The Dangers and Benefits of Licorice

When you hear the word licorice, you probably think of the very sweet, black chewy candies that carry a distinctive taste you either love or hate. But did you know that licorice root is actually used as a powerful herbal medicine? Whether in extract form or as chew sticks, pure licorice offers a number of benefits, as well as some risks for your oral health and overall condition. Let’s have a closer look. 

Benefits of Licorice

The key ingredient of licorice is glycyrrhizin. Not only is it responsible for the distinctive sweetness that characterizes licorice’s unique flavor, but it is also the compound that gives licorice its medicinal properties.

One of the more popular uses of licorice is as an expectorant, used to help soothe the throat and calm the irritation that causes one to cough as it reduces phlegm. It is used in this fashion as part of many herbal tea blends as well as in throat lozenges. It has demulcent qualities, forming a protective coating over mucous membranes. Licorice also has anti-inflammatory properties.

With regard to the digestive system, licorice can confer some protection against gastrointestinal ulcers, and can also function as a laxative. Licorice can function as an overall tonic, offering some protection to the liver, as it increases resistance to the effects of stress on the body, mind and emotions. It also has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties, as well as antioxidant and antitumor capabilities. Licorice can even play a part in the regulation of hormones.

Licorice can also be used as an anti-depressant. Some people say it makes an excellent alternative to St. John’s Wort, another popular herbal supplement.

In one 2006 study, licorice was shown to be an aid in weight loss. It has also been shown to have significant positive effects on the body in the following specific ways:

As an immune booster, licorice can help fight off various bacteria as well as viruses like influenza A. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it is useful in the treatment of asthma and bronchial infections. It can be used like aspirin to relieve fevers and soothe headache pain. It can also be helpful in reducing liver inflammation related to hepatitis. It may confer further protection to the liver and other organs by boosting levels of interferon, which improves immunity.

Research has shown that small doses of licorice (100mg a day) can help fight arteriosclerosis. The glycyrrhizin in licorice enhances cortisol activity, and so can lessen the symptoms of conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Phytoestrogens in licorice can have a mild estrogenic impact, offering some relief from PMS.

Risks of Using Licorice

Excessive use of licorice can have a negative impact on the adrenal glands. Symptoms of this include increased blood pressure, headaches, muscles aches or weakness, lethargy, sodium or water retention, loss of potassium, and in extreme cases, cardiac arrest.

To be safe, the common dosage ranges from 1 to 5 g of dried root, to be used as an infusion or decoction, up to three times a day. If daily doses go over 100g, adverse symptoms could begin within one week of use at that rate. Many licorice root products have been deglycyrrhizinatedto eliminate the risk of more extreme side effects while preserving certain essential medicinal benefits. High doses of licorice should not be used for longer than 4-6 weeks.

Individuals with the following conditions should use extreme caution in ingesting licorice and licorice derived products: hypertension, liver disease, heart disease, kidney disorders, hypokalemia or hypertonia. Licorice may interfere with the normal functioning of diuretics and drugs that treat hypertension. In general, pregnant women or infants should also not consume licorice.

Does licorice provide any specific dental health benefits? Of course, anything that improves overall health is by extension good for dental health. In particular, licorice’s anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties can be useful in supporting healthy teeth and gums.

Most interestingly, though, is the use of dried licorice roots, known as chew sticks, which are sold at health food stores and through other herbal suppliers. They can be used as an aid in keeping teeth and breath clean, since chewing on them acts as a kind of alternative or supplement to brushing your teeth. They are used in many indigenous cultures for this purpose.

Chewing on licorice sticks can also be a useful substitute for smoking cigarettes. As an aid in quitting smoking, they can satisfy the oral cravings of holding a cigarette in your mouth, without the terrible health consequences of actually smoking. And we all know that any non-toxic alternative to smoking cigarettes will contribute greatly to the improvement of both your oral as well as overall health.