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July 14, 2000 -- For adults battling body fat, the results of a new study could make them feel like a kid in a candy store. Eating black licorice regularly may reduce body fat without any side effects, according to an Italian report presented at a recent endocrinology meeting in Toronto.

Throughout the world, licorice is used as a mouth freshener and in sweets. Its intense flavor comes from the root of a Mediterranean plant, Glycyrrhiza glabra, which contains a powerful chemical known as glycyrrhizic acid. Eating excessive quantities of licorice containing this active ingredient can actually cause potassium loss, resulting in higher blood pressure.

But according to the authors of the small study, eating moderate amounts of licorice has no adverse effects. "Our study showed that licorice intake of 3.5 grams a day [roughly 1.4 ounces] reduced body fat by up to 4%, without any change in blood pressure," says co-author Carlo De Palo, MD, a clinical researcher at the University of Padua. "One explanation is that the strong taste of licorice suppresses the appetite," he adds.

American doctors think it may be too soon to draw any conclusions. "Another explanation is that eating licorice makes you feel full, so that you eat fewer calories," says weight-control expert Terry Jacobson, MD, director of health promotion and disease prevention at Atlanta's Grady Health System and an associate professor of medicine at Emory University.

"That's how dietary fiber works, but without all the sugar," he explains. Foods that contain dietary fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, also provide vitamins and nutrients.

"We all like to think that there's a magic bullet, but a balanced diet and regular exercise are the only proven methods of long-term weight management," Jacobson tells WebMD. "And to become part of clinical practice, new findings have to be validated in much larger studies."

De Palo and colleagues explored the effect of eating licorice in seven men ages 22 to 26. The participants ate a commercial Italian product that contained more than 7% glycyrrhizic acid daily for two months. Before and afterward, researchers measured the men's weight, blood pressure, body fat, and body water.

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