The health benefits of licorice include relief from canker sores, stomach disorders, respiratory ailments, pre-menstrual syndrome, peptic ulcers, menopausal symptoms and it helps in fighting various kinds of infections such as herpes, HIV, hepatitis and shingles.
It is also effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, tuberculosis, neurological disorders, female fertility, and obesity, while also helping to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol. Licorice extracts contains phytoestrogens, which promote detoxification, healthy skin and hair, dental health, and immune defense. Furthermore, it helps to combat body odor and depression.
Introduction to Licorice
Licorice or liquorice comes from the Glycyrrhiza plant species and is valued for its rich flavor. It derives its name from the Greek, glukurrhiza which means ‘sweet root’. This herb is native to Southern Europe and Asia and is referred to as ‘sweet root’, attributing to a component called glycyrrhizin present in its root which is much sweeter than sugar. Licorice has been appreciated in the traditional Chinese system of medicine for thousands of years and is referred to as “the peacemaker” herb. It is one of the most widely consumed herbs across the world and is currently grown in Russia, Spain, France, England, Germany, the Middle East and Asia.
Licorice is a woody-stemmed perennial herb that grows to about 1-2 meters. The long and wrinkled roots of licorice branch horizontally and spread out under the ground. Along with its use in food, licorice is also valued for its diverse medicinal benefits in Eastern and Western system of medication for providing longevity and vitality since ancient times.
Licorice: Nutritional Facts
Licorice offers a wide range of beneficial nutrients and flavonoids. It is a good source of vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid) and vitamin E (tocopherol). It also provides minerals such as phosphorous, calcium, choline, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, silicon and zinc. Licorice is a storehouse of essential phytonutrients, including beta-carotene, glycyrrhizin, glabridin, isoliquiritigenin, thymol, phenol, ferulic acid and quercitin.
Health Benefits of Licorice
Aphthous Ulcers or Canker Sores: Licorice has been proven to be beneficial in the treatment of painful recurrent aphthous ulcers, also known as canker sores. Canker sores are small, non-contagious lesions that crop up on the tissues inside the mouth and gums. Studies have shown that treatment with licorice extract has resulted in significant improvement in the condition of the subjects with respect to reduction in both pain and inflammation. The beneficial constituents of licorice help in accelerating the healing and aids in the stimulation of the body’s immune defense mechanism.
Liver Protection: Studies have shown promising results regarding the hepatoprotective effect of licorice. Licorice contains glycyrrhizin, which is effective in the treatment of liver disorders by reducing toxicity and helps in stabilizing the normal functional condition of the liver. Another research study has provided evidence that the flavonoid isoliquiritigenin, present in licorice, possesses antioxidant and inhibitory qualities which help in protecting the liver cells from high-fat, diet-induced injuries and the damage caused by oxidative stress.
Stomach Disorders: The glycyrrhizic acid present in licorice can provide protection against the growth of Helicobacter pylori bacteria and can also exert therapeutic effects in curing the symptoms of dyspepsia or impaired digestion.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Licorice extracts possess anti-inflammatory properties and have been proven to be effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Research has indicated that licorice may be beneficial in reducing the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and for providing relief from pain and swelling.
Menopause and Premenstrual Syndrome: Licorice root is effective in treating the symptoms of menopause and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It is rich in isoflavones, which help to maintain the estrogen and progesterone balance in the body. Studies have shown positive results regarding the efficacy of licorice in reducing the frequency of nocturnal hot flashes and for improving physical and psychological health in menopausal women. Licorice contains phytoestrogens and helps in elevating the levels of progesterone hormone in the body, which aids in soothing the cramps and discomfort often experience during menstruation. Licorice is also effective in the problem of water retention by blocking the hormonal effects of the aldosterone hormone.
