Licorice is an herb that is native to the Mediterranean, southern and central Russia, and Asia Minor to Iran. Many species are now grown throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Licorice contains glycyrrhizic acid, which can cause complications when eaten in large quantities. Many "licorice" products manufactured in the U.S. actually don't contain any licorice. Instead, they contain anise oil, which has the characteristic smell and taste of "black licorice."
Licorice is taken by mouth for various digestive system complaints including stomach ulcers, heartburn, colic, and ongoing inflammation of the lining of the stomach (chronic gastritis).
Some people take licorice by mouth for sore throat, bronchitis, cough, and infections caused by bacteria or viruses.
Licorice is also taken by mouth for Addison's disease, a type of diabetes caused by a hormone deficiency (diabetes insipidus), menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), liver disorders, malaria, tuberculosis, high potassium levels in the blood, food poisoning, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a condition in which there is too much muscle tone (hypertonia), abscesses, recovery after surgery, rash, high cholesterol.
Licorice is sometimes taken by mouth along with the herbs Panax ginseng and Bupleurum falcatum to improve the function of the adrenal glands, especially in people who have taken steroid drugs long-term. Steroids tend to suppress the activity of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands produce important hormones that regulate the body's response to stress.
Licorice is also taken by mouth in combination with peony to increase fertility in women with a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome, to treat people with abnormal levels of a hormone prolactin, for muscle cramps, and to reduce cancer pain. In combination with other herbs, licorice is also used to treat prostate cancer and the skin disorder known as eczema. Licorice is also taken in combination with andrographis, Siberian ginseng, and schisandra to treat familial Mediterranean fever. This hereditary condition is characterized by recurrent and painful swelling in the chest, stomach, or joints. A formulation containing licorice root along with slippery elm bark, lactulose, and oat bran has been used for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Some people use licorice as a shampoo to reduce oiliness in their hair. It is also applied as a gel for itchy, inflamed skin (eczema), as a solution to stop bleeding, as a patch in the mouth or as a gargle for canker sores, as a cream for psoriasis, weight loss, or a skin condition characterized by brown spots (melisma), as a gargle for recovery after surgery, and as a paste for dental plaque.
Licorice is used intravenously (by IV) to treat hepatitis B and C, as well as mouth sores (lichen planus) in people with hepatitis C.
Licorice is also used to flavor foods, beverages, and tobacco products.
How it works
The chemicals contained in licorice are thought to decrease swelling, thin mucus secretions, decrease cough, and increase the chemicals in our body that heal ulcers.
Possibly EffectiveItchy and inflamed skin (eczema)
There is some evidence that applying licorice to the skin can improve symptoms of eczema. Applying a gel containing licorice three times daily for 2 weeks seems to reduce redness, swelling, and itching.
Research suggests that taking two specific combination products containing licorice root (Iberogast, Steigerwald Arzneimittelwerk GmbH; STW-5-S, Steigerwald Arzneimittelwerk GmbH) seems to improve symptoms of heartburn. Also, using another combination product containing licorice (STW 5-II, Steigerwald Arzneimittelwerk GmbH) improves heartburn 40% more when compared to a placebo treatment.
Research suggests that sucking on a single lozenge containing licorice (Sualin, Hamdard Pharma, India) beginning 30 minutes before having a tube inserted through the mouth into the trachea reduces cough following surgery by about 50%. Also, gargling with a licorice fluid before intubation reduces complications when the breathing tube is removed.
Licorice is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth in amounts found in foods
Licorice is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth in larger amounts for medicinal purposes and when applied to the skin for a short amount of time
However, it is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in large amounts for more than 4 weeks or in smaller amounts long-term. Consuming licorice daily for several weeks or longer can cause severe side effects including high blood pressure, low potassium levels, weakness, paralysis, and occasionally brain damage in otherwise healthy people. In people who eat a lot of salt or have heart disease, kidney disease, or high blood pressure, as little as 5 grams per day can cause these problems.Other side effects of licorice use include tiredness, absence of a menstrual period in women, headache, water and sodium retention, and decreased sexual interest and function in men.People who chew tobacco flavored with licorice might develop high blood pressure and other serious side effects.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: It isUNSAFEto take licorice by mouth if you arepregnant. Highconsumptionof licorice duringpregnancy, about 250 grams of licorice per week, seems to increase the risk of early delivery. It might cause amiscarriageor early delivery. There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking licorice if youbreast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Heart disease: Licorice can cause the body to store water, and this can make congestive heart failure worse. Licorice can also increase the risk of irregular heartbeat. Don't consume licorice if you have heart disease.
Hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: Licorice might act like estrogen in the body. If you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, don't use licorice.
High blood pressure: Licorice can raise blood pressure. Don't consume large amounts of it if you have high blood pressure.
