Long, twisted strips of black and red goodness, sometimes covered in a colorful candy coating. Whether you love or hate it, these are the images we often see when we think of licorice. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Those candies aren’t really licorice. Sure, they contain licorice extract, giving them their distinct flavor, but the benefits are masked by high amounts of sugar and additives that can be harmful to our overall health goals. However, in its natural form, licorice holds the potential to significantly enhance our health and overall well-being. So what is real licorice, and why is it such a beloved holistic herb?
Licorice, known by its scientific name Glycyrrhiza glabra, is an herbaceous perennial native to central and southwestern Asia and the Mediterranean region. For centuries, licorice has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for its abundant health benefits. Licorice root is rich in flavonoids, coumarins, and triterpenoids, making it an excellent antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory supplement that’s added to herbal remedies and beauty products. However, licorice root is also commonly used in the culinary world for its unmistakable flavor since it contains a compound called glycyrrhizin. Because glycyrrhizin is 50 times sweeter than regular table sugar while still providing healthful compounds, we see licorice used in classic candies, drinks, and even certain savory dishes. With licorice’s long history and diverse applications, researchers and holistic practitioners alike continue seeking new ways to unravel its full potential.
Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, is a syndrome in which the lining of your intestines becomes weaker and allows bacteria and other toxins into the bloodstream. Consequentially, releasing these toxins can cause fatigue, bloating, headaches, mood fluctuations, and so on. Licorice root offers potential benefits for those with leaky gut and stomach ulcers due to its anti-inflammatory and naturally soothing properties. While we need more research, licorice root still shows promising effects for remedying leaky gut.
Adrenal fatigue is characterized by lowered cortisol and aldosterone production as a result of decreased adrenal gland function. While it’s not a defined medical diagnosis, the symptoms are undeniable: tiredness, brain fog, body aches, and skin discoloration, just to name a few. Licorice root contains the compounds glycyrrhizic acid and glycyrrhizin, which have been suggested to support adrenal health. These compounds may help regulate our stress hormone cortisol by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks down cortisol in the body. So, licorice root may help restore adrenal balance and help you feel energized.
Licorice root contains phytoestrogens, plant-derived compounds structurally similar to the estrogen produced in our bodies. The phytoestrogens in the root may compensate for the natural decline in estrogen levels during menopause. This effect may help reduce hot flashes, night sweats, and mood fluctuations. Additionally, licorice root’s anti-inflammatory properties may alleviate body aches associated with menopause.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal disorder characterized by irregular periods, high levels of androgens (women produce male sex hormones, too, just in smaller amounts), ovarian cysts, and oxidative stress. One study revealed that licorice might be a useful treatment for improving PCOS as it can cause a reduction in testosterone and present powerful antioxidant properties.
Licorice root has been found to exhibit antiviral and antimicrobial properties, potentially helping prevent and manage infections. Further, the antioxidant properties found in licorice root are beneficial in boosting immune function since antioxidants contribute to maintaining effective immune responses. Licorice root can help increase immune organ weight and cell population, activate immune cells, and stimulate the secretion of anti-inflammatory proteins while inhibiting pro-inflammatory proteins, improving overall immune function.
High Blood Pressure
The glycyrrhizin found in licorice root can cause an increase in blood pressure by inhibiting the enzyme that regulates sodium-potassium balance in the body. This inhibition causes sodium to be retained and potassium to be lost. And because water follows sodium, we may see fluid retention, elevating blood pressure levels. Prolonged or excessive licorice root consumption can increase the risk of or worsen high blood pressure, which increases the risk of further cardiovascular complications.
On top of being associated with high blood pressure, excessive consumption of licorice root can also cause abnormal heartbeats due to electrolyte imbalances—particularly potassium. Hypokalemia (low potassium levels in the blood) associated with excessive licorice root intake can trigger irregular heartbeats and palpitations.
Licorice root has the potential to negatively interact with certain medications due to its active compounds. Licorice root may interfere with blood pressure, anticoagulant, chemotherapy, and diabetes drugs. If you’re on any specific medications, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider before consuming significant amounts of licorice root to minimize the risk of complications.
There are plenty of licorice root supplements on the market, but my favorite is Nature’s Answer Licorice Root Extract. It’s an alcohol-free liquid in a convenient dropper bottle, so you can easily add it to your teas, oats, or even skincare for a healthy boost.
Note: If you have high blood pressure, avoid supplementing with this product because it contains glycyrrhizin. Instead, opt for the Traditional Medicinals Licorice Root Tea.
Licorice root is a versatile herb that, in its pure form, can take our wellness to the next level. It possesses key compounds that address numerous health concerns, boosting our health naturally and sustainably. If you’re curious about licorice root and want to learn more about how it can benefit you, book a one-on-one session with me! Together, we can explore your unique goals and transform your health holistically.