You may know licorice as a candy or a flavoring agent, but did you know that it’s also a powerful natural remedy that has been used for centuries to treat various ailments?
Licorice root is derived from the root of the licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra), found in Europe and Asia. It is rich in various plant compounds, with glycyrrhizin being the most significant one, responsible for the sweet taste and medicinal benefits of licorice.
According to experts, licorice root has many benefits for your health, such as:
- Healing your skin. Licorice root extract can help with skin problems like eczema, acne and other inflammatory conditions. It can reduce redness, itching and swelling by blocking the production of chemicals that cause inflammation. It can also kill bacteria and viruses that infect the skin. For example, a study in 60 adults found that applying a gel containing licorice root extract significantly improved eczema symptoms in two weeks.
- Soothing your throat. Licorice root tea can help with throat infections like sore throat, cough and bronchitis. It can ease the pain and irritation by coating the throat with a protective layer of mucus. It can also reduce the amount of mucus and inflammation in the airways. Licorice root is also a potent antiviral agent that can fight off infections like flu, herpes and even hepatitis.
- Boosting your digestion. Licorice root can help with stomach problems like ulcers, indigestion, heartburn and acid reflux. It can protect the lining of the stomach and intestines from damage caused by acid, bacteria or drugs. It can also increase the production of mucus that coats the stomach wall and prevents ulcers from forming. Additionally, licorice root can improve digestion by stimulating the secretion of digestive enzymes and bile. It can also relieve symptoms of constipation by increasing bowel movements.
However, licorice root is not a magic bullet. Consuming too much licorice or taking it for a long time can cause serious side effects, such as:
- High blood pressure. Glycyrrhizin can interfere with the balance of sodium and potassium in the body, leading to fluid retention and increased blood pressure. This can increase the risk of heart problems and stroke. For instance, a woman in Italy developed high blood pressure after eating too much licorice candy for four weeks.
- Low potassium levels. Glycyrrhizin can also cause the kidneys to excrete more potassium than normal, resulting in low potassium levels in the blood. This can cause muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat and fatigue. For example, a man in Canada developed low potassium levels after drinking too much licorice tea for two weeks.
- Hormonal imbalances. Glycyrrhizin can affect the levels of hormones such as cortisol, estrogen and testosterone in the body. This can cause menstrual irregularities, infertility, erectile dysfunction and other problems. For instance, a woman in Japan developed Cushing’s syndrome – a condition caused by excess cortisol – after taking licorice root supplements for weight loss.
To avoid these side effects, experts recommend limiting the intake of licorice root to no more than 75 mg of glycyrrhizin per day for adults and 30 mg for children. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes should avoid licorice root altogether.
Alternatively, some products use deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), which has had the glycyrrhizin removed. DGL may still have some benefits for the stomach and throat without causing the adverse effects of glycyrrhizin.
Licorice root is available in different forms, such as teas, capsules, liquids and gels. You can find them in health food stores or online. However, before using any licorice product, make sure to check the label for the amount of glycyrrhizin and consult your doctor if you have any medical conditions or take any medications.
Licorice root is an ancient herb that can offer many benefits for your health – but only if you use it wisely and moderately!