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What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Licorice?

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A member of the pea family, licorice root has been used since ancient times both as food and as medicine. In Chinese herbology, licorice is an ingredient in nearly all herbal formulas for the traditional purpose of "harmonizing" the separate herbs involved.

The herb licorice contains a substance called glycyrrhizin. When taken in high enough amounts, glycyrrhizin produces effects similar to those of the natural hormone aldosterone, causing fluid retention, increased blood pressure, and loss of potassium. 1 2 3 To prevent this, manufacturers have found a way to remove glycyrrhizin from licorice, producing the safer product deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL).

DGL has shown some promise for the treatment of ulcers . 4 Weak evidence hints that it might also help prevent ulcers caused by anti-inflammatory drugs. 5 DGL is also sometimes recommended for relieving the discomfort of canker sores and other mouth sores, and one small study suggests that a glycyrrhiza root extract may be effective when applied in the form of a dissolving patch. 6 Creams containing whole licorice (often combined with chamomile extract) are advocated for a variety of skin diseases, including eczema , psoriasis , and herpes , but as yet there is only supporting evidence for the first of these uses. (See What is the Scientific Evidence for Licorice ?).

Whole licorice, not DGL, is used as an expectorant for respiratory problems such as coughs...

Safety Issues

Use of whole licorice has not been associated with significant adverse effects in the short term. However, two or more weeks of use may cause high blood pressure, fluid retention, and symptoms related to loss of potassium. 7 Such effects are especially dangerous for people who take the drug digoxin or medications that deplete the body of potassium (such as thiazide and loop diuretics ), or who have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or kidney disease.

Current evidence indicates that individuals who wish to take whole licorice on a long-term basis without any risk of these side effects should not consume more than 0.2 mg of glycyrrhizin per kilogram of body weight daily. 8 For a person who weighs 130 pounds, this works out to 12 mg of glycyrrhizin...