When you think of licorice you probably think of a sweet red chewy candy stick, or maybe the anise-flavoured black licorice we all seem to either love or hate. A real old-fashioned licorice stick is actually the dried root of the licorice plant. Sink your teeth into one and what happens next just might surprise you.
Hidden inside is a super-sweet compound called glycyrrhizin. This and dozens more chemicals lend this ancient herb its healing medical potential. For thousands of years, licorice has had a well-deserved reputation for soothing irritations such as sore throats and upset tummies and relieving congestion. Now it appears it might also have other, yet more powerful properties, though there are a few downsides worth noting, too.
So what are some of the health benefits? Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is used to treat indigestion, hepatitis C, memory loss, cancer and skin infections. Traditionally it was used as treatment for stomach ulcers, heartburn, indigestion, toothache, fever, asthma, bronchitis and coughs, too.
Here are some benefit for health of Licorice Root:
How to take licorice root as a supplement
Peeled licorice root is available in dried and powdered forms and as capsules, tablets and liquid extracts. The safest dose for most adults to get the full health benefits is 1 to 5 grams of licorice daily containing 1 to 10 milligrams of the active ingredient glycyrrhizin, for 4 to 6 weeks.
Note that in large amounts and in people with hypertension or heart, kidney or lung disease, licorice that contains glycyrrhizin can cause adverse reactions. Choosing deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL)’licorice with the glycyrrhizin removed’can lower the risk of serious side effects.
For a time, licorice was considered a natural and effective remedy for stomach ulcers, after Dutch physician FE Revers used it to treat his patients. Intrigued, researchers in the 1950s discovered that licorice compounds worked by triggering the release of stomach-protecting mucus and by protecting the stomach’s lining from the ravages of pepsin, a powerful digestive enzyme.
It has since been shown, however, that long-term exposure to the glycyrrhizin in licorice can boost blood pressure, cause water and sodium retention and lower levels of potassium in the body, making it unsafe for extended use.
And although researchers in India have experimented successfully with a safer, glycyrrhizin- free licorice to ease ulcer pain, today most people take antibiotics to wipe out the bacteria that cause stomach ulcers, and most scientists have switched their attention to other exciting healing possibilities in licorice.
Can licorice stand up to cancer? A lab study conducted at India’s Roland Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2011 says yes. The compounds licochalcone-A, glabridin and licocoumarone halted the growth of or killed, breast cancer, prostate cancer and leukemia cells. Glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhizic acid also put the brakes on the formation of tumours in skin, colon, liver, uterine and breast cancers.
This use of licorice has not been widely tested in humans, but one herbal prostate-cancer formula that contained licorice, PC-SPES (which is no longer available), was shown in human studies to slow the progression of some prostate cancers. Certainly, licorice is no substitute for conventional cancer therapy, but scientists think it has potential.
There are other health benefits being looked at into the future, too. It looks like licorice could be a mainstay in medicine’s arsenal of infection-fighters. A 2010 University of Texas study revealed that glycyrrhizin helps damaged skin create bacteria-fighting proteins called antimicrobial peptides, which are an important defense against infection. This could lead to treatments to counter antibiotic-resistant infections, such as those that sometimes occur in severe burns and can be fatal.
Perhaps most surprisingly, this sweet root could even be a dentist’s dream. Two licorice compounds, licoricidin and licorisoflavan A, have been shown, in lab studies, to kill off 2 major types of cavity-causing bacteria and 3 types of bacteria that fuel gum disease.
Anti-stress and anti-inflammatory effects
Licorice may be good for the brain, too. During a 2004 study at the University of Edinburgh, older men took a licorice extract containing the compound carbenoxolone and their verbal memory and fluency (the ability to put thoughts into words), improved. Why is that? Carbenoxolone seems to help by inhibiting a brain enzyme that helps make stress hormones, which contribute to age-related brain changes. Scientists say more research is needed but that a growing stack of lab research backs licorice’s potential for memory enhancement. In a mouse study, for example, animals that received licorice extract excelled at learning and memory tests.
