Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is Black Licorice Bad For You?

Also Known As: Liquorice



Short answer

Consuming black licorice in moderation is generally safe for most people. However, due to the glycyrrhizin it contains, excessive intake can lead to serious health issues such as hypokalemia, high blood pressure, and heart problems. Those over 40 and individuals with heart conditions or taking certain medications should be especially cautious. Pregnant women should limit intake to avoid potential risks. While it can offer health benefits, the key is to enjoy black licorice in small quantities and not regularly.



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Long answer

Glycyrrhizin in Black Licorice: What Is It and The Risks

Glycyrrhizin is the main sweet-tasting component of licorice root, which comes from the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra. Despite its natural origin, glycyrrhizin can have profound effects on the body. Notably, glycyrrhizin is a potent compound with pharmacological properties, including anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects. However, it's the impact of glycyrrhizin on the body's electrolyte balance that warrants caution.

When consumed in high amounts, glycyrrhizin can cause an irregularity in potassium levels, leading to a condition known as hypokalemia. It activates mineralocorticoid receptors, which can mimic the effects of a hormone called aldosterone. This hormone regulates sodium and potassium balance in the body. Excessive glycyrrhizin intake can thus lead to sodium retention and potassium excretion, disturbing the delicate balance necessary for normal heart and muscle function.

Risks associated with high intake of glycyrrhizin include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) due to increased sodium levels and water retention.
  • Heart arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats, as a consequence of low potassium levels.
  • Muscle weakness and fatigue, which are common symptoms of hypokalemia.
  • Increased risk of congestive heart failure because of the added strain on the heart.
  • Edema, or swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in the body's tissues.
  • Metabolic alkalosis, a condition where the pH of tissue is abnormally elevated.

According to a study published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism, excessive glycyrrhizin consumption can also affect the endocrine system, particularly the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to a syndrome resembling hyperaldosteronism.

While glycyrrhizin consumption can be safe in small amounts, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning that eating 2 ounces of black licorice daily for at least two weeks could lead to arrhythmia in adults over 40, especially those with existing heart conditions.

Individuals with hypertension, kidney disease, or heart disease should be particularly cautious with black licorice. Pregnant women are advised to avoid excessive amounts, as glycyrrhizin can potentially affect the developing fetus and increase the risk of preterm labor.

In summary, while glycyrrhizin can offer some therapeutic benefits, excessive consumption carries significant risks and should be approached with caution, especially for those with underlying health conditions. Moderation is key, and it's advisable for individuals to monitor their black licorice intake to avoid adverse health effects. Specific guidance should always be sought from a healthcare professional.

Blood Pressure and Potassium Levels: The Hidden Impact of Licorice

Licorice has been a popular confectionery for centuries, but its effects on blood pressure and potassium levels are often overshadowed by its sweet taste. The key component of concern in licorice is glycyrrhizin, a compound found in the root of the licorice plant.

Regular consumption of licorice, especially in large amounts, can lead to an increase in blood pressure. This is caused by glycyrrhizin's ability to mimic the hormone aldosterone, which regulates water and electrolyte balance in the body. Increased aldosterone-like action due to glycyrrhizin leads to sodium retention and potassium excretion, which can result in higher fluid volumes within the bloodstream, thereby elevating blood pressure.

A study published in the journal of Hypertension in 2011 demonstrated that glycyrrhizin could cause a significant increase in blood pressure after just two weeks of consumption in amounts as little as 100 grams of licorice daily. Individuals who have hypertension or are at risk for cardiovascular disease should be particularly cautious with their intake of licorice and licorice-containing products.

Furthermore, the loss of potassium, which is an essential mineral for body functions, can lead to hypokalemia – a condition characterized by dangerously low levels of potassium in the blood. Symptoms of hypokalemia may include muscle weakness, cramps, and fatigue. Severe cases could even lead to cardiac arrhythmias, which are irregular heartbeats.

According to a study in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, even modest consumption of licorice can deplete potassium levels, emphasizing the importance of moderation in the diet of individuals who consume licorice. Moreover, recommendations from experts, including those at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), advise that individuals 40 years of age or older should be particularly cautious about ingesting large amounts of licorice to prevent complications associated with hypokalemia.

