Natural Licorice


Original Image by J Brew via Flickr
Original Image by J Brew via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a plant, most commonly associated with flavorings in food, beverages and tobacco.  However, the root is used to make Eastern and Western medicine.

Licorice can be used for:

  • Digestive issues: heartburn, indigestion, GERD, stomach ulcers, colic, ongoing inflammation of the stomach’s lining-chronic gastritis
  • Sore throat
  • Canker sores
  • Eczema
  • Bronchitis
  • Cough
  • Infections from bacteria or viruses
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • Liver disorders
  • Malaria
  • Tuberculosis
  • Food poisoning
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

It can be used in many forms:

  • Dried root: 1 – 5 g as an infusion or decoction (boiled), 3 times daily
  • Licorice 1:5 tincture: 2 – 5 mL, 3 times daily
  • Standardized extract: 250 – 500 mg, 3 times daily, standardized to contain 20% glycyrrhizinic acid
  • DGL extract: 0.4 – 1.6 g, 3 times daily, for peptic ulcer
  • DGL extract 4:1: chew 300 – 400 mg, 3 times daily 20 minutes before meals, for peptic ulcer

If one has the following disease states or situations, use of licorice should not be used: liver disease, pregnancy and breastfeeding, high blood pressure, hypertonia, low potassium levels in the blood (hypokalemia), kidney disease, surgery, sexual problems in men and/or hormone sensitive conditions (i.e. breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and/or endometriosis).

Natural licorice can increase cortisol concentration, leading to increased sodium retention, potassium excretion, high blood pressure (aka hypertension) and/or an increase in sodium reabsorption.  These changes can antagonize the action of diuretics and antihypertensive medications.  Some herbs have a stimulant laxative effect (i.e. aloe vera, castor oil, senna and rhubarb) should be avoided to lower potassium in body.

Furthermore, use of certain medications can negatively interact with licorice.

Medication Use Potential interaction with licorice
Warfarin (Coumadin) Slow blood clotting Licorice may increase breakdown; decrease effectiveness of warfarin, which may increase the risk of clotting
Cisplatin (Platinol-AQ) Treat cancer Licorice may decrease how well cisplatin works
Digoxin (Lanoxin) Treats atrial fibrillation and heart failure Large amounts of licorice can decrease potassium levels, which can inhibit digoxin’s effectiveness
Ethacyrnic Acid (Edecrin); Furosemide (Lasix) Treats edema; diuretic When etharynic and licorice are taken together, may cause potassium to become too low
Furosemide (Lasix) Treats edema When furosemide and licorice are taken together, may cause potassium to become too low
Medications associated with the liver (i.e. cytochrome P450 2C9, cytochrome P450 3A4, CYP3A4, phenobarbital, dexamethasone) Liver issues Licorice may change how the liver breaks down medications, may increase/decrease effects of medications
Antihypertensive drugs (i.e. captopril, enalapril, losartan, valsartan, amlodipine, hydrochlorothiazide, Lasix) Treats high blood pressure Might decrease effectiveness of medications for high blood pressure
Corticosteroids (i.e. hydrocortisone, dexamethasone, methylprednisone, prednisone) For inflammation Some medications for inflammation can decrease potassium in the body; when corticosteroids are taken in conjunction with licorice, can decrease potassium in the body too much
Diuretics (i.e. Lasix, Diuril, Thalitone, HCTZ, Microzide) Water pills In conjunction with licorice, diuretics can decrease potassium in body too much

Lastly, when taking licorice, drinking grapefruit juice may increase licorice’s ability to cause potassium depletion. Licorice can increase sodium/water retention and increase blood pressure. Licorice can be a great solution to certain disease states, however, take caution with use of licorice if you’re on medications. Best to check with your primary care physician if it is safe to use licorice.

Sources: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/881.html

http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/licorice

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-881-licorice.aspx?activeingredientid=881&activeingredientname=licorice

http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/herbsvitaminsandminerals/licorice

http://www.emedicinehealth.com/drug-licorice/article_em.htm

http://www.drugs.com/drug-interactions/licorice.html

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