At the mere mention of licorice, I am reminded of the days when I would pick all of the black jelly beans out of my candy jar. I also remember that one time I decided to try a black jelly bean… and immediately spat it back out. There’s no denying that for most people, licorice is a love it or hate it flavor, but what about its health benefits?
According to the FDA, many of the “licorice” candies found in the United States contain minimal amounts of real licorice. Instead, they contain anise oil which has the characteristic smell and taste of “black licorice.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, licorice can be used to help alleviate various digestive system complaints including stomach ulcers, heartburn, and ongoing inflammation of the lining of the stomach (chronic gastritis).
Some people also use licorice to help with sore throats, bronchitis, cough, and infections caused by bacteria or viruses.
By determining the minimum inhibitory concentration and minimum bactericidal concentration, Ahn et al found that licorice may have anti-microbial properties as well. They found that licorice extracts had strong anti-microbial activity against a particular microbe called S. mutans, a bacteria found in the mouth that is a significant contributor to cavities. This suggests that licorice may have cavity preventing properties. These anti-microbial properties also seem to have little ill effect on normal human cells.
Image Source: Kelly Bowden
While there are now many great perks to eating this particular candy, the FDA issued a warning on Halloween about the overconsumption of licorice. Black licorice contains the compound glycyrrhizin, a sweetening compound derived from licorice root. Glycyrrhizin can cause the body’s potassium levels to fall, leading to abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, edema (swelling), lethargy, and congestive heart failure. Ideally, anyone over 40 should avoid consuming over 2 ounces of licorice per day. Eating over that amount over a span of two weeks could land you in the hospital.
As with any supplement, black licorice can interact with some medications, herbs, and dietary supplements. It’s always best to consult a health care professional if you have questions about possible interactions with a drug or supplement you take. Regardless, we now all have an extra excuse to indulge in the occasional candy.
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