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By Karen Alexander

Oncology Wellness Specialist on 03/17/2017

The Pros and Cons of Licorice

Licorice is an herb that is native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. It is often found in herbal teas, cough remedies, hard candies and other food products. While licorice is a common flavoring agent, it has also been used as an herbal supplement in alternative medicine. However, the medicinal use of this product has not been approved by the FDA. 

Studies in animals support the use of licorice to reduce inflammation, treat infections and relieve menopausal symptoms, though human data is lacking. 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. Human studies have shown that licorice may decrease pain and heartburn and increase healing in patients with peptic ulcers. Despite these positive impacts, large amounts of licorice root over the long term can cause high blood pressure and low potassium levels, which may lead to heart and muscle problems. It also interacts with some medicines and can lead to fluid accumulation.

Do not take licorice under any of the following conditions:
Pregnancy: It may increase risk of early delivery and/or miscarriage.
Breastfeeding: It may increase risk of irregular heartbeat and water accumulation, which may worsen congestive heart failure.
Hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids: It might act like estrogen in the body. 
Surgery: Stop taking licorice at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery, as it may interfere with blood pressure control during and after surgery.
Kidney disease: Overuse of licorice can worsen kidney disease.

Licorice may cause the following side effects:
: Licorice can lower potassium levels in the blood, a condition known as hypokalemia.
Sexual problems in men: Licorice can lower a man's interest in sex and also worsen erectile dysfunction (ED) by lowering levels of testosterone.
High blood pressure: Licorice can raise blood pressure. 
Fluid accumulation: Too much licorice can lead to water retention in the body.

There are many common misconceptions about herbal supplements. In general, many people believe that if it is natural it is non-hazardous, but this unfortunately is not always true. Ask your pharmacist if you are taking medication that may interact with licorice before you begin to use herbal supplements or other products with licorice.

You must not take licorice if you are taking any of the following medications (among others):

  • Warfarin
  • Digoxin
  • Estrogen pills
  • Ethacrynic acid
  • Furosemide
  • Ketamine
  • Phenobarbital
  • Orphenadrine
  • Secobarbital
  • Dexamethasone
  • Cortisol acetate
  • Insulin
  • Cyclosporine 

If you have questions regarding licorice or other herbal supplements, feel free to come speak with me any time. 

All my best, 

Karen Ambrosio, OWS 

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