Q. This has been the scariest week of my life. I suddenly developed very high blood pressure (195/118) and had to go the emergency department.
I’m a student and had bought a ton of black licorice, the really good imported kind. I had been eating it when I studied and didn’t realize my blood pressure had begun to rise. When it felt like my heart was going to explode, I decided to check my blood pressure and found it was sky high!
I was put on hypertension medications: first, a beta blocker that did nothing; then an ACE inhibitor (ditto) and a water pill. The diuretic brought my pressure down after several days. Eventually it got my pressure down to 87/63, which is too low. Now my pressure is back to normal without medicine.
I could not understand what was happening. I eat a low-fat diet and I’m not overweight. I don’t smoke or drink. It wasn’t until afterward that my brother told me he thought it was glycyrrhizin toxicity from licorice. I could not BELIEVE it could be so harmful.
Today, my blood pressure is fine without medication: 107/70. I’m never eating licorice again.
A. Too much licorice can raise blood pressure and lower potassium levels (Clinical Chemistry, Dec. 2009). Your brother is right that glycyrrhizin in natural licorice is the culprit.
Candy flavored with anise rather than real licorice is safe. The imported variety that you were consuming is more likely to contain glycyrrhizin. Be sure to read labels when you buy licorice, and if you get the real thing, practice moderation!