pieces of black licorice candy

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!

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  1. DL

    I love black licorice and ate a lot before going to bed one night. I had the most severe cramps in my thighs but I didn’t relate to the licorice at that time. Another night after again eating licorice before bed, I stretched during my sleep and woke up screaming in pain with leg cramps. My feet were actually stuck pointing down so I couldn’t even stand up to try and walk it out. It took several more times having SEVERE leg cramps ( believe me not like the normal ones most people get) before I figured out the black licorice was causing my potassium level to drop and causing the cramps. I have never eaten black licorice again and have never had any more cramps. I miss the licorice but not the horrible debilitating cramps. I just couldn’t believe candy could do that. Thank god I figured it out.

  2. MM

    I have another question. People with high blood pressure should not eat licorice. Several herbal teas such as Pomegranate have licorice root in the ingredients. Is is safe to drink teas with the licorice root? I even emailed one of the Tea Makers and suggested they not put in Licorice root in their teas because of the danger to people with high blood pressure and they said they would not change their teas.

  3. RES

    I was very interested in the discussion of licorice
    & high blood pressure. I LOVE THOSE PINK AND BLACK CANDIES called Good and Plenty & are licorice flavor. I WONDER…..can those be the dangerous

  4. Sharon J

    How much is too much? One stick, three sticks a day? I hate licorice but have friends who go through a bag in short order.

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