Licorice is a plant native to the Mediterranean and Western Asian regions. The root of the licorice plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Chinese medicine has long used licorice root to treat many ailments, including gastrointestinal problems, malaria, insomnia, and infections.
Licorice root is often used as a sweetener in beverages, candy, and medicine. It is 50 times sweeter than sugar but provides health benefits that sugar does not. Licorice root contains over 300 chemical compounds and flavonoids.
Glycyrrhizin, the most active chemical compound found in licorice, has been studied for its medicinal properties. This powerful phytochemical has been proven to reduce body fat, heal stomach ulcers, and fight infections.
Licorice root can provide the following health benefits:
Ulcer Treatment and Prevention
Multiple studies have shown that licorice root prevents and treats ulcers. It does this by increasing mucus production in the stomach, soothing the stomach lining. Licorice also increases the blood supply to the stomach, which promotes healing.
Licorice also prevents ulcers from forming in the first place by suppressing gastrin production in the body. Gastrin is a hormone that stimulates gastric acid production, which can lead to ulcer formation.
Two studies have illustrated how licorice root can help in the treatment of certain forms of cancer. Researchers set out to determine if glycyrrhizin had a therapeutic effect on stomach cancer and leukemia. They discovered that glycyrrhizin causes apoptosis (cell death) of stomach cancer and leukemia cells.
This group of researchers then tested glycyrrhetinic acid, a substance in glycyrrhizin, on stomach cancer, leukemia, and liver cancer cells. Once again, the licorice compound suppressed cell growth by causing apoptosis.
Virus and Bacteria Treatment
Several studies have described the antiviral and antibacterial effects of licorice root. Licorice root’s phytochemicals slow down viral replication and hinder bacterial growth.
Specifically, research has shown that licorice root provided antibacterial and antiviral benefits against several microbes, including Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Candida albicans, as well as viruses like herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
This antibacterial characteristic of licorice root is especially valuable in developing countries where affordable licorice-based medicines could be expanded to treat infections.
Obesity rates continue to rise in the United States, with over 40% of Americans affected by the disorder. Obesity increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis. Licorice root could prove to be a helpful weapon in the fight against obesity.
One study found that glycyrrhetinic acid decreased body fat in test subjects. Participants consumed 3.5 grams per day of licorice but did not change caloric intake or activity levels. After two months, the participants’ body water percentages had increased while their body fat mass had decreased.
The study also found that participants had a lower level of aldosterone, a steroid produced in the body that impacts blood pressure by causing the body’s salt and water levels to increase.
The same compounds in licorice root that have health benefits can also cause some adverse effects. Consider the following before consuming licorice root.
Eating licorice root reduces potassium levels in the body. Low potassium levels can cause an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and may be dangerous for those with heart disease.
High Blood Pressure
Licorice can also cause an increase in blood pressure, so if you already have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before eating licorice.
Irregular Child Development
A Finnish study found that the children of women who ate large amounts of licorice during their pregnancies had a higher risk of developmental problems. Therefore, pregnant women should avoid licorice root.
Avoid licorice root if you take diuretics, because it may increase the amount of potassium excreted by the body. Licorice root can also interfere with Aldactone, a blood pressure medication.
You should also avoid licorice root if you’re taking Warfarin or other blood thinners. Licorice may lower the level of Warfarin in your body.
Amounts and Dosage
There is no recommended daily allowance for licorice root. If you choose to supplement with licorice root capsules, check with your doctor to determine the correct dosage.
You can also find licorice root in herbal teas and in licorice candy made with real licorice. Check labels to determine if a product contains artificial licorice flavoring instead of licorice root or extract.