pieces of black licorice candy

Licorice has been around for thousands of years. The plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra) from which it is derived was found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs and was treasured by healers in the ancient Middle East. The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, considered licorice root a valuable healing herb.

Although modern day herbalists still use licorice for digestive upset, coughs and arthritis, most people think of it as flavoring for candy. Many confectioners use less expensive artificial flavors or anise, but true aficionados demand the real thing. High-quality licorice, often from Europe, contains the active ingredient glycyrrhizin.

There is a dark side to licorice, though. When candy containing real licorice extract is consumed regularly or in large quantities, there can be profound metabolic consequences.

Fluid and sodium are retained, blood pressure goes up and potassium may drop to dangerously low levels. Hormonal changes can occur and may lead to weakness and in extreme cases temporary paralysis.

We were impressed years ago with the story of a 22-year-old Swedish gym teacher. She had been healthy, but then developed horrific headaches every month and lost her periods. She also had frighteningly high blood pressure, around 240/130. Against all of that, her primary complaint of loss of libido must have seemed insignificant.

It turned out that she had been gobbling down large quantities of licorice. Once she stopped, all of her symptoms gradually disappeared.

One reader recently reported her own experience, which did not involve bingeing on candy:

“A week ago at the direction of a health care professional I took a prescribed antifungal to treat Candida. I saw the ‘Licorice Root’ listed on the label and remembered hearing many years ago that licorice could raise blood pressure, but I figured a health care professional would take that into consideration. By midday, though, I was hit with a bad headache and when I took my BP it was 180/100. That scared the heck out of me. Since then it’s been as high as 190/102, which scares me even more.

“My regular doctor had just reduced the dose of my BP med because I had lost weight and my reading had been 120/68. Trying to combat this sudden spike in pressure and the unrelenting headaches, I increased the dose of my blood pressure medicine again, but it did not help. How long does it take for the effects of licorice to leave the body? I have not taken any for a week, but my pressure is still higher than it should be.”

Based on the report of the Swedish gymnastics teacher, blood pressure should return to normal within two weeks.

Some natural remedies contain licorice root. Just as with candy, this can pose a risk for susceptible people.

One form of licorice is substantially safer. DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) has most of the glycyrrhizin removed. This makes it less likely to raise blood pressure or cause hormone disruption. DGL is often used to treat heartburn, ulcers, canker sores and other digestive distress.

When it comes to licorice, whether it is candy or medicine, moderation is advisable. Before taking anything containing glycyrrhizin or licorice root, ask about the potential for side effects and what to do if they occur.

If you have had side effects from licorice, you can share them in the comments below.

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  1. Mary Thomas
    Orlando
    Reply

    I read where licorice could help heal toe fungus along with oregano oil but after reading the above I think I’ll pass on the licorice. I have fungus on my big toe on my right foot that the article said could represent a problem with my liver or spleen. My goal is to correct the reason I have this fungus. I would appreciate any help.

  2. Aga
    London
    Reply

    Recently I went to Sweden and bought 100% Licorice candies with no added sugar, got really excited as I heard it helps with fighting viruses etc. One, tiny (tick-tack size) candy eaten in the afternoon was enough to keep me awake all night. Just now I learned from this article that deglycyrrhizinated licorice will not have same effects. Is that right? Is the deglycyrrhisinating process damaging the extract and makes it not as beneficial as it is not natural anymore? (like, lets say, removing fat from dairy products).

    cheers,
    Aga

  3. Liz
    Nottingham
    Reply

    Thank you for these postings as they really helped. I have been muching my way through some black licorice from the health food shop and thought I was having a migraine attack which is helped by medication. However after taking the medication there was not much change and an hour later felt quite ill again, lethargic, headache, dizzy and generally spaced out. Decided to check out the licorice binge and here we are. Will post later when hopefully it’s all calmed down. Thanks again. L

  4. Heidi
    pa
    Reply

    I us licorice root to get my blood pressure a little higher have always very low blood pressure with the licorice root is more normal and makes me feel better don t get light headed all the time.
    i know it will raise it raises mine to a normal range 110 / 60 vs 89/50

  5. Tania
    San Diego
    Reply

    I am on my second bottle of DGL. While it does help my heartburn,
    it gives me horrible headaches. About 10 minutes after I take it, my head begins to pound. I’m going to have to find another natural alternative for GERD.

