Licorice root ( Glycyrrhiza glabra or Glycyrrhiza uralensis ) has a long history of use in Eastern and Western medicine. Licorice is a perennial legume native to the Middle East, parts of Asia, and India.
Traditional medical professionals believe that licorice root can treat a number of conditions, including bronchitis, constipation, heartburn, stomach ulcers, eczema, and menstrual cramps. While using licorice is generally safe, overuse can lead to serious side effects and even poisoning.
What is licorice root used for?
Although research is limited, research suggests that licorice may have certain potential health benefits, primarily related to the digestive tract.
Previous research has shown that licorice root accelerates the healing of recurring aphthous ulcers .
There is some evidence that licorice root may slow the progression of chronic bronchitis associated with people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) .
According to in vitro studies from Chung Shan Medical University in Taiwan, the glycyrrhizic, Asian and oleanolic acids found in licorice root have antioxidant effects that protect the bronchial cells in the lungs .
This suggests that licorice may help slow (rather than stop or reverse) the progression of COPD when used with standard therapies. More human studies will be required to confirm these results.
Some scientists believe that the antioxidant properties of licorice may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, especially rectal cancer . While most of the research has been limited to animal or test-tube studies, some have shown promise .
When used in combination with other herbs, licorice root can help ease the pain of functional dyspepsia (DF), a chronic condition with upper abdominal discomfort .
Menopause and menstrual symptoms.
Licorice root is the main home remedy for women with menstrual cramps and is believed to help alleviate many of the adverse symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes .
Licorice contains phytoestrogens , plant compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. Despite the evidence of its benefits, it is still unclear how well the phytoestrogens in licorice root work, if at all .
A 2012 study of 120 women with hot flashes found that a 330-milligram daily dose of licorice root produced only a modest reduction in the frequency and severity of hot flashes compared to a placebo group.
After discontinuation of treatment, menopausal symptoms reappeared in both groups.
The role of licorice in the treatment of peptic ulcer is of growing interest in the scientific community, especially in relation to its effect on the bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori ( H. pylori). Helicobacter pylori is the main cause of peptic ulcers and one of the best known and most difficult to eradicate infections .
A 2016 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Infectious Diseases reported that adding licorice root to standard triple antibiotic therapy increased H. pylori eradication rates from 62.5% in the placebo group to 83.3% in the licorice group.
Licorice root also has antimicrobial properties that can also treat some fungal infections (such as Candida albicans ) and other difficult-to-treat bacterial infections (such as Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, and Enterococcus faecalis ) .
Possible side effects.
When taken as a supplement or tea, licorice root is considered safe and well-tolerated by adults.
Licorice root supplements are for short-term use only. Drinking licorice daily for several weeks or longer can cause serious and life-threatening side effects.
However, some side effects can occur if licorice root is taken in large amounts and is likely the result of an excessive accumulation of glycyrrhizic acid, which causes an abnormal increase in the stress hormone cortisol. This can lead to serious fluid and electrolyte imbalances in the body, with many possible symptoms, including :
- Fluid retention and edema ( edema )
- High blood pressure
- Muscle weakness or spasms
Research shows that consumption of licorice root during pregnancy or while breastfeeding causes adverse neurological effects in later children. Therefore, it should not be consumed by children, pregnant women or nursing mothers. You should also avoid drinking licorice for people with kidney or liver failure.
Licorice can interact with various medications, either making them less effective (and less effective) or making them more effective (and making side effects worse). This includes:
- Antiarrhythmic drugs such as lanoxin (digoxin)
- Antihypertensive medications such as Cozaar (losartan).
- Anticoagulants (blood thinners) such as Coumadin (warfarin)
- Estrogen-based contraceptives
- Celebrex (celecoxib) and Voltaren (diclofenac)
- Cholesterol medications such as Lescol (fluvastatin)
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil (ibuprofen).
- Diuretics ("water pills") such as Lasix (furosemide).
To avoid interactions, tell your doctor if you are taking licorice root or any other natural or herbal supplement.
Dosage and preparation
Licorice root products (including chewable tablets, capsules, extracts, teas, lozenges, tinctures, and powders) are available in most health food stores. While there are no universal guidelines for the proper use of licorice root, dosages of 5 to 15 grams per day are considered safe for short-term use .
Look for formulations that do not contain more than 10% glycyrrhizin. In general, you should never exceed the recommended dosage stated on the product label or take licorice supplements for more than three to six weeks.
In addition to dietary supplements, dried licorice root can be purchased online or from TCM dealers. Whole licorice root is difficult to use as the dosage cannot be controlled. On the other hand, you can easily make tea with shavings by steeping a tablespoon of shavings in a glass of boiling water.
Most grocery stores also offer licorice tea bags, some of which are mixed with black, green, or rooibos tea.
For best results, check with your doctor before using any licorice root product, especially if you have a medical condition.
What to look for
Licorice root is classified as a dietary supplement by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore, it is not necessary to undergo the rigorous testing that pharmaceuticals do, and their quality can vary from brand to brand.
For the highest quality and safety, buy only brands that are certified by an independent body such as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International .
Also, only buy supplements that list the amount of glycyrrhizin in the product. If you are buying dried licorice root, choose one that has been certified organic whenever possible.
Eat licorice candy
Eating licorice candy from time to time is likely to cause nothing but an upset stomach and heartburn. The same may not be the case if you consume licorice regularly.
As a general rule of thumb, keep licorice candy consumption to a minimum. If you eat large amounts and start to feel like your heart is beating fast or your muscles are weak, call your doctor right away.
That said, not all licorice candies are made from licorice. Many modern brands have a "licorice flavor" and are made with anise-based flavors that do not contain glycyrrhizin.
Learn more about the benefits of dandelion root .
Frequently asked questions
The amount of licorice root in different foods can vary, so it is difficult to know the exact amount that is not safe. In general, eating large amounts of food or consuming it for a long time can cause serious health problems, such as high blood pressure and low potassium levels. Talk to your doctor before taking licorice root, especially if you have a condition like high blood pressure or heart or kidney disease.
You can buy licorice root capsules, tablets, powders, teas, lozenges, and extracts at health stores and online that sell nutritional supplements.