Licorice is one food I hate, but I’m a huge fan of licorice root (glycyrrhiza glabra). Different to the actual (disgusting) candy that may come to mind when you think of licorice; licorice is an adaptogenic plant which has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal herb – as well as a flavouring agent. It’s also known as liquorice, sweet root, Chinese licorice and gan cao.
The key active compound in licorice is glycyrrhizin, which while providing several health benefits can also come with side effects, so it’s important, as with anything you take, to work out if this is right for you. There are however forms of de-glycyrrhizin (DGL) supplements available which prevent side effects, while still retaining some of the benefits.
Potential Health Benefits of Licorice Root
1) Aiding the immune system and reducing infections
Initial research shows promising signs of licorice as an immune system stimulant. It’s also studied for it’s antioxidant properties, as well as an antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal. It’s also known for it’s use in dental health care products, as it can help to inhibit S.mutans and L.acidophilus, which can damage teeth and cause decay.
As an antiviral agent, it’s reportedly used as a natural treatment for viruses such as hepatitis C, herpes simplex (HSV-1, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and even showed up when I wanted to do some research into potential herbal remedies that may assist in preventing and protecting from the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak (note: this definitely isn’t a cure, and please continue to follow recommended health protocol).
2) Helping with gut inflammation and ulcers
Licorice has been trialled as a complementary medicine to the standard therapy in the treatment of H. pylori, and was shown to increase the eradication rate by about 20%. It’s also been tested for it’s use in easing intenstinal symptoms such as indigestion, ulcers, nausea and stomach pain. DGL is helpful for these symptoms.
3) Lowering overall inflammation
Showing signs of anti-inflammatory activity, licorice root can also be potentially helpful in protecting against autoimmune and other inflammatory diseases.
It can also be used topically to reduce inflammation, aiding in reducing redness and swelling.
4) Help to reduce fatigue and balance stress
As adaptogen, licorice root can help your body to rebalance your bodies adrenal natural systems. By stimulating natural cortisone levels, licorice can help to increase energy and endurance. It works to optimise the HPA axis, for stress management, as well as our endocrine systems to a healthy hormone balance.
5) Aiding in respiratory health
Licorice root can potentially help our respiratory health in two ways. First, by working against bacterial infections in the upper respiratory tract and also as an expectorant, to help clear out gunk and mucus from the lungs.
Precautions and potential side effects of Licorice Root
As mentioned above, Licorice does have a few side effects so it’s important, as with anything you take/digest, to ensure first that this may be right for you.
Many of the side effects also came from high doses or long term use, so this is a supplement to only take for a short amount of time. It’s also not recommended for pregnant women.
Potential side effects include:
- Increased cortisol levels (while licorice can help to reduce stress and balance our adrenal systems, long term or high use may increase cortisol levels higher than needed)
- High blood pressure (increased cortisol levels can lead to high blood pressure)
- May lower potassium levels
- May reduce testosterone levels (a rarer effect)
- May interact with drug metabolism (it’s always important to check any supplements and medcines you’re taking against each other)
Resources and further reading:
- Free radical-scavenging, antioxidant and immunostimulating effects of a licorice infusion (Glycyrrhiza glabra L.)
- The antiviral and antimicrobial activities of licorice, a widely-used Chinese herb
- Glycyrrhizin as a potential treatment for chronic hepatitis C
- Using glycyrrhizic acid to target sumoylation processes during Epstein-Barr virus latency
- Glycyrrhizin, an active component of liquorice roots, and replication of SARS-associated coronavirus.
- Can Licorice Help Fight Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
- To evaluate of the effect of adding licorice to the standard treatment regimen of Helicobacter pylori.
- An Extract of Glycyrrhiza glabra (GutGard) Alleviates Symptoms of Functional Dyspepsia: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study
- The anti-inflammatory activity of licorice, a widely used Chinese herb.
- Promotion of regulatory T cell induction by immunomodulatory herbal medicine licorice and its two constituents.
- Liquorice and glycyrrhetinic acid increase DHEA and deoxycorticosterone levels in vivo and in vitro by inhibiting adrenal SULT2A1 activity.
- Antibacterial compounds of licorice against upper airway respiratory tract pathogens.
- Licorice Root