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Licorice Root Extract Benefits and Information


Scientific Name(S): Glycyrrhiza glabra L., G. uralensis, G. palidiflora Family: Leguminosae

Common Name(S): Licorice, Spanish licorice, Russian licorice

Licorice ( Glycyrrhiza glabra ) is a flavorful herb that has been used in food and medicinal remedies for thousands of years. Also known as "sweet root," licorice root contains a compound that is roughly 50 times sweeter than sugar. Licorice root has been used in both Eastern and Western medicine to treat a variety of illnesses ranging from the common cold to liver disease.

Botany: Glycyrrhiza glabra is a 4- to 5-foot shrub that grows in subtropical climates having rich soil. The name glycyrrhiza is derived from Greek words meaning "sweet roots." It is the roots of the plant that are harvested to produce licorice. Most commercial licorice is extracted from varieties of G. glabra. The most common variety, G. glabra var. typica (Spanish licorice), is characterized by . blue flowers, while the variety G. glabra var. glandulifera (Russian licorice) has violet blossoms. Turkey, Greece and Asia Minor supply most commercial licorice.

History: Therapeutic use of licorice dates back to the Roman empire. Hippocrates and Theophratus extolled its uses, and Pliny the Elder (23 A.D.) recommended it as an expectorant and carminative. Licorice also figures prominently in Chinese herbal medicine as a "drug of first class"- an agent that exerts godly influence on the body and acts to lengthen life. Licorice is used in modern medicinals chiefly as a flavoring agent that masks bitter agents, such as quinine, and in cough and cold preparations for its expectorant activity. Most recently, a sample of historic licorice from 756 A.D. was analyzed and was found to still contain active principles even after 1200 years.

Uses of Licorice

Used historically for gastrointestinal complaints, licorice is used today as a flavoring and in shampoos. It s being investigated as an anti-inflammatory and as a treatment for lupus.

This herb has long been valued as a demulcent (soothing, coating agent) and continues to be used by professional herbalists today to relieve respiratory ailments (such as allergies, bronchitis, colds, sore throats, and tuberculosis), stomach problems (including, possibly, heartburn from reflux or some other cause and gastritis), inflammatory disorders, skin diseases, and liver problems.

Culinary Uses

Licorice is known mostly as a confectionery flavouring, especially Licorice Allsorts or Pontefract cakes. Licorice candy actually rarely has more than 2% natural licorice extract, usually taking most of its flavour from anise or a synthetic substitute. Ninety percent of all natural licorice employed as a flavouring agent is used in tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco).
The sticks of licorice essence may be dissolved in hot water and drunk as a tisane and the roots may flavour fruit juices, syrups and for flavouring drinks like sambuca and beers like Guinness.

Side Effects of Licorice

Large amounts of licorice taken daily for a long time can cause a range of side effects from lethargy to quadriplegia (body paralysis). Do not over-consume licorice.

Dosage and Administration

Licorice can be taken in the following forms:

  • Dried root: 1 to 5 g three times per day as decoction
  • Tincture: 2 to 4 mL three times per day
  • DGL extract: 0.4 to 1.6 g three times per day for peptic ulcer; in chewable tablet form 300 to 400 mg 20 minutes before meals for peptic ulcer
For sore throat treatment in older children, a piece of licorice root may be chewed or licorice tea may be used. The appropriate dose of tea for a child should be determined by adjusting the recommended adult dose to account for the child's weight. Most herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20-25 kg), the appropriate dose of licorice for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.

You should be very careful if you are taking large amounts of licorice products or if you chew licorice-flavored tobacco or use other licorice-flavored products. If so, you are at risk for licorice side effects and toxicities.

Toxicology: The toxic manifestations of excess licorice ingestion are well documented. One case documented the ingestion of 30 to 40 g of licorice per day for 9 months as a diet food. The subject became increasingly lethargic, having flaccid weakness and dulled reflexes. She also suffered from hypokalemia and myoglobinuria. Treatment with potassium supplements reversed her symptoms. Excessive licorice intake can result in sodium and fluid retention as weel as hypertension and inhibition of the renin-angiotensin system.

After consuming large amounts of licorice, human intoxication caused by aldosterone-like effects was found.

A 70-year-old patient with hypertension and hypokalemia caused by chronic licorice intoxication in excess of around 80 candies (2.5 g each having 0.3 glycyrrhizic acid) per day over the past 4 to 5 years, discontinued use one week before hospital admission. After discontinuing the use of licorice and monitoring a treatment plan including licorice, it was found that the activity of 11-β­hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase was suppressed when the patient had been without licorice, but the 11-β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase increased as the levels of urinary glycyrrhetic acid decreased.

Other documented complications include paraparesis hypertensive encephalopathy and one case of quadriplegia. Products that contain licorice as a flavoring, such as chewing tobacco, have also been implicated in cases of toxicity. Hypersensitivity reactions to glycyrrhiza-contaning products have also been noted.

Summary: Licorice is widely used as a candy and flavoring agent. Consumption of 30 to 40 grams per day for extended periods may lead to severe and potentially dangerous electrolyte imbalances. Patients with pre-existing renal, hepatic or cardiovascular diseases should be warned of potential toxicities associated with excessive consumption. Also, the retention of sodium and fluids, as well as human intoxications are relevant in terms of toxicities. A recent animal study indicates that licorice may be useful in treating lupus.

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