Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Licorice Lowdown?

I've heard that eating licorice can lead to heart problems. I love the stuff and can't resist it at Halloween when there's always a lot around. Can you tell me if licorice really poses a health risk?

Answer (Published 10/30/2012)

It appears to be true that eating too much licorice can affect your heart. This is due to glycyrrhizin, the sweet compound found in licorice root. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that if you're over 40 and eat more than two ounces of licorice daily (for two weeks or more), you can run into health problems. The amount of glycyrrhizin you would be consuming can cause potassium levels to drop, leading to abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy, and over time to congestive heart failure. If you stop eating licorice, potassium levels go back to normal with no apparent aftereffects on health. In 2011 the FDA issued a pre-Halloween warning about the potential dangers of eating too much licorice and noted that several medical journals had linked black licorice to health problems in people over 40, some of whom already had a history of heart disease or high blood pressure. (Red licorice usually contains no licorice, but you should always check labels).

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging for Heart Health - Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging for Heart Health - Keep your heart healthy with small changes to your diet and lifestyle. Learn more - start your free trial of the Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging online guide today for access to an exclusive version of Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid and get 14 days free!

Note, however, that while licorice is sometimes used as a flavoring in food, including candy, the FDA notes that most "licorice" or "licorice flavor" products available in the U.S. do not contain any licorice at all. Instead, manufacturers use anise oil, which has a very similar smell and taste. Anise does not contain glycyrrhizin.

I frequently recommend a dietary supplement called DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice), which is licorice with the glycyrrhizin removed, for digestive problems including chronic indigestion, heartburn, stomach ulcers and canker sores. It is available as chewable tablets, wafers, capsules, tea and powder. DGL has no side effects and does not interact adversely with prescribed medications you may be taking. You can take DGL as long as necessary.

I recommend whole licorice extract for menstrual and menopausal disorders and inflammatory disorders, as well as herpes, eczema and psoriasis. Whole licorice is available as roots, extracts and topical preparations, but these products should be used prudently. Overdoses of glycyrrhizin can also trigger sodium and water retention and increase blood pressure. Avoid whole licorice or licorice root if you have high blood pressure, kidney or liver disease, diabetes or heart disease, if you're using diuretics, and during pregnancy. In addition, be aware that whole licorice taken orally may increase the effects of certain drugs including corticosteroids, digitalis preparations (used to treat congestive heart failure and heart rhythm problems), and estrogens/progesterone; it can also decrease the effect of some blood pressure medications. Do not take licorice root for longer than six weeks. No such interactions occur with DGL.

If you have a fondness for black licorice, don't overdo consumption at Halloween or any other time of year. If you develop an irregular heartbeat or muscle weakness after eating licorice, stop eating it and contact your healthcare provider.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here