The Benefits of Licorice Root

What Should I Know About It?

licorice root
Licorice root. Keith Ferris/E+/Getty Images

What Is Licorice Root?

The root of the licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra or Glycyrrhiza uralensis) has a long history of use in Eastern and Western systems of medicine. In traditional Chinese medicine, licorice root is referred to as "gan zao."

Uses for Licorice Root

In herbal medicine, licorice root is often combined with other botanicals for a range of health problems, including:

Benefits of Licorice Root

Although research on licorice's health effects is limited, studies suggest that the herb may offer certain health benefits:

1) Canker Sores

In a 2008 study, scientists found that an adhesive patch medicated with licorice root extract helped heal canker sores (also known as "recurrent aphthous ulcers"). After seven days of treatment with licorice, study members had a significant decrease in ulcer size. Volunteers who received no treatment, on the other hand, saw their ulcer size increase by 13 percent.

2) Functional Dyspepsia

When used in combination with other herbs, licorice root may ease the pain of functional dyspepsia (a chronic condition marked by upper abdominal discomfort). In a 2004 study of 120 people with functional dyspepsia, 43.3 percent of participants treated with an herbal formula (containing bitter candy tuft, matricaria flower, peppermint, caraway, and lemon balm in addition to licorice root) had complete relief of symptoms after eight weeks (compared to just 3.3.

percent in the placebo group).

3) Colorectal Cancer

In preliminary research published in 2009, researchers discovered that treatment with glycyrrhizic acid (a compound found in licorice) helped prevent colorectal cancer progression in mice predisposed to the disease.

Caveats

Glycyrrhizin-containing licorice may interact with a number of drugs, including diuretics, insulin, laxatives, and blood-thinning medications.

Licorice should be avoided by people with renal of liver dysfunction, as well as by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

In large amounts, licorice containing glycyrrhizic acid or glycyrrhizin has been shown to cause high blood pressure and other adverse effects linked to heart problems (such as low potassium levels). Therefore, it's important to use only deglycyrrhizinated licorice (or DGL) extract, from which glycyrrhizic acid has been removed.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

Where To Get It

Licorice products (including chewable tablets, capsules, tea, and powder) are available in most health-food stores.

Using Licorice for Health

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend licorice as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using licorice for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.

Sources:

Madisch A, Holtmann G, Mayr G, Vinson B, Hotz J. "Treatment of functional dyspepsia with a herbal preparation. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial." Digestion 2004;69(1):45-52.

Martin MD, Sherman J, van der Ven P, Burgess J. "A controlled trial of a dissolving oral patch concerning glycyrrhiza (licorice) herbal extract for the treatment of aphthous ulcers." General Dentistry 2008 56(2):206-10.

Zhang MZ, Xu J, Yao B, Yin H, Cai Q, Shrubsole MJ, Chen X, Kon V, Zheng W, Pozzi A, Harris RC. "Inhibition of 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type II selectively blocks the tumor COX-2 pathway and suppresses colon carcinogenesis in mice and humans." The Journal of Clinical Investigation 2009 119(4):876-85. doi: 10.1172/JCI37398.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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