  6. dan
    pa
    Reply

    Dec 2015 was at my doctor for yearly check up blood pressure was 130/80. I bought a case of good black licorice imported from another country (has licorice extract in ingredients I looked after having problems).I had been eating it for about month maybe 4-5 pieces (about 1-2 oz) a day, started getting head and neck aches, my BP went to 199/103. went to ER got it down with 3 time extra medication, took all kinds of tests they all came back ok. Its been about 3 weeks now since ER and seeing doctor and taking the BP starting to come back down. Short of it is BP was good until consumed licorice, also doctor said black licorice with licorice extract may raise BP in some people. I’m not sure if this was the cause but I haven’t ate no more and feeling better. If you eat good black licorice and get these signs check your BP.

    • Marianne
      PA
      Reply

      I had bought Egyptian Licorice Herbal Tea and there was a warning on the box with regard to it not getting along with some prescription meds in the body. And since I am on BP meds, my pharmacist said that a cup of this now and then will be alright.

  7. Linda
    Ohio
    Reply

    I to have been taking DGL for my stomach and it does work but before I started it my blood pressure was in good control, I had lost about 15 lb. doctor was very happy as was I . I started to notice my blood pressure was going up over the 30 days I was taking DGL (but I had been told by my doctor this would not happen) I have decided to stop it and see if it goes back down. Also I feel my heart beating in my chest which I never did before and I have no heart problems. I will post again in a couple of weeks

  8. Lorraine
    Gorokan
    Reply

    I only have a fairy teaspoon .. Of Licorice root tea To make a cup of tea .. Is that still enough to gain the health benefits? One cup a day..

  9. laurie
    ga
    Reply

    Very healthy 60 yr. Old on no medication. Normal weight eat healthy diet. Only health issues are allergies. Bought some old fashioned licorice 2 weeks ago.ate the 8 oz bag over 2 days. Got severe headache. Tembling, urge to urinate and defecate, terrible pains all over random joints.felt weak.BP went to 220/110. Normally half that! Ended up in ER. MRI, CT SCAN XRAY , blood tests. Headaches for 4-5 days. Gradually over 2 weeks all seems to have returned to normal….

    • Judy
      VA
      Reply

      Wow, so glad to see these comments. I had a blood pressure reading of 100/60 at my physical in July, yesterday I went for an office visit complaining of headaches and my pressure was 134/85! I had all sorts of blood work done but now I’m thinking it’s the black licorice I purchased a month ago and have been eating daily!

  10. Bob
    Hickory, NC
    Reply

    I recently took 2 DGL before dinner and within 20 minutes I was headed to use the restroom. I think I got everything that was in me out. I was urinating every 5 minutes or less and number 2 at least 5 times if not more so I was on the toilet for 1 hour. I felt weak had a headache and increased heart rate. I also was really tired and just feeling ill. Sort of a flu like feeling. I have not had any since.

  11. DB
    Reply

    A lot of herbal tea blends have licorice root as one of the ingredients. Is this the same thing as the black licorice?

  12. John M.
    Reply

    When I was younger, I had a bad experience with black licorice. I ate some about an hour before I went to bed. The next thing I knew, I was on the couch with at doctor hanging over me saying, “I think he will be all right!” My mother was in tears. She had heard me making strange sounds in the night and came in to check. If she had not heard me, who knows what might have happened. Since that day, not one drop of licorice has passed my lips, no matter what the color is.

  13. Kahleen
    Reply

    Beware everyone – I took the DGL supplement for a month and my blood pressure skyrocketed! So even a small amount of licorice in anything can have a bad affect on anyone who could be (& may not even now it) sensitive. This was distributed by a very good company in Canada.
    I bought it in the organic section of my grocery store. I told the employee about what happened to me and she was very glad to get the feedback so she could warn others. I started taking this after I heard it was recommended on the Dr. Oz Show. Be careful because everything he recommends needs to be tested out per person also.

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