The 54-year-old ate a bag and a half every day for a few weeks, which created an imbalance in vital nutrients and affected his blood pressure. He was eating in a fast-food restaurant last year when he gasped and lost consciousness, doctors say in a case report published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.
“Even a small amount of licorice you eat can increase your blood pressure a little bit,” Neel Butala, MD, one of the case report authors and a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the AP.
Some black licorice contains glycyrrhizin, which is the sweetener derived from licorice root. It can create imbalances in electrolytes and low potassium levels, according to the FDA, as well as high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy, and heart failure. Eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for 2 weeks can cause heart rhythm problems, the FDA says, particularly for people over age 40.
“It’s more than licorice sticks. It could be jelly beans, licorice teas, a lot of things over the counter. Even some beers, like Belgian beers, have this compound in it,” Robert Eckel, MD, a university of Colorado cardiologist, told the AP.
The patient had switched from red, fruit-flavored twists to black licorice a few weeks before his death, according to the AP. The FDA allows up to 3% of food content to contain glycyrrhizin, but some product packages don’t show consumers how much is in each ounce. In addition, many licorice candies that are made in the U.S. contain anise oil, which mimics the smell and taste of licorice, and can cause confusion for consumers.
The FDA recommends eating black licorice in moderation and reporting any irregular heart rhythms to a doctor. People can also report health problems related to licorice to the FDA.