts from Glycyrrhiza glabra L., or licorice root, are widely consumed as a flavoring agent in candy and cigarettes and as a medicine for treating peptic ulcers, chronic hepatitis, bronchitis, sore throat, coughs, and tuberculosis.
Licorice is also used in some countries as a base for tobacco products. Analyses of licorice samples from different origins have revealed the presence of glycyrrhizic acid (GA), an active principle of licorice.
The GA content of commercial samples varies from 0.3 to 1.4%; in contrast, some samples collected in the United States had more than 5% of GA, while some samples collected in Nigeria had less than 0.1%.
The average daily consumption of licorice is estimated to be 70 g in Japan, 120 g in Western countries, and 140 g in some regions of the Middle East. Commercial licorice contains either ammoniated glycyrrhizin or isopropylidene glycyrrhizin (IPG).
The most common side effects of licorice consumption include edema or swelling of tissues, weight gain, high blood pressure (in susceptible individuals), sodium and water retention, potassium depletion, loss of protein in the urine ( proteinuria ), low levels of plasma cortisol, weakness, lethargy, headache, nausea, vomiting, intestinal pain or discomfort ( flatulence ), diarrhea, heartburn, skin rash or itching, and muscle weakness with cramps.
The most serious side effect is fulminant hepatitis with an estimated incidence of 0.02 cases per 100,000 users in the United States and Europe; however, both licorice consumption and serum GA concentrations are high in parts of the Middle East, where it is difficult to separate these effects.
Chronic intake of licorice has also been associated with hypertension, hypokalemia, muscle weakness, and edema.
The major concern about the long-term use of licorice is its association with hypertension. However, there are insufficient data to conclude that it does increase the risk for high blood pressure in humans.
There is insufficient evidence that licorice is carcinogenic:
The concentration of GA may increase in the blood ( hyperglycemia ), face edema, and swelling. These side effects are known to depend on the total daily dose ingested; however, individuals with hypertension appear to be more susceptible than others.
If these symptoms develop, they usually resolve within one week but may last as long as six weeks.
Licorice extracts are sometimes used to flavor tobacco products. The health effects of licorice use in smokers are unclear. There is some evidence that the risks for respiratory diseases are increased by smoking cigarettes flavored with licorice, although this is probably more attributable to confounding variables (e.g., smoking) rather than to licorice itself.
Liver damage has been reported in people who chewed large quantities of the plant, but it is not known whether this effect was due to glycyrrhizin or to chemical contaminants.
Licorice poisoning can be avoided if consumers are informed about the amounts of licorice extract contained in some medicinal products. Regulatory bodies have also introduced certain measures regarding the sale of glycyrrhizic acid, including setting maximum allowed concentrations for GA levels in some products and regulating the use of sweetening agents bearing health claims.
The level of glycyrrhizic acid in the root is strongly correlated with its bitterness, which can be reduced by proper withering and drying of harvested roots. Licorice produced under European Union (EU) Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines have a limited amount of glycyrrhizin content.
Licorice is used as an ingredient in many foods, usually in the form of licorice root or candy and frequently with sugar and other sweeteners.
Licorice root and its derivatives are used for flavoring, food preservation, and antioxidants. Licorice has been marketed to help soothe sore throats and coughs. Licorice has also been marketed for other purposes, including treatment of peptic ulcer disease, bronchitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, pneumonia, swelling of the prostate gland (prostatic hyperplasia), high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus type 2, eczema, psoriasis, genital herpes, osteoporosis, anemia associated with chronic diseases, stomach ulcers, menstrual discomforts, menopausal symptoms, and bladder infections.
Licorice may also be used for weight loss:
The taste of licorice is due to the presence of an amino acid (Glycine) combined with saccharides – notably glucose and an additional sugar named glucitol (sorbitol).
Licorice contains a variety of polyphenols. Glabridin is the most abundant one, but licoricidin and isoliquiritigenin also occur in significant amounts.
The glycyrrhizin in licorice can produce hyper mineralocorticoid ism. Treatment with antifungal drugs or treatment with corticosteroids may lead to false results on tests for glycyrrhizin;
it is unclear whether the use of licorice during pregnancy will affect birth weight, and there is a case report of fatal edema with licorice ingestion in pregnancy, and it appears that the use of licorice during pregnancy may not be advisable. There also appears to be no evidence for or against the use of peppermint water or melissa tea during pregnancy.
In one study, women who used high doses of anise had children with lower birth weights. Artificial licorice flavor in foods has not been associated with many health problems in humans, but excessive consumption may have a laxative effect or cause nausea and cramping. The sweetener saccharin is considered much safer during pregnancy than glycyrrhizin.
Licorice benefits for skin:
Licorice root contains several unique chemicals which are called glycyrrhizin and its derivatives, glycyrrhetinic acid (a form of glycyrrhizin), and Anatol. These substances have anti-inflammatory properties which may explain how licorice can soothe irritated skin.
Licorice tea and high blood pressure:
Licorice root is a “potent” medicinal herb thought to help support healthy cortisol levels in the body, not unlike how adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng or Rhodiola function. One study performed on rats in 2010 found that a compound isolated from licorice called carbenoxolone helped to reduce high blood pressure.
Licorice root has been used for many years as a treatment for upper respiratory infections due to its anti-inflammatory, mucus-thinning, and immune-boosting properties. How much licorice tea is too much – Licorice side effects.
Licorice root has been used since the 16th century as a treatment for peptic ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori infection. These days it is commonly combined with other herbs such as marshmallow root, ginger, and aloe to make an over-the-counter product called ulcerGONE.
Licorice root, also known as “sweet root” because of its sweet flavor, is actually used more for its unique taste than any medicinal properties.
How much licorice is safe:
In Ayurveda, Licorice has been used as a medicine since ancient times to help support various body systems including the digestive, respiratory, and also as a “Rasayana” or tonic for the whole body.
Eating too much licorice side effects:
Licorice root has been shown in research studies to be safe up to a daily dose of 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight, and this is the maximum amount considered safe by the German Commission E. This works out to approximately 38 grams (about one ounce) for an adult weighing 150 pounds.
How much licorice tea is too much:
The typical daily recommended dose of Licorice root for most adults ranges from 200 to 600 mg. In some people, it can cause side effects such as heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and edema when taken at higher doses. Therefore, be sure to always talk with your doctor before starting Licorice root or any other herbal supplement.