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Licorice and DGL

Licorice is a slow growing herb and the dried rhizome and root are the parts used medically. Licorice is commonly produced in Greece, Turkey and Asia and is used mainly for upper respiratory track ailments and gastritis. Besides being used for medical purpose, licorice is also used as a flavoring agent, commonly in licorice candies (now most of the licorice candies are flavored with anise oil). Licorice contains a compound named glycyrrhizin that is 50 times sweeter than table sugar and its generic name ‘glycyrrhiza’ means ‘sweet root’ in ancient Greek. In low doses licorice is used as a sweetening agent in many herbal medicines, lozenges and tobacco products.
Glycyrrhiza has many potential side effects like hypertension, hypokalemia and fluid retention. This can be avoided by removing glycyrrhiza from licorice – the resulting compound deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) does not contribute to any metabolic disadvantage of licorice.

Health and licorice

  1. Licorice extracts and DGL may be beneficial in treating canker sores. According to the safety and time of healing the sores DGL can form an alternative therapy for canker sores cure.
  2. Licorice extract gel when applied tropically can be an effective treatment in atopic dermatitis.
  3. DGL may offer some benefits for peptic ulcer diseases and may hinder the spread and infection of herpes simplex virus.
  4. Licorice may help in body fat mass reduction and may also be a possible therapy for viral hepatitis.
All these health benefits of licorice and DGL are based on unclear scientific evidences. To prove the safety and effectiveness of licorice in these areas, more proven scientific researches are required.

Side effects of licorice

Glycyrrhiza present in licorice may be responsible for the side effects, however DGL has this compound removed, thus is considered safer to use.
  1. Licorice can cause electrolyte disturbances (by altering some hormones in the body) and may lead to low potassium levels, sodium and fluid retention or metabolic acidosis. This in turn can cause irregular heart beats, muscle weakness, heart attack or kidney damage. Thus it should be used with caution in patients with heart diseases, hormonal imbalances, high blood pressure, kidney diseases or underlying electrolyte imbalance.
  2. Licorice can cause high blood pressure with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, headache and hypersensitivity encephalopathy with stroke like effects.
  3. Licorice can also cause low testosterone levels in men and high estrogen and prolactin levels in women. This may thus cause menstrual abnormalities or reduce fertility. Due to these reasons it is not advisable in pregnancy and breastfeeding as it may induce premature labor.
Licorice may also interact with certain drugs (people taking diuretics), herbal or dietary supplements. To avoid any health related complications take licorice in recommended levels under the guidance of a health care professional.
Submitted on January 16, 2014