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The Hidden Health Risks of Licorice

Although you may enjoy the sweet taste of licorice, before overindulging, you may want to consider the health risks.

When most people think of licorice, they envision chewy, sticks of candy with a sweet taste. The licorice found in this type candy is actually derived from the licorice herb grown in parts of Asia and Europe. Surprisingly, most American licorice does not contain high quantities of this licorice herb, unlike European and Asian licorice, which has levels high enough to cause the licorice side effects that have some medical professionals concerned.

Are they cause for concern?

Why are licorice side effects a potential concern? The root of the licorice herb contains a substance known as glycyrrhizin, a chemical that gives licorice its very sweet taste. So sweet is the glycyrrhizin found in licorice that it’s sometimes used as a flavoring for foods. Despite this sweetness, the side effects of licorice could limit its use in large quantities.

What are the side effects of licorice?

The glycyrrhizin component of licorice has the ability to mimic a hormone found in the body known as aldosterone. Aldosterone natural acts at the level of the kidney to control the balance of sodium and potassium in the body. When aldosterone levels are high, sodium is retained and potassium is released into the urine. The result is retention of sodium and loss of potassium which can result in elevated blood pressure and even damage to the muscles of the body. Water is also retained in the presence of glycyrrhizin which causes swelling and bloating. Extreme loss of potassium can result in a variety of adverse effects on the body including heart rhythm abnormalities and muscle contraction problems. That tasty piece of European licorice may not be so sweet after all.

Should you eat licorice?

If you’re healthy without a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease or other medical problems, you probably won’t have a problem eating modest quantities of American licorice since it generally has only low quantities of glycyrrhizin. If you plan on eating European licorice or drinking tea made from the licorice root, caution is advised. Low quantities of glycyrrhizin can build up over days or weeks and cause elevations in blood pressure, fluid retention, and alteration in potassium levels. It’s best to avoid any form of licorice product that’s high in glycyrrhizin. If you’re pregnant, stay away from all licorice products since licorice consumption has been associated with premature births. Licorice should never be consumed if you’re on any type of blood thinner.

The bottom line? Small quantities of American licorice are probably safe to eat but it’s best to avoid European licorice or products made from licorice root such as licorice tea.

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  1. Does this apply to licorice flavor from anise?

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