Cancer: Licorice possesses chemopreventive effects and is beneficial in the treatment of various types of cancer. Studies have demonstrated the anti-proliferative effects of licorice roots in restricting the growth of human breast cancer cells. Licorice contains flavonoids such as isoliquiritigenin, which helps in suppressing colon carcinogenesis and induces apoptosis, also known as programmed cell death. Research has provided supporting evidence regarding the anti-tumor activity of licorice extracts, which are effective in reducing the toxicity induced by chemotherapy drugs and inhibits the production of tumor cells. However, cancer patients undergoing cisplatin therapy should avoid licorice extract. Licorice extracts are also helpful in treating chronic prostatitis and prostate cancer.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Licorice is useful in preventing the malfunction of the adrenal glands, which are responsible for the production of hormones such as cortisol to manage stress in the body and help in improving its overall function. Excess consumption of licorice should be avoided. Licorice is considered effective in people who have been prescribed steroids for a long time to counter the suppressive action of steroids on the adrenal glands. This also aids in stimulating the body’s resistance to stress, especially during the recovery phase after surgeries. Glycyrrhizinic acid present in licorice helps in feeling more energetic and reduces the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
Immune System: Licorice aids in improving the immune defense mechanism of the body. It also helps in elevating the levels of interferon, an anti-viral agent which, along with glycyrrhizinic acid, stimulates the action of immune cells and helps in combating the infectious viruses and bacteria such as influenza A.
Tuberculosis: Studies have shown that licorice is effective in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis and also helps in reducing the length of the healing process. Antimycobacterial and antimicrobial action of the constituents present in licorice work well in the treatment of lung infections and makes it an effective antitubercular agent.
Infections: Licorice contains glycyrrihizic acid, which is effective in treating various viral, fungal and bacterial infections. Research studies have revealed the antiviral effect of licorice and its constituents in inhibiting the growth of herpes virus and preventing any further development of cancer. The infection fighting property of licorice has been found beneficial in the treatment of shingles, which is caused by varicella-zoaster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox.
Atherosclerosis: Licorice roots possess antioxidant ability and are effective in maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol. The flavonoid glabridin, along with other beneficial components present in licorice, exert a beneficial effect in preventing the accumulation of low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol and helps in reducing the risk of diseases like atherosclerosis.
Respiratory Disorders: Licorice is beneficial in treating sore throats, coughs, colds, bronchitis, and lung diseases like emphysema. It also provides relief from upper respiratory infections caused by viruses and bacteria. It works effectively as an expectorant and helps in expelling the mucus and other substances from the bronchi and lungs. This aids in the relaxation of bronchial spasms. Studies have provided supporting evidence regarding the therapeutic effect of licorice in reducing the constrictions in the airways and its beneficial effects in the treatment of asthma.
HIV: Licorice is effective in treating HIV-related diseases. Studies have shown that the glycyrrhizin present in licorice roots helps in inhibiting the proliferation of the infecting virus by encouraging the production of beta-chemokines. It also helps in preventing the destruction of white blood cells by the HIV virus and strengthens the immune mechanism of the body.
Detoxification: Licorice possesses laxative qualities and promotes the detoxification of both the colon and the blood supply. Research studies have shown that the component dehydroglyasperin present in licorice extracts have been proven beneficial in the induction of phase-2 detoxification and antioxidant enzymes, which help the body in discarding harmful and poisonous toxic wastes.
Female Fertility: Licorice tea may help in treating fertility problems in women caused due to hormonal irregularities such as polycystic ovaries. Licorice helps to regulate the secretion of the estrogen hormone and aids in curing any fertility complications in females. It is effective in normalizing irregular menstruation, helps in the restoration of regular ovulation and encourages conception. As supported by various studies, licorice helps in reducing the serum testosterone in women, which makes it an effective consideration for the treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome and hirsutism.
Obesity: Licorice extracts may also be effective in preventing obesity. The anti-obesity action of licorice flavonoid oil indicated a significant reduction in the presence of abdominal adipose tissues and triglycerides levels of the body.
Skin Care: Licorice is an excellent skin healer and is beneficial in the treatment of skin ailments such as eczema, athlete’s foot and psoriasis. Studies have shown that topical usage of licorice extracts help in relieving the swelling and itching in such conditions as well. Licorice extracts have skin-lightening effects and also aid in providing protection against ultra-violet radiation-induced erythema, reducing inflammation and helping to improve persistent facial redness.
Hepatitis: Licorice is also effective in the treatment of chronic hepatitis B virus. It helps in suppressing the secretion of the hepatitis B antigen and enhances the functioning of liver.
Gastric or Peptic Ulcers: Deglycyrrhizinized licorice, which refers to licorice that does not contain glycyrrhizinic acid, has been proven effective in the treatment of gastric ulcers by various research studies. According to these studies, licorice extracts exerted healing effects on peptic ulcers without causing any side effects such as edema, electrolyte imbalance, hypertension or weight gain in the test subjects.