It is also noteworthy that certain populations must be more vigilant with licorice consumption. Those who are pregnant, suffering from kidney or heart disease, or who are already taking medications that may affect potassium levels, such as certain blood pressure medications, should be aware of the potential risks associated with eating licorice.

To monitor the intake of glycyrrhizin through licorice, abstain from consuming large amounts regularly and be aware of licorice's presence in various foods and supplements. If you have any concerns about your blood pressure or potassium levels, or if you're considering adding licorice to your diet, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

Black Licorice Interaction with Medications

Black licorice is known for its unique taste due to the presence of a compound called glycyrrhizin. While glycyrrhizin can have therapeutic properties, it is also known to interact with various medications, potentially altering their effectiveness and leading to adverse health effects. It's important to understand these interactions to avoid potential health risks, especially for individuals on long-term medication therapies.

Impact on Drug Metabolism

Glycyrrhizin in black licorice may interfere with an enzyme in the liver known as cytochrome P450. This enzyme plays a crucial role in the metabolism of various drugs. By inhibiting this enzyme, black licorice can increase the concentration of certain medications in the blood, potentially leading to toxicity. Noteworthy drug classes affected include:

  • Anticoagulants (such as warfarin)
  • Statins
  • Antihypertensives
  • Certain antiarrhythmics

Potassium Levels and Heart Medications

Glycyrrhizin can also promote the expulsion of potassium in the urine, which can lead to hypokalemia (a low level of potassium in the blood). Hypokalemia can be particularly dangerous for individuals on heart medications, including certain diuretics and cardiac glycosides, as these medicines also affect potassium levels. The combination with black licorice can lead to serious cardiovascular complications, such as arrhythmias.

  • Loop diuretics (e.g., furosemide)
  • Thiazide diuretics
  • Cardiac glycosides (e.g., digoxin)

Blood Pressure Elevations

Black licorice has been observed to cause sodium retention and potassium loss, which can lead to an increase in blood pressure. Patients who are on antihypertensive medications should be cautious, as the hypertensive effects of black licorice may counteract their medications. Notable interactions occur with:

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Beta-blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers

Evidence from Studies and Expert Opinions

Several studies have documented the interactions between black licorice and medications. For example, the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology has published findings on the inhibition of drug metabolism by glycyrrhizin. Additionally, organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have issued warnings about the consumption of black licorice for those on certain medications. Experts recommend that individuals who are on long-term medication therapies should consult with healthcare professionals before consuming black licorice or products containing glycyrrhizin.

In summary, it's crucial to be informed about the potential interactions of black licorice with medications. The inhibitory effects on drug metabolism enzymes, the impact on potassium levels, and the risk of increased blood pressure are areas of particular concern. Always discuss with a healthcare provider before including black licorice in your diet if you are taking any medications.

Caloric Content and Weight Management Concerns

Black licorice is a confectionery that many have loved for generations, with a flavor that people either love or hate. However, when considering the impact of black licorice on your health, especially in the context of weight management, it's essential to understand its caloric content. Black licorice contains significant sugar levels, accounting for most of its caloric density. The caloric content may vary depending on the brand and recipe, but on average, a single ounce (about 28 grams) of black licorice will typically contain approximately 100 calories.

From a dietary standpoint, these calories are considered 'empty calories,' meaning they provide energy but minimal nutritional value. Including large amounts of empty calories can contribute to weight gain if consumed in excess without adequate physical activity. Therefore, moderation is key when enjoying black licorice to avoid contributing to a caloric surplus, which can lead to undesired weight gain.

It's also worth noting that black licorice may not be satisfying in the way that nutrient-dense foods are; thus, overconsumption becomes a risk. This lessened satiety can prompt further eating and increase total caloric intake, further complicating weight management efforts. The psychological aspect of eating something sweet must be balanced with the recognition of its impact on overall caloric intake.

For those individuals counting calories or managing their carbohydrate intake for conditions like diabetes or insulin resistance, black licorice can present challenges. With a high proportion of its calories coming from sugars—glucose and sucrose—it's vital to factor this into daily carbohydrate allotments.

Lastly, it's not only the sugar content that may influence weight concerns but also the potential addition of fats in certain types of licorice candy. While traditional black licorice may have minimal fat content, some varieties, especially those that are combined with other confections or coated in chocolate, can have higher fat contents, further increasing the total caloric load.

