Licorice root, or sweet root, is a common ingredient for sweetening beverages and candies. People have also taken it for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years.
The medical industry is beginning to acknowledge the overall benefits of licorice root extract, but it’s important to remember that medical research has yet to prove some of its health benefits.
What is Licorice Root Extract?
Licorice root contains glycyrrhizin, a substance that’s up to 50 times sweeter than sugar. Therefore, it’s no surprise that many often confuse licorice with the confectionary known by the same name (x).
But licorice root is a medicinal perennial herb that originates from the Mediterranean. It’s been treasured for its medicinal benefits for centuries. Indeed, its use is recorded in Egyptian papyri and Assyrian clay tablets.
In ancient Arabia, it was famous for helping to treat coughs, while ancient Greece also used it for coughs with asthma. In China, the herb was used to ease spasms in the digestive tract and irritation of mucus membranes (x).
Almost all Chinese herbal preparations contain licorice as it helps with gastrointestinal absorption and brings the herbal blends into line. Put simply, it enhances the properties of other herbs.
In India, ancient Ayurvedic medicine considers licorice as a spasm-relieving expectorant and anti-inflammatory demulcent that also affects how the adrenal glands work (x).
Licorice Root Extract Benefits
Is licorice good for you? Yes, of course! Licorice has over 300 different compounds, some of which contain antimicrobial and antiviral properties (x).
Some studies looking into the possible benefits of licorice root have shown promising results, especially in these areas.
Helps Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Conditions
In people with high cholesterol, taking deglycyrrhizinated licorice for a year reduced LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and levels of blood pressure (x).
In a study of heart attack in mice, the anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of licorice root help minimize damage to heart tissue and facilitate faster recovery, too (x).
Licorice Root for Skin Health
Eczema is a clutch of skin diseases that affect more than 30 million Americans. It can cause itching, scaling, redness and inflammation (x).
According to an Iranian study, licorice root extract can help fight off bacteria that may infect the skin (x).
The study revealed antimicrobial action against Staphylococcus aureus — bacteria that may cause skin infections like folliculitis, cellulitis and impetigo. In this study, researchers used roots and leaf extracts of the plant.
Licorice for Acid Reflux and Heartburn
In one study, licorice root extract proved capable of helping treat functional dyspepsia, which not only includes heartburn, but also indigestion, stomach pain and nausea (x).
DGL licorice was used in the study, leaving participants without any adverse side effects of glycyrrhizin.
In a 93-paper analysis, licorice root extract was shown to contain anti-inflammatory properties (x).
In mice, licorice supports regulatory T cells, suggesting that it can protect against inflammatory and autoimmune diseases (x).
Ethanol extract of the plant also relieved alcohol-induced liver damage in mice by lowering major liver inflammation markers (x).
Helps Treat Leaky Gut
Associated with systemic health problems, leaky gut syndrome is sometimes difficult to treat. As a demulcent (soothing) and anti-inflammatory herb, licorice is a natural treatment for ulcers and may be a useful supplement for tackling leaky gut syndrome (x).
In menopause treatment, licorice root proved in one study to be better at shortening the length of hot flashes than hormone replacement therapy (x).
Relieves Sore Throat/Cough
Licorice root is hugely beneficial for a cough or sore throat as a potent expectorant, loosening and expelling mucus that your cough is attempting to remove. Its demulcent, anti-inflammatory properties may quickly relieve a sore throat.
Demulcents must come into contact with the body part that needs soothing, so extracts in syrups and teas, as well as cough drops, are most effective (x).
Helps with Tooth Decay
Some studies suggest that licorice root can help kill oral bacteria that bring about tooth decay (x).
But while licorice has shown antibacterial action in the lab environment, human studies haven’t yet shown that it’s got any power to fight cavities. However, its ability to hinder the growth of bacteria in the mouth suggests that it may be useful as a cavity treatment in the future.
Helps You Sleep
One kind of licorice root, Glycyrrhiza glabra, may help bring on sleep and increase its duration (x).
The GABA receptor helps induce sleep. In mice, Gabrol and Liquiritigenin induced sleep through the GABA receptor. Therefore, the time needed to fall asleep was decreased and the duration of non-REM sleep was increased without reducing deep sleep (x).
Helps with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome)
Treatment with licorice and spironolactone can help decrease symptoms of PCOS in women (x).
In PCOS patients, glycyrrhetinic acid can lower testosterone levels while stimulating normal ovulation. Two other metabolites of licorice (glabrene and glabridin) have estrogen-like properties that may help treat PCOS (x).
Treats Hepatitis C
Glycyrrhizin can help treat a virus of the liver, hepatitis C. If left untreated, hepatitis C may cause long-term liver damage and inflammation. According to researchers, glycyrrhizin shows antimicrobial action against hepatitis and may be a potential future treatment for the virus (x).
