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What you should know about Licorice

What you should know about Licorice

Disclaimer: This content has been produced purely for informational and educational purposes only and is never intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical guidelines, including diagnosis, advice, and treatment.

Table of Content

  • Introduction to Licorice
  • Historical and Cultural Significance
  • Composition and Active Compounds
  • Health Benefits of Licorice
  • Potential Risks and Side Effects
  • Safe Usage and Dosage Guidelines
  • Conclusion

Licorice, scientifically known as Glycyrrhiza glabra, is a perennial herb native to Southern Europe and parts of Asia. It has a long history of use in traditional medicine and culinary practices due to its distinct flavour and various potential health benefits. Licorice root, in particular, is widely utilized for its medicinal properties and is a common ingredient in herbal teas, supplements, candies, and even skincare products.

Historical and Cultural Significance

Licorice has a rich historical and cultural significance, dating back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese, valued licorice for its medicinal properties. It was often used to treat various ailments such as coughs, sore throats, digestive issues, and even to alleviate the symptoms of menopause. Licorice also holds cultural significance in many traditions and is incorporated into rituals, celebrations, and religious practices in different parts of the world.

Composition and Active Compounds

Licorice contains a variety of bioactive compounds, including:

  • Glycyrrhizin: Glycyrrhizin is one of the most abundant and well-studied compounds in licorice root. It is responsible for licorice's characteristic sweet taste and accounts for many of its medicinal properties. Glycyrrhizin has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, and immunomodulatory effects. However, it's important to note that excessive consumption of glycyrrhizin can lead to adverse effects, such as hypertension and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Glycyrrhetinic Acid: Glycyrrhetinic acid is a metabolite of glycyrrhizin formed in the body upon ingestion. It exhibits similar pharmacological properties to glycyrrhizin, including anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects. Glycyrrhetinic acid has been studied for its potential to inhibit the activity of enzymes involved in inflammation and viral replication, making it a promising candidate for the treatment of various inflammatory and infectious diseases.
  • Flavonoids: Licorice contains various flavonoids, including liquiritin, isoliquiritin, liquiritigenin, and isoliquiritigenin. These flavonoids possess antioxidant properties, scavenging free radicals and reducing oxidative stress in the body. Additionally, flavonoids may help regulate immune function, reduce inflammation, and protect against chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  • Saponins: Licorice contains saponins, which are natural surfactants with diverse biological activities. Saponins have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antitumor, and immunomodulatory effects. They may also help lower cholesterol levels, improve digestion, and enhance the absorption of other nutrients in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Polysaccharides: Licorice root contains polysaccharides, complex carbohydrates that have been studied for their potential health benefits. Polysaccharides have been shown to have immunomodulatory effects, enhancing the activity of immune cells and supporting overall immune function. Additionally, polysaccharides may help promote gut health by serving as prebiotics, nourishing beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiota.
  • Phytoestrogens: Licorice contains phytoestrogens, plant compounds that exhibit estrogenic activity in the body. Phytoestrogens may help regulate hormonal balance, particularly in women experiencing symptoms of menopause or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). These compounds may help alleviate hot flashes, mood swings, and other menopausal symptoms, as well as reduce testosterone levels in women with PCOS.
  • Minerals and Vitamins: Licorice root also contains various minerals and vitamins, including magnesium, potassium, calcium, vitamin B6, and vitamin E. These nutrients play essential roles in overall health and may contribute to licorice's therapeutic effects, such as supporting cardiovascular health, maintaining bone density, and promoting skin health.

However, it's important to note that excessive consumption of glycyrrhizin can have adverse effects on health, which will be discussed further in the section on potential risks and side effects.

Health Benefits of Licorice

Licorice offers a range of potential health benefits, thanks to its various bioactive compounds. It has been traditionally used to:

  • Gastrointestinal Health: Licorice has been traditionally used to support digestive health. It may help alleviate symptoms of conditions such as gastritis, ulcers, and acid reflux by promoting the secretion of protective mucus in the stomach lining, which can help soothe irritation and reduce inflammation. Additionally, licorice root extract has demonstrated potential in inhibiting the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium implicated in the development of gastric ulcers and gastritis.
  • Anti-inflammatory Properties: Licorice contains compounds with potent anti-inflammatory effects, such as glycyrrhizin and flavonoids. These compounds have been shown to inhibit the activity of inflammatory enzymes and pathways in the body, helping to reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms of inflammatory conditions like arthritis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Respiratory Health: Licorice has a long history of use in traditional medicine for respiratory conditions such as coughs, colds, and bronchitis. It acts as an expectorant, helping to loosen and expel mucus from the respiratory tract, making it easier to breathe. Additionally, licorice root contains compounds with antiviral and antimicrobial properties, which may help fight respiratory infections and reduce the severity and duration of symptoms.
  • Hormonal Balance: Some studies suggest that licorice may help regulate hormonal balance in the body, particularly in women experiencing symptoms of menopause or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Compounds found in licorice, such as phytoestrogens, may exert estrogenic effects that can help alleviate hot flashes, mood swings, and other menopausal symptoms. Additionally, licorice may help lower testosterone levels in women with PCOS, potentially improving symptoms such as hirsutism and irregular menstrual cycles.
  • Skin Health: Licorice extract is a common ingredient in skincare products due to its potential benefits for the skin. It has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and skin-lightening properties, making it effective in treating various skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and hyperpigmentation. Licorice extract may help reduce inflammation, soothe irritated skin, and inhibit the production of melanin, leading to brighter, more even-toned skin.
  • Immune Support: Licorice contains compounds that can help support the immune system and enhance its response to infections and illnesses. Glycyrrhizin, in particular, has been shown to stimulate the production and activity of immune cells, such as macrophages and T lymphocytes, which play a crucial role in the body's defense against pathogens. Additionally, licorice's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, supporting overall immune function.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

While licorice offers numerous health benefits, excessive consumption or prolonged use can lead to potential risks and side effects. The primary concern is the compound glycyrrhizin, which can cause hypertension, electrolyte imbalances, and fluid retention when consumed in large amounts. Individuals with high blood pressure, heart conditions, kidney disease, or those who are pregnant should exercise caution when consuming licorice products. Additionally, licorice may interact with certain medications, so it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional before using licorice supplements or herbal remedies.

Safe Usage and Dosage Guidelines

To minimize the risk of adverse effects, it's important to use licorice products in moderation and according to recommended dosage guidelines. Most experts advise limiting daily consumption of glycyrrhizin to less than 100 milligrams per day to avoid potential health issues. It's also advisable to opt for deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) supplements, which have had the glycyrrhizin removed or reduced to lower the risk of side effects. As with any herbal supplement, it's best to consult with a healthcare provider before starting a licorice regimen, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medications.


In conclusion, licorice is a versatile herb with a long history of use in traditional medicine and culinary practices. It contains various bioactive compounds that contribute to its potential health benefits, including soothing gastrointestinal issues, reducing inflammation, and supporting immune function. However, it's essential to use licorice products cautiously and in moderation, as excessive consumption can lead to adverse effects, particularly due to the compound glycyrrhizin. By following safe usage guidelines and consulting with healthcare professionals when necessary, individuals can harness the potential benefits of licorice while minimizing the risk of side effects.

References and Resources