In summary, for individuals careful about their weight and caloric intake, mindful consumption of black licorice is essential. It is advisable to enjoy this treat occasionally and in small portions to avoid it becoming a setback in one's weight management journey. Here is a quick glance at the average caloric content in black licorice:

Serving Size Calories (Approx.) Sugar Content
1 ounce (28g) 100 18g
2 ounces (56g) 200 36g
3.5 ounces (100g) 350 50g - 60g

While indulging in a piece of black licorice is unlikely to derail a healthy diet, it’s important to be conscious of portion sizes and how often it’s consumed, particularly for those actively managing their weight or metabolic health.

Moderation and Safe Consumption Guidelines

When it comes to understanding the effects of black licorice on health, moderation is key. While black licorice contains various compounds that can be beneficial in small amounts, its overconsumption can lead to a range of adverse health effects. The primary concern with black licorice arises from a compound called glycyrrhizin, which is responsible for the sweet flavor of licorice root. Glycyrrhizin can cause potassium levels in the body to fall, leading to abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, edema (swelling), lethargy, and congestive heart failure in severe cases.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued advisories in the past regarding the consumption of black licorice. For people over the age of 40, eating more than two ounces of black licorice daily for at least two weeks could lead to arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm), which could necessitate medical attention. Subsequently, individuals with pre-existing heart conditions or those taking medications that interact with licorice should be particularly cautious. Pregnant women should also avoid excessive amounts of black licorice, as it could potentially affect the fetal development process.

To monitor your intake and adhere to safe consumption guidelines, consider the following steps:

  • Check Labels: Always check the ingredient list on licorice products. Products labeled as "licorice flavor" may not contain actual licorice root and instead have anise oil, which mimics the flavor without containing glycyrrhizin. This is a crucial distinction for those seeking the health benefits of licorice without the risk of glycyrrhizin-related side effects.
  • Portion Control: Limit your intake of black licorice. Rather than eating large quantities in one sitting, enjoy small portions as an occasional treat.
  • Be Aware of Accumulation: Even small amounts of black licorice can accumulate in the body over time. Pay attention to your body's signals and reduce consumption if you experience muscle weakness, fatigue, or swelling.
  • Consult Healthcare Providers: If you have any underlying health concerns or are taking prescription medication, consult a healthcare provider regarding the safety of black licorice in your diet.

Research is ongoing to fully understand the impact of glycyrrhizin on health. A study published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal advises moderation due to licorice's potential effects on the cardiovascular system, metabolism, and renal function. To err on the side of caution, moderation in consumption and awareness of individual health status are advised.

While the concern over black licorice consumption typically centers on glycyrrhizin, it's equally important to consider calories, sugar content, and any added ingredients when evaluating its place in your diet. Enjoying this treat in moderation, while being conscious of these factors, can help you maintain a balanced and healthful eating pattern.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, some licorice-flavored treats use anise oil, which mimics the flavor of black licorice without containing glycyrrhizin. Additionally, herbal teas and candies that feature anise, fennel, or star anise may provide a similar taste experience without the risks associated with glycyrrhizin.

Yes, black licorice can cause issues even in individuals with no pre-existing health conditions due to the presence of glycyrrhizin. Overconsumption can lead to side effects such as high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, muscle weakness, and edema, irrespective of one's health history. It's important to consume black licorice in moderation to avoid these potential adverse effects.

If you're sensitive to sugar or on a low-sugar diet, it's best to consume black licorice sparingly, as it contains a high amount of sugar. Look for varieties that are sugar-free or have reduced sugar content. Always check the nutritional label, and consider indulging in small portions infrequently to maintain your dietary goals.

If you suspect overconsumption of black licorice and experience symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness, or swelling, it's important to stop consuming the product immediately and consult a healthcare provider. In severe cases, excessive glycyrrhizin can lead to serious conditions requiring medical intervention.

Ask a question about Black Licorice and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • hypokalemia
  • hypertension
  • heart arrhythmias
  • muscle weakness
  • fatigue
  • edema
  • metabolic alkalosis

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of congestive heart failure
  • interaction with medications
  • elevated blood pressure

Ingredients to be aware of

  • glycyrrhizin
  • high sugar content

Healthier alternatives

  • licorice-flavored products without glycyrrhizin
  • small portions occasionally

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Panda Licorice Chews

  • All-natural ingredients
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Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-31-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-31-2024

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