If we are talking about real licorice, a little bit every now and then may be beneficial, but regular consumption can become dangerous after just a couple of weeks. If we are talking about the candy "licorice," then there are no health benefits to be had.
First, it needs to be said that most "licorice" we eat in the States isn't actual licorice. None of the red licorice comes from the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra, and very seldom is black licorice made from the root of that plant. What we call licorice is mostly sugar with anise flavoring. Anise can actually be quite good for women who are menstruating as studies show that it may be effective in reducing pain associated therewith. However, it is of note that some people may be allergic, including those with known allergies to celery, asparagus, coriander, dill, and other plants similar to anise.
Real licorice or "sweet root" as it is also known, comes from the root of the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant. It is used widely as a flavoring in various foods, drinks, and even tobacco. The benefits and risks of licorice come from glycyrrhizic acid. While the research is still inconclusive and ongoing, some studies have shown data suggesting that glycyrrhizic acid can prevent the growth of H. pylori in the gut and reduce the risk of peptic ulcers and indigestion. Furthermore, licorice may be able to treat sore throat, mouth sores, and upper respiratory infections.
Glycyrrhizic acid is not without its risks, however. For one thing, eating licorice regularly for longer than two weeks can lead to a condition known as pseudoaldosteronism, further leading to hypertension, fluid retention, and a loss of potassium (and thereby increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and organ damage from excess sodium levels). Paralysis and permanent brain damage are also risk factors of continuous prolonged consumption of licorice. There is also concern that licorice can reduce testosterone in men and lower male sex drive.
The good news is that in America, most people do not consume enough licorice to be worried. Still, if by "licorice" you mean the candy licorice we are all familiar with, such as Twizzlers, then the things to worry about are refined sugar and food coloring. While sugar is known to cause obesity, heart disease, and cancer, food colorings are also of concern in that they may lead to hyperactivity in children as well as be carcinogenic. As a final note, licorice, whether as a candy or the real thing, should not be eaten by people with a history of heart problems or high blood pressure.
Possible short-term side effects
- allergic reaction
Possible long-term side effects
- lower testosterone in males
- reduced sex drive for males
- obesity (licorice candy)
- heart disease (licorice candy)
- cancer (licorice candy)
Ingredients to be aware of
- glycyrrhizin acid
- refined sugar (licorice candy)
- food coloring (licorice candy)
- may help treat various stomach problems
- may treat upper respiratory infections
- may cure mouth sores
- may heal sore throat
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Written by Jeff Volling | 02-22-2016
Written by Jeff Volling
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