What is liquorice root?
No, not those black sweets you find in the old sweet shops! Though they may well contain some of this root extract…
Liquorice root, sometimes spelled licorice root, is an ancient herbal remedy that has been used by Egyptian, Indian, Chinese and Assyrian civilisations for centuries, and is now cultivated throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Although it is commonly used in foods like sweets, drinks and tobacco products, it is also still taken for its associated health benefits.
How do you take liquorice root?
Traditionally, liquorice root was simply ground up and used in drinks and herbal medicines to help with upset stomachs and a few other conditions.
Now, you can still find real liquorice root that you can use in the same way, but you can also find it in capsules or as a liquid supplement.You can also drink liquorice tea or liquorice sweets – but don’t just assume liquorice products have real liquorice root extract in them! A lot of them are flavoured with an essential oil called anise, which has a very similar taste to liquorice.1 Just check the ingredients. Liquorice root extract also contains a sweet substance called glycyrrhizin, which is sometimes used to sweeten foods and drinks.2
What is liquorice root good for?
Back in the day, liquorice root was used to treat a variety of conditions, including circulatory, lung, liver and kidney diseases. Nowadays, a liquorice root supplement is recommended for similar ailments, such as3:
- Digestive problems
- Stomach health
- Bacterial infections
- Viral infections
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- Menopausal symptoms
- Sore throats
- Skin health
- Dental health
We will go into more detail below!
The top 8 benefits of liquorice root
We’ve done the research and found 8 of the best claimed liquorice root health benefits – enjoy!
1. Liquorice root may aid digestion
One of the most popular uses for liquorice root is to help with some digestive issues, like indigestion, upset stomachs, heart burn and acid reflux.
Acid reflux is a normal process in the body to help the food we eat get digested. It usually only becomes an issue when stomach acid travels up the oesophagus and causes heartburn and pain.One study found that patients with functional dyspepsia4– a common term for recurring signs and symptoms of indigestion that seem to have no cause – had significantly decreased symptoms after taking a liquorice extract without glycyrrhizin for 30 says compared to a control group with a placebo.5 It seems like the jury is out on whether glycyrrhizin is a necessary property in liquorice root, though. One study found that gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition that causes symptoms like heart burn, sore throats, and coughing, felt the benefits of adding glycyrrhizic acid into their treatment.6
2. Liquorice root may help with peptic ulcersThere is a strain of bacteria called H. plyori, which commonly causes the inflammation that can result in peptic stomach ulcers.7 The glycyrrhizin inside liquorice root extract may be able to help treat these painful sores.8 One study that was published in The Brazillian Journal of Infectious Diseases found that adding liquorice root extract to medication usually given to treat H. plyori could help to get rid of it more effectively.9
However, more research is needed to conclude if it is an appropriate treatment for peptic ulcers.
3. Liquorice root may help fight viral and bacterial infections
Both viral and bacterial infections are caused by microbes entering the body and causing damage. They can lead to:
- Short infections like a common cold
- Chronic infections that could last weeks, months or whole lifetimes
- Latent infections that can lie in wait for months or years until they become reactivated
6. Liquorice root extract may help ease sore throatsLiquorice lozenges and gargles have been used to try to reduce or prevent the sore throats that sometimes occur after surgery.12 These sore throats are known as POST – postoperative sore throat. One small study was performed involving patients who had to have a breathing tube inserted into their windpipe before they had surgery. Results revealed that gargling with a solution with liquorice powder and water had similar soothing effects to gargling a solution with ketamine and water after surgery. Both groups were compared to a control group who has significantly higher occurrence of sore throats. 13
7. Liquorice root extract may support dental health
Medicinal plants have been used for centuries to look after people’s teeth – which in the age of very little dentistry probably helped a lot! But is that still the case now? Research suggests that liquorice root extract and its bioactive ingredients may be able to help with some dental conditions. A review of literature evaluating the effect of liquorice on oral diseases and oral microorganisms concluded that the anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-adhesive properties of liquorice have shown beneficial effects in dental diseases, such as14:
- Dental caries
- Aphthous ulcers
8. Liquorice root extract may help ease menopausal symptoms
Hot flushes, hot flashes, whatever you call them! Are one of the most common – and most hated – symptoms that menopausal women have.
They cause feelings of sudden warmth in the upper body, e.g. your chest, neck and face. The skin often becomes flushed red and women will tend to sweat, which can lead to them feeling pretty chilly afterwards if they lose too much body heat! These episodes can be very embarrassing and uncomfortable, but liquorice may be able to help.One study on 90 menopausal women found that liquorice root was effective in reducing the severity and frequency of hot flashes. It was found to decrease daily hot flash frequency’s over the full 8 weeks, whereas the placebo (starch) did not.15
What are the side effects of liquorice root?Liquorice root is generally considered a safe food ingredient, but it can cause serious side effects in some people, including16:
- Raised blood pressure
- Decreased potassium levels, which can contribute to abnormal heart rhythms, swelling, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and lethargy17
This means that people with high blood pressure (hypertension), low potassium levels, or kidney or heat disease should be cautious about taking large amounts (like everybody else should!) or taking it for long periods of time.
Liquorice root and glycyrrhizic acid
It’s believed that some liquorice side effects are caused by a compound called glycyrrhizic acid, but you can also find liquorice that has had it taken out. Although rare, liquorice poisoning can happen, which may cause congestive heart failure, kidney failure or excess fluid on the lungs.18
Can you eat liquorice or liquorice root when you are pregnant or breastfeeding?Pregnant women are advised to avoid eating liquorice as it has been associated with premature births and health problems in children. The same will go for liquorice root supplements as they are highly concentrated. A study on children of mothers who ate large amounts of liquorice products that contained glycyrrhizin while they were pregnant found that they were more likely to have brain impairments later in their lives.19
Not a lot is known if it is safe for breastfeeding women to consume liquorice root, so avoidance is often recommended.
Is it safe to take liquorice root every day?
Yes, if you do not have any of the conditions above and are not pregnant / breastfeeding, it should be ok for you to consume liquorice root every day. Just make sure you don’t go over the daily recommended dosage.
While there are no official recommended guidelines for how much liquorice you should have per day, there are recommendations for a safe intake of glycyrrhizic acid (glycyrrhizin).The World Health Organisation20and the European Commission Scientific Committee21 both recommend that adults consume no more than 100mg of glycyrrhizic acid a day.
And always read the label of your supplements to make sure you know how much you’re consuming / should consume.
Can you chew liquorice root?Yes! You can buy some liquorice root sticks and simply chow on down. It has natural breath-freshening abilities and is a great alternative to chewing gum after you’ve eaten.
Please note: although some human studies have shown positive health benefits for using liquorice root for some conditions, there isn’t enough high-quality evidence yet to fully support its use in any health condition. By all means try it if you want, just know that results aren’t guaranteed.22
If you want to try a liquorice root supplement, please contact your GP first to see if it is safe and advised for you to do so, especially if you take medications or have a condition.
Last updates: 30th December 2020
Author: Donia Hilal, Nutritionist
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018. Donia has 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.Donia has a special interest in; weight management, plant-based nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, special diets and disease risk reduction. Donia's LinkedIn profile
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