Hair Care: Licorice is effective in maintaining healthy hair by reducing the oil secretion and preventing the occurrence of dandruff. It helps in restraining the growth of dihydrotestosterone hormone and stimulates the hair growth.
Depression: Studies have provided supporting evidence regarding the efficacy of licorice constituents in combating pre- and post-menopausal depression in women. Licorice contains essential minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and beta-carotene, along with beneficial flavonoids that help in fighting depression.
Dental Health: Licorice extracts have been effective in the prevention and treatment of dental caries and gingivitis. The antimicrobial quality of deglycyrrhizinated licorice is beneficial against Streptococcus mutans and inhibits the formation of biofilms and dental plaques. Due to such protective antibacterial effects, licorice root extracts have been widely used in the manufacturing of oral hygiene products such as toothpastes and mouthwashes.
Neurological Disorders: Licorice is effective in the treatment of neurological disorders such as Bell’s palsy and Lyme disease. It helps in the prevention of the involuntary flow of tears and the development of other neurological symptoms such as paralysis in those patients suffering from Bell’s palsy.
Cardiovascular Health: The antioxidant qualities of licorice extracts are effective in the prevention of cardiovascular stress in diabetic people. The flavonoid glabridin, which is present in licorice roots, helps in providing vascular protection under high glucose conditions, prevents the formation of plaques in the arteries, and stimulates the unobstructed flow of blood in diabetic patients.
Cognitive Function: Studies have provided supporting evidence that demonstrates the neuroprotective effect of glabridin in cases of diabetes. It helps in the prevention of cognitive impairment and assists in enhancing the learning and memory functions in diabetics. The component amorfrutins that are present in licorice possess anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory effects that help to reduce the blood sugar, inhibit the development of insulin resistance, and prevent Type-2 diabetes.
Diabetic Nephropathy: Studies have shown that roasted licorice is effective in curing diabetic nephropathy, in which the kidney damage happens as a consequence of long-standing diabetes. The inhibitory effect of licorice helps in the prevention and treatment of symptoms such as glomerulosclerosis which can result in diabetic nephropathy due to long-term diabetes.
Culinary Use: Licorice has been used as a flavoring agent in confectionery products such as chewy sweets and candy since ancient times. Licorice is also extensively used in the tobacco industry in the manufacturing of cigars, cigarettes and smoking mixtures. It is used both as a flavor enhancer as well as a moisture-controlling agent in tobacco products. Licorice also finds extensive use in beverages such as beer, due to its foaming qualities.
Licorice – A Word of Caution
Licorice contains glycyrrhiza, also known as glycrrhizic acid, which can lead to side effects in some cases. These effects include body fatigue, irregular menstruation, edema, and kidney disorders. However, licorice devoid of glycyrrhiza, also known as deglycyrrhizinated licorice, has been suggested to cause fewer side effects.
Hypertension and Cardiac Disorders: Licorice can result in hypertension and heart complications such as cardiac arrhythmia and congestive heart failure in some people. People with an existing condition of hypertension and cardiac disorders should be careful regarding their consumption of licorice.
Hormonal Conditions: Licorice has an estrogenic effect in the body and may worsen hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine fibroids and ovarian cancer.
Sexual Complications: Licorice can affect the levels of testosterone in males and reduce their interest in sex.
Licorice may interact with diuretics.
Hypokalemia: Licorice can also interact with medications that decrease the potassium content in the body, causing it to drop to dangerously low levels, resulting in hypokalemia. Significantly low levels of potassium can cause problems in the functioning of nerves, which can lead to muscle complications like hypertonia.
Corticosteroids: Licorice can interact with corticosteroids such as prednisone and affect the level of the cortisol hormone, which is responsible for handling stress in the body.
Licorice is effective in helping to combat body odor due to its antibacterial qualities, and is also used as a lubricating agent in enemas. It is effective in the reduction of age spots and the treatment of allergies, tendonitis, bursitis and toxicity caused by food or chemicals. Used in moderation, licorice helps in promoting the effects of other herbs and aids in the induction of calmness and peace.
Licorice is an herb even sweeter than sugar, and may be healthier too!