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Licorice: Dietary Benefits as a “ Natural Root”!

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The licorice root is a part of traditional medicine dating back to centuries earlier. Read below to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Shweta Sharma

Published At November 15, 2023
Reviewed AtNovember 15, 2023

Introduction

"Licorice," or "liquorice," commonly known colloquially as it originates in the United Kingdom, is prepared from the herbaceous roots of the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra. The usage of licorice root dates back to ancient times in traditional medicine, almost thousands of years ago. Even today, the licorice root is known for offering efficacious medicinal properties in the field of alternative medicine too. The origin dates back thousands of years, where history claims that Julius Caesar (the Roman general and statesman) and the Egyptian pharaohs also regularly utilized licorice root to cure gastric issues, ailments, skin-related disturbances, allergies, or inflammation.

They are commonly a part of pharmaceutical health products, especially in herbal and dietary supplements. The root extracts of this plant not only provide a characteristic confectionery flavor, but they are also childhood favorites of many children across the globe, making them highly popular. The roots are extracted and prepared into chewable as well as twisty candies or even used as licorice sweeteners for adults.

What Is the Nutrition Content of Licorice?

The following nutrition information has been enlisted by the USDA for approximately one miniature/bite size or 0.5291 ounces of the licorice candy :

  • Fat: 0 ounce.

  • Sodium: 0.00023 ounce.

  • Carbohydrates: 0.522 ounces.

  • Fiber: 0 ounce.

  • Sugars: 0.312 ounces.

  • Protein: 0 ounce.

  • Total Calories: 59.4 Kcal.

There are approximately a total of 59.4 calories and only 0.522 ounces of carbohydrates yielded from a single serving of the licorice candy commercially available. The glycemic index of licorice is estimated to be roughly around 78 which makes it to the category of high glycemic index foods. The glycemic load of licorice is also high around 16 to 16.2. This clearly indicates that licorice confectionaries or candies in any form that are commercially available (usually popular amongst children and young adults) are not recommended generally for many individuals on a regular basis because they are capable of causing blood sugar spikes in prediabetics and diabetic individuals. Licorice is, however, a naturally fat-free food with nearly zero fat. In comparison to other commercially available candies, licorice candy is relatively low in sugar. However, as with any sugary or high-glycemic-index food product, it is important to note that it may be more detrimental to health than beneficial. This is due to the counterproductive nature of high sugars, which decrease glucose uptake by our body cells.

What Are the Health Benefits of the Licorice Root?

The following are the health benefits of licorice root:

  • According to current medical research, in the menopausal stage of women, many individuals report undesirable side effects or clinical symptoms, especially hot flashes, bone volume loss, and a decline in cardiovascular health.

  • To reduce the clinical symptoms, women, especially those on regular hormone replacement therapies (HRT), tend to predispose women to an increased risk of developing breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers. The licorice root is used in many dietary supplements worldwide, currently seen as the best alternative with minimal side effects impacting estrogen hormone activity during this period. Also, it is shown to promote cardiovascular health in this phase in women, though scientific evidence does not exist to show that the licorice root can be beneficial in relieving hot flashes or clinical menopause symptoms in this phase.

  • Preliminary research studies on animal models indicate the protective effects of glycyrrhizin (which is the major component of licorice root) have potent antiviral activity, on several variants of the influenza virus. However, this impact needs to be studied in human models as well. As of now, this fact holds promising future potential against viral infections. The use of glycyrrhizin in potential pharmaceutical therapies is currently being investigated.

  • According to a major 2012 double-blind research study that involved nearly 50 human patients, researchers found that the extract of Glycyrrhiza glabra or licorice root extract can potently relieve the symptoms of stomach pain or other gastrointestinal issues after consuming it for 15 to 30 days. Licorice root is known to act as nature’s best antacid, according to alternative medicine practitioners and health experts. It is commonly used in this field to relieve gastrointestinal symptoms such as acid reflux, heartburn, or common indigestion. According to a 2013 study, scientific evidence was supportive enough to establish the fact, published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, that licorice root has potentially efficacious healing against gastric bacterial infections caused by the common bacterial pathogen helicobacter pylori.

  • According to current research, the components composed in licorice root would have an anti-inflammatory effect that is exerted in individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

What Are the Allergies and Drug Interactions of Licorice Root?

Though licorice root is not considered a major food allergen, allergies to any food can be possible in susceptible individuals based on their genetics, environment, and possible food allergies. Always be sure to check the ingredient label of the licorice candies or other sweetened products that may contain common food allergens like wheat, which is one of the most common allergens for many individuals.

According to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), any individual, regardless of age, should not exceed their consumption of large quantities of black licorice at any point in time. This is because, in a high dose, the compound glycyrrhizin has the probability of causing an imbalance in potassium levels in the blood, which can lead to lowered levels. Pregnant women are also advised by nutrition experts to refrain from consuming herbal medications that contain licorice root. This is based on research indicating that heavy licorice use may be associated with preterm birth in infants. Licorice can also easily interact with certain medications and supplements; hence, it is always wiser to consult a healthcare professional, registered dietitian, or nutritionist before starting with any herbal supplements that comprise licorice root as an ingredient.

What Is the Best Way to Consume Licorice?

Licorice candy also derives its distinct and sweet flavors from the licorice root only. However, consuming licorice root (which was used in traditional and alternative medicine for gastrointestinal and skin benefits, as elaborated earlier) differs in its nutritional value and sugar content from commercially prepared candies that are high in added sugars. Hence, nutrition experts always encourage the use of licorice root in its natural form rather than in the sweetened or candy-based versions available in the market. Regular sweet candy consumption would also be responsible for the demineralization of teeth or enamel caries in children.

Conclusion

Licorice root is best consumed for its promising systemic benefits, which are still being investigated by researchers, but it is advisable to consume it only in moderate quantities. Another important factor to be aware of is that its nutritional value diminishes due to added sugars in sweetened versions or products. Individuals with common food allergies, especially wheat allergy, those on systemic medications, and pregnant women, should ideally refrain from consuming licorice root, its extract, or supplements. It is recommended to consult with a registered healthcare professional before incorporating licorice into their diet.

Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Dentistry

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