There is research that shows that the Glycyrrhizic acid that is in licorice root can help with nervousness and depression by encouraging the function of the adrenal glands. Our adrenal glands control stress hormones including cortisol. When one’s stress hormone levels are low it can often be the cause of persistent fatigue, melancholy, anxiety, and having less resistance to infections and allergens. Licorice root also happens to also have the Asparagine amino acid that is needed to preserve equilibrium in the body’s nervous system.
Cardiovascular Disease Studies and High Cholesterol
There has been research that shows that licorice root may control the cholesterol ranges by enhancing the body’s flow of bile. There is also research to indicate that bile acids account for elimination of excessive cholesterol in your body. Also, the antioxidant action of licorice root may enhance capillary health and hinder the growth of arterial plaque.
The phytoestrogenic and anti-oxidant action of licorice root is thought to be useful for hormonal problems including exhaustion, mood swings, and hot flashes in women who are going through menopause. Consequently, ingesting just one capsule of licorice root daily can help balance and control a woman’s hormone production if she happens to be going through menopause.
Menstrual and PMS Cramps
This herb has anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and a moderate estrogenic action which might assist with PMS symptoms including breast tenderness, menstrual cramps, nausea and bloating, not to mention mood swings. Consuming licorice root as a tea each day starting about three days prior to one’s anticipated time of the month might help to alleviate PMS symptoms.
Individuals have been making use of this herb as poultices and salves in treating eczema, skin rashes, psoriasis, and itchy and dry skin. A small medical research that was done indicates that the demulcent and anti-inflammatory agents in licorice root gel may decrease the signs of atopic dermatitis (eczema). Just applying a salve made from licorice root onto the area 2 to 3 times daily can help alleviate skin problems.
Gastric and Abdomen Troubles
One benefit of licorice root that is used pretty frequently is that it can be used to deal with digestive abnormalities and many issues with the intestines. The licorice root’s flavonoids can help with discomfort and inflammation of the digestive system. Also, soothing agents in licorice root may quiet and soothe the digestion system, which in turn can help to promote a healthy bowel. Easy treatment would be to have some licorice root tea 2 to 3 times a day.
Herpes and Shingles
Licorice root extract has been utilized in treating herpes simplex, sores, and shingles. Several studies show that the antiviral action of the herb may suppress the return and progression of cold sores due to the herpes virus. Easy treatment for shingles and herpes would be to ingest a capsule of this root extract 2 times a day, and to use a salve made of the same extract on the affected region between four and five times a day.
Research demonstrates that individuals had a significant reduction in body fat mass after getting three grams of licorice root extract every day for 2 months. Nevertheless, the eating of licorice root isn’t something that anyone should do for long periods of time. Consequently, although most research indicates routine use of licorice root for two month periods of time, it is preferred to quit the use of the herb for 1 week after every two weeks throughout the two month interval. For weight loss, having a well-balanced diet along with regular exercise might lead to a substantial decrease in body fat.
Licorice isn’t a normal or usual herbal treatment for treating problems that include your salivary glands. Even though some treatments use licorice to assist in soothing a sore throat, there currently is no proof that the herb has any impact on saliva production. However, as I said, there have been many herbalists who have recommended the herb be used for this very purpose.
Do You Know the Side Effects of Licorice Root?
The long-term consumption of licorice root might cause hypertension, hypokalemia (low blood potassium levels), cataracts, and the retention of fluid in the body. Consequently, it’s not advised for individuals with heart problems. People that are allergic to Fabaceae (legume, pea, bean, or pulse) could be allergic to licorice root also since the herb is actually a member of the Fabaceae family.
Because of the estrogenic action in the root, it will be something that pregnant ladies will absolutely want to avoid. It’s recommended to talk to your primary care physician to go over any potential problems that licorice root might cause if you’re getting any hormonal medications, or any other medicine or supplements for that matter.