Licorice comes in the form of candies, beverages, foods, and as a dietary supplement. When used as a supplement, it can help treat a variety of conditions, such as ulcers, heartburn, or indigestion. It can also decrease testosterone production in men and have estrogen-like effects in some situations. Licorice may cause certain side effects, such as heart failure, muscle damage, and changes in blood pressure.
What Is Licorice?
Although it is most commonly known for its use in candies, beverages, and foods, licorice is also used as a dietary supplement for treating various medical conditions. It should be noted that many "licorice" candies and other products contain little or no licorice root; instead, they contain anise flavoring (which tastes much like licorice), but they do not have any of the effects of real licorice.
Licorice has many different effects on the human body, some desirable and some not. One component in particular, known as glycyrrhizin, is responsible for many of the negative effects of licorice, such as high blood pressure and low blood potassium.
On the other hand, licorice may work for treating ulcers or other similar problems, such as heartburn or indigestion, by blocking the breakdown of prostaglandins, substances that help protect the stomach. This effect does not seem to be related to the glycyrrhizin component.
Licorice may also affect certain hormones and hormone receptors. It can have estrogen-like properties in some situations and anti-estrogen properties in other situations (this is possibly related to the dose). Licorice also decreases testosterone production in men.
In addition, licorice contains flavonoids (plant compounds), which may have many beneficial effects, such as lowering cholesterol.
Written by/reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: KristiMonson, PharmD;
List of references (click here):
Jellin JM, editor. Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Available at: http://naturaldatabase.com/. Accessed January 29, 2008.
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Herbs at a glance: Licorice root (June 2006). NCCAM Web site. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/licoriceroot/. Accessed January 29, 2008.
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