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, hepatitis, and shingles.
It is also effective in relieving symptoms of various health issues such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, tuberculosis, neurological disorders, female infertility, and obesity. It also helps maintain healthy levels of cholesterol. Licorice extracts contain phytoestrogens, which promote detoxification, healthy skin and hair, dental health, and immune defense. Furthermore, it helps to combat body odor and depression.
What is Licorice?
Licorice is a woody-stemmed perennial herb that grows to about 1-2 meters. Its long and wrinkled roots branch horizontally and spread out under the ground. Along with its use in food, it is also valued for providing diverse medicinal benefits such as longevity and vitality, since ancient times.
Licorice or ‘Liquorice’ comes from the Glycyrrhiza plant species and is valued for its rich flavor. It derives its name from the Greek word ‘glukurrhiza’ which means ‘sweet root’, attributing to a component called glycyrrhizin present in its root which is much sweeter than sugar. This herb is native to Southern Europe and Asia. It has also 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.
Serving Size : Nutrient Value Total lipid (fat) [g] 0.05 Carbohydrate, by difference [g] 93.55 Energy 375 Water [g] 6.3 Sugars, total including NLEA [g] 70 Fiber, total dietary [g] 0.2 Calcium, Ca [mg] 3 Iron, Fe [mg] 0.13 Magnesium, Mg [mg] 2 Phosphorus, P [mg] 4 Potassium, K [mg] 37 Sodium, Na [mg] 50 Zinc, Zn [mg] 0.05 Copper, Cu [mg] 0.03 Selenium, Se [µg] 1.1 Thiamin [mg] 0 Riboflavin [mg] 0.01 Niacin [mg] 0.01 Vitamin B-6 [mg] 0 Sources include : USDA
Licorice Nutrition 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. It is a storehouse of essential phytonutrients, including beta-carotene, glycyrrhizin, glabridin, isoliquiritigenin, thymol, phenol, ferulic acid, and quercetin.
Health Benefits of Licorice
Aphthous Ulcers or Canker Sores
According to the study published in the National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, 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. Furthermore, the study has shown that treatment with the extracts of this root has resulted in significant improvement in the condition of the subjects with respect to reduction in both pain and inflammation. Its beneficial constituents help in accelerating the healing and aids in the stimulation of the body’s immune defense mechanism.
Studies have shown promising results regarding the hepatoprotective effect of licorice. It contains glycyrrhizin, which as per a study in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 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.
Phyllis A Balch, in his book, Herbal Healing mentioned that 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.
Dr. Qing-Chun Huang and his team from the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, China, in a report published in the Oncotarget Journal stated that licorice extracts possess anti-inflammatory properties and have been proven to be effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Research has indicated that it 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. It contains phytoestrogens and helps in elevating the levels of progesterone hormone in the body, which aids in soothing the cramps and discomfort often experienced during menstruation. Dr. Linda Woolven in her book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to PMS and Pain-Free Periods, has stated that the root is also effective in the problem of water retention by blocking the hormonal effects of the aldosterone hormone.
Licorice root has a significant place in herbal medicine, especially in Asia. However, recent studies have recognized the chemopreventive potential of this medicinal herb. Polyphenols found in this herb have been observed to induce apoptosis. A 2004 study focusing on human breast cancer has concluded that this root might have the potential to aid in cancer. Another paper published in the Cancer Science journal recognizes isoliquiritigenin, a flavonoid from this root, as a promising chemopreventive agent again colon cancer.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
A book titled, Natural Treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, authored by Daivati Bharadwaj, states that 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 should be avoided. It 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 it helps in feeling more energetic and reduces the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
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 bacteria, and viruses such as influenza A.
Licorice is effective in providing relief from HIV-related diseases. Studies have shown that the glycyrrhizin present in its 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.
Relief from Tuberculosis Symptoms
A report published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology has shown that licorice is effective in the treatment of tuberculosis and also helps in reducing the length of the healing process. The antimycobacterial and antimicrobial action of the constituents present in it work well in the treatment of lung infections and makes it an effective antitubercular agent.
Licorice contains glycyrrhizic acid, which is effective in treating various viral, fungal and bacterial infections. Research studies have revealed its antiviral effect and its constituents in inhibiting the growth of the herpes virus. Merrily Kuhn in her book, Winston & Kuhn’s Herbal Therapy and Supplements: A Scientific and Traditional Approach, stated that the infection-fighting property of licorice has been found beneficial in the treatment of shingles, which is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.
Licorice roots possess antioxidants, which are effective in maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol. The flavonoid glabridin, along with other beneficial components present, 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.
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. A study published in the International Immunopharmacology provides supporting evidence regarding its therapeutic effect in reducing the constrictions in the airways and its beneficial effects in the treatment of asthma.
A 2010 report published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry states that 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 its 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.
Increases Female Fertility
Licorice tea may help in treating fertility problems in women caused due to hormonal irregularities such as polycystic ovaries. It 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 a study published in the Steroids Journal, it helps in reducing the serum testosterone in women, which makes it an effective consideration for the treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome and hirsutism.
Licorice extracts may also be effective in preventing obesity. The anti-obesity action of its flavonoid oil indicated a significant reduction in the presence of abdominal adipose tissues and triglycerides levels of the body.
This root 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 use of its extracts helps 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.
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 the 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, its 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.
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 hair growth.
A study published in the Journal of Molecular Sciences has provided supporting evidence regarding the efficacy of licorice constituents in combating pre- and post-menopausal depression in women. It contains essential minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and beta-carotene, along with beneficial flavonoids that help in fighting depression.
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 toothpaste and mouthwashes.
In the best-seller “Understanding Herbal Healing” by nutritional counselor Phyllis A. Balch, it is said that 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. For people suffering from Lyme disease, licorice helps slow down the progression of neurological symptoms and give relief from chronic fatigue.
The antioxidant qualities of the extracts of this root 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.
It helps in the prevention of cognitive impairment and assists in enhancing the learning and memory functions in diabetics.
As per a study published in the journal Molecular Medicine Reports , licorice contains glabridin, which has hypoglycemic effects. Another study published in the journal Drug and Chemical Toxicology in 2011 suggests that it may have therapeutic effects for diabetes, given to its antioxidant and hyperglycemic properties.
Licorice has been used as a flavoring agent in confectionery products such as chewy sweets and candy since ancient times. It 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. It also finds extensive use in beverages such as beer, due to its foaming qualities.
Side Effects of Licorice
Licorice contains glycyrrhiza, also known as glycyrrhizic acid, which can lead to side effects in some cases. These effects include body fatigue, irregular menstruation, edema, and kidney disorders. Let us look at them.
- 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.
- Pregnancy and Breast Feeding: Excessive consumption of licorice is not recommended during pregnancy, as it might result in fatal consequences such as pre-term delivery or miscarriage.
- Sexual Complications: It can affect the levels of testosterone in males and reduce their interest in sex.
- Drug Interactions: Licorice may interact with diuretics.
- Hypokalemia: It 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.
However, licorice devoid of glycyrrhiza, also known as deglycyrrhizinated licorice, has been suggested to cause fewer side effects.
While excess consumption may cause health problems, 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, it 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 maybe healthier too!