Weight Loss Aid
In rats and mice, licorice flavonoid oil aids weight loss by increasing the oxidation of fat during light exercise (x). Licorice powder was also capable of reducing fat deposition and body weight gain in mice (x).
Aids Cancer Treatment
Some research shows that licorice root may help treat prostate and breast cancers (x). Certain Chinese practices also use it in cancer treatment. While the FDA hasn’t yet approved this treatment option in the United States, research is ongoing.
Adrenal Fatigue Remedy
We are in a fairly uncomplicated era, but we’re still plagued by mental, physical and environmental stress disorders. We’ve overworked our adrenal glands like we’re being pursued by a lion when we’re actually simply trying to balance the books.
This is where licorice comes in. This herb is amazing for helping to regulate levels of the stress hormone cortisol, giving your adrenal glands a much-needed rest (x).
Cleanses the Respiratory System
Licorice root is ideal for relieving respiratory issues. Taking the herb by the mouth can help your body make healthy mucus.
Increasing the production of phlegm may not seem beneficial for a healthy respiratory system. The opposite is true, though. The production of healthy, clean phlegm keeps your respiratory system working well without sticky, old mucus clogging it.
Licorice Root Extract Side Effects
While licorice root has numerous benefits, excess or long-term use may cause unwanted health problems and complications. As side effects are mostly caused by glycyrrhizic acid, taking DGL can help prevent these side effects (x), except in cases where the intended benefit is directly linked to glycyrrhizic acid itself.
Licorice intake may cause reduced testosterone levels in men and increased prolactin and estrogen levels in women. This can reduce libido in both men and women. However, more tests are necessary before any clear-cut conclusions are reached (x, x).
Studies have also demonstrated how a licorice compound, iso, interferes with ovarian sex hormones. It interferes with their production (x).
Glycyrrhizin can cause headaches.
A Massachusetts study discovered that excessive intake of licorice root extract can cause the dilation and constriction of cerebral arteries, typically resulting in thunderclap headaches. And they can worsen by hemorrhagic strokes in rare cases (x).
While the condition is curable, the symptoms may be severe.
Raised Blood Pressure Levels
Many studies speak of this. Moreover, some reports even recommend avoiding licorice altogether if you have hypertension.
Licorice root extract is often associated with water and salt retention as it represses aldosterone — the hormone responsible for regulating the body’s sodium levels. One study shows how licorice tea caused high blood pressure in patients, and avoiding it resolved the problem (x).
Licorice may also be an underlying cause of secondary high blood pressure. The root has glycyrrhizic acid, which causes its pro-hypertensive properties (x).
Slows Drug Metabolism
Multiple licorice compounds, including isoliquiritigenin and liquiritigenin, suppress the cytochrome P450 enzymes and CYP3A4 gene. Inactivation of cytochrome P450 enzymes may slow down medication metabolism, increase their level in blood and upping the risk of medication side effects (x).
Lower Potassium Levels
Consuming excess licorice can lower your potassium levels. The FDA says that this may lead to:
- High blood pressure
- Congestive heart failure
- Abnormal heart rhythms
Other Side Effects and Warnings
Some rare licorice side effects include stroke and heart attacks, but only a few studies have revealed these results (x).
According to the FDA, pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid all forms of licorice (x). Excess licorice consumption has caused hypertension in young children. If you have hypertension, you should steer clear of licorice root.
Licorice Root Extract Dosage
Your licorice dosage will depend on the disorder you’re treating. However, you should never take too much licorice in any form.
As a nutritional supplement, take ¼ teaspoon (600 milligrams) of licorice root extract powder per day, or as instructed by your physician.
People with low potassium levels or high blood pressure should avoid glycyrrhizin supplements and licorice candy altogether. Licorice supplements come without the glycyrrhizin — as deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL).
Why Take Licorice Root Extract?
You should take licorice to ease discomfort from stomach ulcers, chronic indigestion, canker sores and heartburn.
Whole licorice root extract is beneficial for inflammatory disorders, as well as menopausal and menstrual disorders. Topical pure licorice root is beneficial for eczema, psoriasis and herpes.
Licorice also helps relieve common cold symptoms and is an essential ingredient in many non-prescription lozenges and cough syrups.
The Bottom Line
Licorice is a medicinal herb that originates from the Mediterranean, central and southern Russia, as well as Iran and Asian Turkey. Many species are present throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Licorice has been useful for centuries in treating many different ailments. While the herb does have medicinal properties, scientific research only supports a few of its applications, and it might be unsafe for some people.
Since it is super sweet, licorice is also a common ingredient to sweeten candies, and some even use it to mask the taste of medications.
While licorice may be useful for treating certain health disorders, you should always consult with your healthcare provider to ensure that it doesn’t cause negative side effects or interfere with any medicines you’re taking.