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.

Join Over 140,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

Each week we send two free email newsletters with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies and a preview of our award-winning radio show. Join our mailing list and get the information you need to make confident choices about your health.

  1. LaDona
    Torrance California

    I decided to purchase a tea made with licorice root from the place that cuts my hair as they have it brewing all the time and serve it in small cups. I love the flavor and natural sweetness of it. So, I brewed a cup and sipped down at bedtime knowing that it was caffeine free. In the middle of the night I woke to migraine headache that felt like a cap that took over my entire head. My ears were ringing feel terrible. Guess I’ll be throwing away the tea. Took Advil to relieve the symptoms.

  2. Susan
    Salt Lake City, USA

    I love licorice and after years of purchasing ‘too seeet’ American licorace I ordered licorice from Holland.
    I am 70 years of age.
    I developed muscle spasms in various muscles and neck and shoulder pain.
    My headaches were unresponsive to even heavy opioids. I have stopped the licorice for now and hope my symptoms abate.
    I never imagined licorice could cause so many problems.

  3. Sheri
    Langley, BC Canada

    My mother, may she rest in peace, had been fighting breast cancer for a number of years. At one point, after the chemo and radiation treatments left her with forever altered taste buds, she developed this addiction to Licorice Allsorts. She had developed an edema on her right leg that wept and wept – liquid dripping down her leg. It baffled the doctors. It took over a year to heal and that was because she was finally bedridden due to her cancer.

    I had told her GP and the doctors at the hospital that I had done research on licorice after finding empty boxes of the Licorice Allsorts all over her house. Every single doctor blew me off. I found out that Licorice Allsorts is one of the very few candies out there that have real licorice in them. When you eat too many – it can cause licorice poisoning, and part of that is water retention. The water in my Mom’s body found a release point in her leg which was the edema. I just want to say that if there are any doctors reading this – maybe listen to family of your patients. They just may know what they are talking about!!

  4. Willie
    Augusta GA

    I started taking licorice root on Tuesday afternoon and by Thursday noon the right side of my right food was numb.

  5. Susan

    Strangely enough never had a problem with liquorice., used to eat tons of it as a child, and seem to crave it, I can eat a whole bag and feel fine, and it seems to work well for my arthritis, it does nothing to my blood pressure.

  6. Jacky

    I’ve got various health issues, under active thyroid, IBS, hiatus hernia, arthritis, blood pressure, heart issues, so I’m on medication which I am very strict about. I’m trying to lose wieght through diet and exercise, but a few months ago I was having really bad constipation, I didn’t want the movical all the time so I thought I would try licquorise, I started off with headaches, neck, should pains, then I was getting pains all over even my muscles hurt, I was getting night sweats, I tried to work out what it was, exercise? flu jab I recently had, It was getting so bad I though I was dying, thankfully I read an article on licquorise, I’ve stopped eating, although I’ve not exercised for a couple of weeks, the pains I had seem to have eased off, so Im hoping it was the licquorise.,

  7. Bean

    I just got back from a trip to Ireland. They have delicious licorice over there, it’s in every store where you can buy candy. I had a bag every day and on the plane flight home my legs swelled terribly, my feet were practically bursting out of my mary janes. I think the licorice, together with the hours of sitting still mad e this happen. Now that I’m back home and can’t get licorice every day, my legs are normal again.

    • Susan
      Salt Lake City, Ut. USA

      Bean, I had revolving muscle pain and spasms too. My headaches were unresponsive to even heavy opiates.
      I had ordered European licorace from Holland.
      I won’t touch it ever again. The back muscle pain, neck, shoulder pain resembles your situation. I love it, it seems addictive. But the side effects aren’t worth it.

  8. Mary Thomas

    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.

  9. Aga

    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).


  10. Liz

    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

    • Veronica

      My mother was just released from the hospital today after her potassium dropped to 1.2. She could have died, and doctors were surprised she didn’t. Feet were very swollen, and they couldn’t figure out why. It was suggested that she has Gitelman syndrome, so I researched that. Found a case study of a man who ate fisherman’s friend cough drops and his P dropped to 1. I asked her and found out she has been taking a licorice root supplement for quite some time. Doctors never asked and just pumped her full of potassium. 3 days in a hospital could have been avoided. This is no joke!

  11. Heidi

    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

  12. Tania
    San Diego

    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.

  13. dan

    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

      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.

  14. Linda

    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

  15. Lorraine

    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..

  16. laurie

    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

      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!

  17. Bob
    Hickory, NC

    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.

  18. DB

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

  19. John M.

    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.

    • Wayne

      Started taking DGL and gastromend several months ago for acid reflux brought on by my occasional cup of coffee. I am a 59 year old male in good shape. Exercise regularly and eat well. 6’1 185 lbs. A holistic health care provider suggested i take the DGL as much as needed. No side effects she claimed. Well i did just that. PS my BP skyrocketed to 163/90. Never before have i had high blood pressure. Had a full cardiac work up a year ago and all was well. Its been 2 weeks of absence and still getting high BP readings. Wondering how long before i get back to normal.

  20. Kahleen

    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.

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted.