The People's Perspective on Medicine

Black Licorice Has a Dangerous Dark Side

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. Many people today, however, encounter it as the flavoring for black licorice candy.

Is Licorice Candy or Medicine?

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 black licorice, often from Europe, contains the active ingredient glycyrrhizin.

The Dark Side of Black Licorice:

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.

The Swedish Gym Teacher:

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 black licorice. Once she stopped, all of her symptoms gradually disappeared.

The Case of the Black Jelly Beans:

In a recent case report, a 51-year old man went to the emergency department with a stomach ache that had lasted three days (Foster et al, Postgraduate Medicine, April 2017). He also reported vomiting, diarrhea and dry mouth. The workup showed alarmingly low potassium levels and blood pressure of 174/62. The doctors were puzzled since several days of treatment did not correct these problems.

They worked him up to see if his body was making too much aldosterone. Someone discovered that he’d been eating a bag of black licorice jelly beans every day, even in the hospital. On medical advice, he stopped eating the jelly beans and started taking the amiloride and spironolactone potassium-sparing blood pressure pills he had been prescribed. A few days later, blood work showed his potassium was now too high, and his blood pressure was 120/86.

The doctors discontinued the blood pressure medicine. Follow-up at ten weeks (no black licorice jelly beans) showed all his lab values were normal.

The investigators conclude:

“Prompt identification and effective management of licorice-induced hypertension may spare patients from lifelong medical therapy and prevent serious complications.”

Licorice as Medicine:

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.

What About DGL?

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.

Revised 6/26/2017

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Bought some real black licorice yesterday thinking it would help my stomach. Opposite effect: had only 6 small pieces and felt a bit crampy. Thought it was my dinner since I had pizza. Today I had only 3 small pieces and got immediate diarrhea and cramps. Googled licorice and saw this article.

Obviously it’s too strong for me, too bad I love the flavor of the real stuff.

I immediately ate a banana after reading it takes potassium away. Major bummer!

I have always enjoyed black licorice sticks as a special treat. It never bothered me until I started eating bagfuls of German tiny salted licorice, and eventually my heart started racing because of the potassium drop.

Haven’t had licorice for a few years now but last week I bought a bag of sticks on a whim. I cut them into 3 inch pieces and grabbed two large handfuls as an evening snack. I was awake all night with the worst leg cramps I have ever had. I drank electrolyte water, ate a banana, took cramp pills, and the “fixes” worked for awhile but the cramps kept coming back. The next day my legs were still extremely sore. I am now off licorice for good. Not worth the pain or the risk to my heart.

I’ve been a big black licorice fan all of my life. One day several years ago I purchased a brand which I had been eating since I can remember. For some reason I couldn’t stop eating after a few sticks and devoured a half of the large bag. Probably about a half U.S. pound. Within the hour I started to experience extreme dizziness to the point that I couldn’t stand on my own feet. I waited for a short time, ready to call for an ambulance, thinking I was having a heart attack or stroke. Then it passed just as fast as it came on. I did some online research and discovered black licorice can cause this. Since then I have avoided it.

licorice itself isn’t bad for you. even too much of something like vitamin a can cause side effects. calcium can be dangerous too in extremely high amounts. saying licorice is dangerous (unless youre allergic) is like saying cheeseburgers cause heart attacks. probably not one once in a while, but if you eat 4 a day, yeah, you’re probably going to have side effects, possibly a heart attack. binge behaviors are the blame. not the licorice.

Liquorice root supplement helped my arthritis, psoriasis and night sweats for about four weeks. Then it just stopped working and my symptoms came back with a vengeance. Could this be an allergic reaction? I used it as a source of plant oestrogens as I cannot tolerate soy or red clover.

Should I up the dose or stop completely? Maybe the deglycerated version is safer? any thoughts welcome

When I eat black licorice my stools are always black. I wonder how long after stopping eating licorice it takes for stools to return to normal color.

My great-grandfather let me taste some of his black licorice when I was around 8 years old.

Now I am 24, and just this month I rediscovered the joy of eating licorice, but now I’m starting to experience some of the horrors.

I started off only eating a little here and there, but then I found out about “The Little Dutch Girl” in Old Town SPRING Texas. I tasted dozens of different kinds and loved them all.

I even ordered a case of black liquorice off Amazon before I realized what was causing my sudden medical issues.

I was having intense panic attacks that my wife had to talk me down from because I thought I was having a heart attack!

I have quit all coffee, tea and liquorice for what is now only the 2nd day. I feel like I can barely breathe and my heart is pounding like I just had several red bull energy drinks.

I have missed three days of work, and I REALLY AM LOOKING FORWARD TO FEELING BETTER.

Some of the comments saying they have waited two weeks or more before their blood pressure drops is scaring me.

The Texas heat is here, and I can’t even sit in my vehicle without instantly getting dizzy.

Liquorice tastes better than chocolate, but chocolate is so much safer!

Can black licorice cause arthritic pain? I have a feeling sugar is a culprit for arthritis!

My mother sent away for “true ‘,organic licorice sticks (1000)!. I have a love for the stuff and no self control. It is now 3am and I have had diarrhoea all night.
After reading your information, I am glad that is all I am suffering, as luckily my binge has only been for three days.

Be careful if you have an autoimmune disorder, as you may be Th-1 dominant. If so, stay away from licorice root. I didn’t realize how well I’d been doing until I took licorice root extract and it caused an almost immediate flare that lasted weeks. This was prescribed by a quack naturopath. They aren’t all bad, but do your research before you trust what they prescribe.

Since taking one capsule twice daily my cholesterol levels have finally come down. However, I have noticed issues with sleeping at night, through the night. So will stop taking the capsule at night. Let’s see what happens.

120/86 is not high blood pressure

People consume far too much licoroce and then blame it for the consequences.

Licorice has been safely consumed for thousands of years. Granted too much of anything is bad, so enjoy licorice (and everything else) in moderation.

While all people’s systems are different (within a range) mine is especially ill-attuned to licorice candy (and won’t try anything with “licorice” in any form). I had never even tasted licorice until I was almost 20 years old (my parents never bought it and I didn’t know anyone who ate licorice candy (let alone licorice medicine which I had never even heard of) so I was happy to try it when a friend of a friend brought a sack of licorice candy to a family get-together.

The black pieces of candy were about an inch long, unwrapped, and came in a baby blue bag; I ate two. Within a very few minutes, I was doubled over with sharp stomach pains, then off to the bathroom, and then a “racing” heart. For the next few days, I had a dull headache behind my eyes, and joint pain in my knees, elbows, and shoulders; it felt as if I had been poisoned.

A few years later, I was offered a different brand of licorice candy, with a hard candy coating, and I tried it again. That was the final piece of licorice I ever had, since the results were the same; severe stomach pains, bathroom, racing heart, and ongoing pain in head and joints. (In those days, we didn’t have blood-pressure cuffs in the house, like we do today, so I have no idea if it affected my BP.)

Nowadays, just hearing the word “licorice” is cringe-worthy. The notion that this product (or a derivative) could be “soothing” for any malady makes me woozy with apprehension. I can’t be the only one who gets sick from eating a small amount of licorice!

I have slept terribly for the last week or so. In addition, I developed a rash around my entire torso that had me itching all day and night. I eliminated two things in my diet that I had recently started eating but to no avail…. still itching. So just now, I remembered that for the last week and a half or so, I have been drinking a three-root tea that includes licorice root. I decided to look up symptoms of licorice allergy and ended up here on this page. I have not had any of the tea today so hopefully the itching will stop and I will get some sleep tonight!

I recently gave up drinking normal tea and was replacing it with liquorice tea. I was having at least 5 or more cups per day but woke up yesterday morning with swollen feet and legs. I also had swollen areas under my eyes. I attribute it solely to the liquorice tea after looking up its side effects. I will never go near liquorice in any form again!

I would like to share a tale of caution regarding licorice. I recently have been dealing with some health conditions which required a prescription for Lasix, a loop diuretic. I have also been taking supplemental potassium and increasing potassium in my diet through Natural Foods. Yesterday, a couple of hours after taking my medications I chose to enjoy a piece of licorice candy.

This was the type of licorice candy that is very strong and a higher concentration. I unfortunately learned in the most terrifying way that the licorice can additionally lower the potassium levels that my body is already challenged with by the Lasix which threw me into two 20 minute episodes of severe reactions which nearly landed me in the ER. So if for any reason anyone is taking a diuretic for any medical condition at all stay as far away from licorice as you can until you are no longer on the diuretic. This ends my cautionary Tale.

I just got off a 4 week binge till I realized my blood pressure was critical (180/115 from 130/80)just under two weeks ago. I have quite the licorice habit. My blood pressure is still high. Does anyone know how long it takes to go back to normal? I read somewhere that it can take 3 weeks or so. I am concerned.

I am fond of black licorice as a treat and have at times eaten large amounts of it during a day/week. I am glad to report I have suffered no notable symptoms. Being finicky may work to my advantage as I am picky about the variety I consume and it’s hard to find it in my area. Perhaps I’m better off without it but, as with most things, excess is the problem, yes?

As far as I remember I had digestive problems and few years ago I discovered that real licorice small candies will always solve my problem. Also when I travel, it will help me if I encounter any stomach issue.

I am on amlodipine for blood pressure and would like to try dgl for constant acid reflux, as i have been on PPIs for 2 years (Nexium) which is not good. Anything else eg Gaviscon doesnt cut it. Any suggedtions (other than surgery)?

The only time I ate licorice candies was in January-February 1983 in the United States. I had only a refreshing sensation.

I purchased the DGL from my health food store for my esophageal spasms. The direction said take two, they were chewable, three times a day, no more than six. I did exactly as instructed. The next morning I woke up with my chest full of congestion. I have never had bronchitis nor asthma nor pneumonia. I did not associate this with the licorice.

Later that day, I took two more licorice and almost immediately I could not breathe. I immediately took some Benadryl which helped with my breathing. As my husband and I were leaving for a trip, I did not go see the doctor until about a week later at which time I was hospitalized with pneumonia. I truly believe the licorice was the cause of all this.

I have enjoyed reading all these comments regarding licorice. I happen to grow my own plants among the bee balm I raise for the hummers. Whenever I have a tummyache or overfull feeling, I just go outside (even in the dark at night) and pull off a few of the feathery leaves. These I just chew up and swallow.

Within 5-10 min (Maximum) the ache is gone. I have NEVER had any side effects from my plants, which are perennials. Maybe because there is no sugar as in the candy version (which I also happen to love but rarely buy it). None of the above comments referred to the plant. Sandy in VA

I have been suffering from low aldosterone and very low blood pressure (88/54 yesterday) and cannot stand or walk or long periods of time. I have always been an active, healthy woman, and at 51, I am too young to be this “old”. After trying Florinef, which makes my legs ache terribly, my acupuncturist suggested I try licorice in the morning and at lunch time. Just starting today, so keeping fingers crossed! Will report back soon.

I took this in tincture form from an acupuncturist for my IBS. A few hours later I developed vertigo and a nurse at work measured my BP at 150/90 which is the highest it’s ever been. I usually run 120/70.

I used to enjoy licorice tea–sweet but no sugar or artificial sweetener. Then I realized that on the evenings I drank licorice tea, I also had a very hard time falling asleep and had disturbing dreams. Unhappily, I’ve had to give up the wonderful-tasting tea.

I have a lot of trouble going to sleep and often am awake all night. I do enjoy my liquorice and wondered if it was part of my problem.

A friend gave my wife a large packet of licorice Allsorts. She and I finished half of them off one evening, but the next day we both felt quite under the weather with adverse symptoms. I awoke with a pounding thick headache and was very dizzy.

This gradually subsides during the day. My wife however, experienced severe aching in her biceps and shoulder with occasional pains in her chest. After reading the comments on this page, we will refrain from eating any licorice products.

Peoples’ bodies react differently. With me black licorice actually HELPED with my BREATHING and CONGESTION, when 3 bouts of steroids did not do one thing.

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.

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.

Thank you. I just took a pill with black licorice and have been extremely sick since. With headache and hardly able to walk.

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!!

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

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.

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.,

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.

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.

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.

I’m addicted to pink and blue licorice. I eat 1kg of the sweets. I don’t stop. I’ve got no taste buds for anything else. How can I get help to not eat licorice? It sounds stupid.

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

My mom just took garlic pills for a month then oregano pills for a month. Cleared up her nail fungus.

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

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!

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

Thanks so much for this. I also almost died from a injection of licorice in a iv for a massive dose of vitamins. I instantly couldn’t speak or move my limbs and was a mess for hours.
My heart was racing and I felt like I might have almost died.

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.

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.

Hello,

Nothing works for everyone. I so wanted to get off my Rx since it’s only to be taken for a limited amount of time. Even though Doctors continue to refill with no questions. I found that ‘organic coconut water’ absolutely worked for me. Kept it in the refrigerator, drank about 4oz. With each flare up (daily, 2-3 times) I soon noticed less and less need. Took it only when I needed to. So grateful. I hope it works!

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.

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

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..

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….

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!

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.

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

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.

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.

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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