Is It Safe to Eat Licorice During Pregnancy?

You already know to avoid alcohol and cigarettes when pregnant, but licorice? New evidence suggests that eating licorice during pregnancy could harm the developing baby.

Diet is always important, but at no time is it more important than during pregnancy. A growing fetus needs good nutrition to develop into a happy, healthy newborn baby. So important is nutrition that a lack of the nutrient folate can cause spinal cord deformities that can lead to paralysis or death in the newborn. It’s not only critical to get good nutrition, but also important to avoid substances that could be harmful to the health of the developing fetus. This is why women are urged to avoid alcohol and cigarettes when pregnant. Now, a new study suggests that eating licorice during pregnancy could be harmful to the health of a newborn baby.

The Risks of Eating Licorice During Pregnancy

According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, moms-to-be who eat licorice during pregnancy may be putting their growing baby at risk. From their research they found that moms who frequently snacked on licorice during their pregnancy had offspring with behavior and learning problems. Some had a short attention span and  manifested symptoms of ADD. How much licorice did it take? They found that moms who ate more than 100 grams per week of licorice during pregnancy were putting their developing babies at risk.

This isn’t the first time eating licorice during pregnancy has been called into question for health reasons. A previous study showed women who ate large amounts of licorice during pregnancy were more likely to deliver prematurely. They believe that a component of licorice known as glycyrrhizin may be the culprit. Glycyrrhizin alters the placenta in such a way that it allows stress hormones such as cortisol to reach the developing baby. These stress hormones appear to alter brain development and function in the growing fetus. For this reason, most experts recommend avoiding licorice during pregnancy – or at least eating it in minimal quantities.

The Other Dangers of Licorice

There’s other evidence of the dangers of licorice. Eating large quantities of licorice which contains glycyrrhizin can increase levels of a kidney hormone known as aldosterone – a hormone that causes elevations in blood pressure and loss of potassium which could be dangerous to those with heart disease or poorly controlled high blood pressure. Large doses of licorice can also cause liver toxicity and lower testosterone levels in men.

How to Avoid the Dangers of Licorice

The good news is the red licorice candy that’s sold in so many stores contains little or no glycyrrhizin since it’s flavored with anise oil rather than licorice oil. “Real” black licorice does contain glycyrrhizin since it’s flavored with licorice oil and should be avoided during pregnancy or if you have high blood pressure or heart disease. As little as four ounces a day can cause elevations in blood pressure. It’s safest to stay away from real licorice during pregnancy along with any other licorice product that contains glycyrrhizin, and eat it only in moderation if you’re healthy.

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