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Healthy Diet Plans >>  Sweeteners >>  Natural Sugar Substitutes >>  Glycyrrhizin


Glycyrrhizin is an active principle of the plant licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra) and extracted from licorice root. It is 30-50 times sweeter than sucrose. Standardized extracts of licorice available in the market have 20% glycyrrhizin. Chemically glycyrrhizin is a triterpenoid saponin and a sulphated polysaccharide.  It is considered to the active constituent of the drug and the standardization of licorice is based on glycyrrhizin content. The standardized extracts of licorice sold in the market contain 20% of glychrrhizin.
Glycyrrhizin is sweet but different than sugar as the onset is lower than sugar and the taste lingers in the mouth for sometime after consumption. Although glycyrrhizin is heat stable, it has a typical flavor from licorice that makes it unfavorable as a direct sugar substitute.

It is not used as a sole sweetener but in U.S. glycyrrhizin is classified as ‘generally recognize as safe’ as a flavoring agent. It is also used as a flavoring agent in many candies, tobacco products and pharmaceuticals. Glycyrrhizin is often used in combination with other sweeteners in Japan where there were concerns over safety of artificial sweeteners and a trend to choose plant derived sugar substitutes. But due to some of its side effects Japanese government has asked the citizens to limit its consumption to 200 mg per day.

Glycyrrhizin and other products with this component have a long history of medicinal value and are used in the treatment of peptic ulcer especially glycyrrhetinic acid (triterpene derivative). Glycyrrhizin has a protective effect on the liver as it may have inhibitory effect on immune mediated cytokines in the liver. The compositions of licorine root containing glycyrrhizin have been reported to decrease serum testosterone levels in males (the active component of licorice, glycyrrhizic acid interferes with the enzyme which catalyzes the conversion of androstenedione to testosterone). Glycyrrhizin also has anti-HIV, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties, but more scientific researches are required regarding its safety and effectiveness in these areas.  

Glycyrrhiza has many potential side effects like hypertension, hypokalemia and fluid retention or edema. Glycyrrhizin inhibits the enzyme which converts cortisol to cortisone in the kidney; as a result cortisol levels increase with in the collecting duct of the kidney. This cortisol acts like aldosterone and increases sodium re absorption leading to edema.  This can be avoided by removing glycyrrhiza from licorice – the resulting compound deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) does not contribute to any metabolic disadvantage and can be used in the treatment of ulcers. 
Submitted on January 16, 2014