A muscle condition caused by nerve problems (hypertonia): Licorice can cause the level of potassium to drop in the blood. This can make hypertonia worse. Avoid licorice if you have hypertonia.
Low potassium levels in the blood (hypokalemia): Licorice can lower potassium in the blood. If your potassium is already low, licorice might make it too low. Don't use licorice if you have this condition.
Kidney disease: Overuse of licorice could make kidney disease worse. Don't use it.
Sexual problems in men: Licorice can lower a man's interest in sex and also worsen erectile dysfunction (ED) by lowering levels of a hormone called testosterone.
Surgery: Licorice might interfere with blood pressure control during and after surgery. Stop taking licorice at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Warfarin (Coumadin) is used to slow blood clotting. The body breaks down warfarin (Coumadin) to get rid of it. Licorice might increase the breakdown and decrease the effectiveness of warfarin (Coumadin). Decreasing the effectiveness of warfarin (Coumadin) might increase the risk of clotting. Be sure to have your blood checked regularly. The dose of your warfarin (Coumadin) might need to be changed.
Cisplatin (Platinol-AQ) is used to treat cancer. There is some concern that licorice might decrease how well cisplatin (Platinol-AQ) works for cancer.Digoxin (Lanoxin)
Large amounts of licorice can decrease potassium levels in the body. Low potassium levels can increase the side effects of digoxin (Lanoxin).Ethacrynic acid (Edecrin)
Licorice seems to change hormone levels in the body. Taking licorice along with estrogen pills might decrease the effects of estrogen pills.Some estrogen pills include conjugated equine estrogens (Premarin), ethinyl estradiol, estradiol, and others.Licorice can cause the body to get rid of potassium. Ethacrynic acid (Edecrin) can also cause the body to get rid of potassium. Taking licorice and ethacrynic acid (Edecrin) together might cause potassium to become too low.Furosemide (Lasix)
Licorice can cause the body to get rid of potassium. Furosemide (Lasix) can also cause the body to get rid of potassium. Taking licorice and furosemide together might cause the potassium levels in your body to go too low.Midazolam (Versed, others)
Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Licorice might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. This might increase the effects and side effects of these medications. Before taking licorice, talk to your healthcare provider if you take any medications that are changed by the liver.Some of these medications changed by the liver include ketamine (Ketalar), phenobarbital, orphenadrine (Norflex), secobarbital (Seconal), dexamethasone (Decadron), and others.Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Licorice might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. This might increase the effects and side effects of these medications. Before taking licorice, talk to your healthcare provider if you take any medications that are changed by the liver.Some medications that are changed by the liver include omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), and pantoprazole (Protonix); diazepam (Valium); carisoprodol (Soma); nelfinavir (Viracept); and others.Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Licorice might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. This might increase the effects and side effects of these medications. Before taking licorice, talk to your healthcare provider if you take any medications that are changed by the liver.Some medications that are changed by the liver include amiodarone (Cardarone), paclitaxel (Taxol); nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as diclofenac (Cataflam, Voltaren) and ibuprofen (Motrin); rosiglitazone (Avandia); and others.Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Licorice might change how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. This might increase or decrease the effects of these medications. Before taking licorice, talk to your healthcare provider if you take any medications that are changed by the liver.Some medications changed by the liver include celecoxib (Celebrex), diclofenac (Voltaren), fluvastatin (Lescol), glipizide (Glucotrol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), irbesartan (Avapro), losartan (Cozaar), phenytoin (Dilantin), piroxicam (Feldene), tamoxifen (Nolvadex), tolbutamide (Tolinase), torsemide (Demadex), and warfarin (Coumadin).Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Licorice might change how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. This might increase or decrease the effects of these medications. Before taking licorice, talk to your healthcare provider if you take any medications that are changed by the liver.Some medications changed by the liver include lovastatin (Mevacor), ketoconazole (Nizoral), itraconazole (Sporanox), fexofenadine (Allegra), triazolam (Halcion), and many others.Large amounts of licorice seem to increase blood pressure. By increasing blood pressure, licorice might decrease the effectiveness of medications for high blood pressure.Some medications for high blood pressure include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), losartan (Cozaar), valsartan (Diovan), diltiazem (Cardizem), amlodipine (Norvasc), hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDIURIL), furosemide (Lasix), and many others.Some medications for inflammation can decrease potassium in the body. Licorice might also decrease potassium in the body. Taking licorice along with some medications for inflammation might decrease potassium in the body too much.Some medications for inflammation include dexamethasone (Decadron), hydrocortisone (Cortef), methylprednisolone (Medrol), prednisone (Deltasone), and others.Midazolam (Versed) is changed and broken down by the body. Licorice might increase how quickly this medication is broken down by the body. Licorice should be used cautiously if you are taking midazolam (Versed).