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Is Licorice Good For You?

The safe upper limit of licorice consumption and why pregnant women may be at particularly high risk.

December 21, 2010 |
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What about, licorice? The kind that’s made from actual licorice root, not the artificially flavored corn syrup stuff. So like, healthfood store licorice Harmful, harmless, or helpful? Licorice can be quite harmful. The natural compound that makes licorice so sweet can affect kidney function. Just 4 candy cigars for 2 weeks landed this woman in the hospital—a physician no less. She recovered completely, but others have not been so lucky.
Now there is some evidence that the same compound may be effective at killing human prostate cancer cells in a petri dish, so one could argue these people were just eating too much of a good thing, but the safety window is so narrow—the safe upper limit of black licorice intake is 6 grams, so that’s only like 6 inches of licorice. And it may be especially detrimental for pregnant women. Kids born to moms who ate a lot of licorice when pregnant suffer from diminished speech, visual, and memory skills, as well as 2-3 times the odds of having attention, rule-breaking, and aggression problems.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Also, there are 1,686 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my associated blog post: Soymilk: shake it up!

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  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/ksk63/ ksk63

    does this also include the tea that i love to drink if so I will stop.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      That is a great question. The only study I was able to find looked at a tea which included licorice root and concluded: “One cup of the herbal tea ["Smooth Move"] contains approximately 15 mg of glycyrrhizic acid, which is significantly below the level of concern for known side effects of licorice overdose.”

    • JJ

      I want to thank you for this question. One of the “teas” I like to drink is “Licorice Spice herbal tea”. The first ingredient in the brand I buy is “licorice root”. So, thanks for getting the answer.

      I will probably limit how much of this tea I drink and may not buy any new stuff, but at least I don’t have to throw out the boxes that I already have. (And it’s a relief not to feel bad about poisoning my guests when I have previously served it at my house.)

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/betsy/ BETSY

    What about deglycyrrhizinated licorice supplements for digestive health?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Please see below Betsy–thank you for your question!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/veguyan/ Veguyan

    For digestive health after a big meal of tofu and rice, etc., I like to take 4 or more tablets of DGL. It’s made by enzymatic therapy. Two tablets is 760 mg of Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice. It also helps me sleep. Is this stuff okay?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      If it really is deglycyrrhizinated then it should be OK, but I don’t know how reliable the process is. If you’re able to get information from the company on any independent testing that’s been done please post it here.

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/veguyan/ Veguyan

        Apparently it has not been 3rd party tested, but the company stands behind their claim that it is deglycyrrhizinated.

        • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

          That’s what companies tend to do!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/EricNeeds/ Eric Needs

    Mgreger what is your profession?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      I’m a physician: About Me. I’m going to have the system change my username from mgreger to my full name just so people don’t get confused, so thanks for your question!

  • Judd Conway

    How does one calculate the amount of licorice in items that are made of many ingredients.  For example, Panda licorice lists its ingredients as “molasses, wheat flour, licorice extract, Natural flavor (anise seed oil).  One official serving would appear to be about 35 grams.

  • Smilenstein

    Do fennel and anise seeds pose any risk? They have the same type of licorice flavor and I eat fennel seeds several times a week!

  • mikeysbro

    I didnt catch the amount of glycyrrhic acid that is at question nor if the whole herb was included in the licorice candys studied. In addition, it was mentioned that four cigars sticks of licorice candy was consumed, though what was the amount of glycyrrhic acid? i’ll have to look up safe levels in my herbal PDR and compare studies. If some are concerned, licorice comes with glycyrrhic acid removed. It can be bought as a supplement in wafers.

  • Georgiasfan

    I saw your licorice root in herbal teas comment, and have been drinking about 6 cups Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat every day for a dry throat related to the mountain air @ 6,000 feet. The nutrition info states 760 mg of organic licorice root. It sounds like way too much Glycyrrhiza acid to me. Are my days numbered?

    • TMR

      Yes ;-)

  • Sara

    Does liquorice in tea have some effects on blood pressure? I’ve heard that it helps when blood pressure is low.

  • Ziggyblues

    Is the 6g safe upper limit you mention per week or per day?