Can Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Relieve Heartburn?

A Natural Remedy for the Symptoms of Heartburn

FD/LICORICE Washington Post Studio DATE: 10/20/04 PHOTO: Julia Ewan/TWP 17 types of licorice from Dean & Deluca. Credit: The Washington Post / Contributor / Getty Images

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is a natural remedy that is sometimes recommended to soothe the symptoms of heartburn and other digestive ailments. While many people have used licorice to treat their heartburn, it's important to note that there haven't been any clinical trials to support licorice's effect on heartburn. It is also important that you consult your doctor before trying licorice or any other treatment for your heartburn.

What is Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice?

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza Glabra), translated as "sweet root," has been used in food and medicine in Eastern and Western traditions for thousands of years. Licorice can raise blood pressure and have undesirable effects; as a result, deglycyrrhizinated licorice is sometimes used, since this form of licorice does not seem to have the same side effects.

What Causes Heartburn?

In a problem-free digestive tract, this is how things work. You chew and food in your mouth and swallow the bolus (chewed food mixed with saliva), passing it into your esophagus, or swallowing tube. This muscular tube makes tiny contractions, called peristalsis, to move the food to the stomach. The esophagus and stomach are connected by a band of muscle fibers called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Normally, the LES works like a valve, opening to allow food to pass into the stomach and closing to keep food and digestive juices from flowing back into the esophagus.

But if the sphincter relaxes when it shouldn't, or becomes weak, stomach acid can flow backward into the esophagus causing the burning sensation we know as heartburn.

How Does Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Work?

DGL doesn't reduce stomach acid or decrease acid reflux. However, DGL may soothe the tissues of the stomach and esophagus that have been irritated by refluxed stomach acid.

It may also act as an anti-inflammatory to quell the inflammation of tissues associated with heartburn. DGL has been used to provide some relief for the stomach and esophageal pain that can occur with acid reflux; however, this hasn't been supported by clinical trials.

Contraindications for Using DGL

You should not use DGL if you have been diagnosed with hypertension and/or are receiving treatment for hypertension.

Other Methods for Reducing Heartburn

Preventing heartburn is even more important than treating symptoms. Here are some lifestyle modifications that can help you reduce your heartburn:

  • Avoid foods and beverages that weaken the LES muscleThese foods include chocolate, peppermint, caffeinated beverages, alcohol, fatty foods, and greasy or fried foods.
  • Avoid foods and beverages that may irritate the esophagus: These include citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes and tomato-based products, chili peppers, and black pepper.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals: Eating large meals increases pressure in the stomach and against the LES muscle. It's better to eat five or six small meals instead of three larger ones. And remember not to eat too quickly. Putting your fork or spoon down between bites can help you do this.
  • Don't drink alcohol: Drinking alcohol before, during, or after meals can worsen heartburn because alcohol weakens the LES muscle.


"Heartburn, Hiatal Hernia, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 03­0882 June 2003. NIH Publication No. 03­0882. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).

"Herbs at a Glance - Licorice Root" National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

"Licorice: a possible anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer drug" National Center for Biotechnology Information

Rinzler, Carol, and Ken DeVault, MD. Heartburn & Reflux for Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc, 2004