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.


It’s All in the Name of the Diet

FAdDiet-BAd-Diet-1By: Nikki Nies

I was working recently at school in a computer lab and a student walked up to me asking to fill out her survey.  After filling out the typical female/male question, I already had questions regarding her survey.

Her first survey question asked, “Do you believe diets are healthy?”  She said what do I mean? I asked if she meant by diet as “eating healthy” or the more name brand diets, such as Atkins or Low Carb Diet. After some thought, she finally stated she was surveying on people’s perception of fad diets.

Of course, as a nutrition major I “strongly disagreed” with all claims that a fad diet is the most effective method of long term weight loss.  However, I started thinking about about “why” and “how” diets have evolved to be effectively hyped up and marketed.

It could be argued everyone’s on a diet–whether it’s a diet consisting of daily trips to McDonald’s to only chicken nuggets as main source of protein or eating 1/2 of one’s plate of fruit and veggies.  They’re all describing a type of diet.  A diet is:

 kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats

To help you decide what kind of diet you want to go ahead with, let me give you some things to ruminate about certain diet features:

  • Rapid Weight Loss: Not only is weight loss more than .5-1 lbs. not the most effective way to lose weight, one will also lose muscle, water and bone.  With too much weight lost in a short amount of time, it can lead to the regain of weight
  • Complete Restrictions of Foods or Foods Groups: Mind you, I’m not talking about eating foods if you’ve got an intolerance, sensitivity or allergy, but be wary of diet claims that either state unlimited quantities of certain foods (i.e. cabbage soup or grapefruit).  You may think substituting a food group with a multivitamin will help compensate with missed food groups (i.e. no carbs), but you’ll still be missing critical nutrients.
  • Exercise is not needed: Regular physical activity is needed for optimal weight management; it’s recommended one gets at least 160 minutes of exercise per week
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!  
  • Lose weight without making any changes!: Be wary of diet claims that you can eat as much high calorie foods and still lose weight.  In truth, it’s recommended to slash calories by 500 for a healthy, gradual weight loss.
  • Once and for all magic pill! Permanent weight loss requires the implementation of healthy lifestyle changes.  Doctors, dietitians and other leading experts are adamant that no “magic pill” exists.
  • Every body will lose weight: there’s no one size fits all solution.  Every one’s situation, body and needs are different! Contact a dietitian and/or your local health care provider to design a individualized nutrition and exercise plan.

The above claims are tempting to believe, but when looking for what you want to merge into your daily “diet”, think about the health claims that the latest diets have to offer.  To help you decide if the  latest diet is for you, ask yourself  “Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?” If the answer is no, the diet isn’t for you.


The Pros and Cons of Fad Dieting

Food & Drug Interactions

By: Nikki Nies

Medications are prescribed for everything from acute illnesses to helping with the healing of chronic diseases.  While the use of medications can become necessary, it’s important to know how and if drugs and food will interact with one another.  A food/drug interaction can occur when one of its components interferes with one of the drugs in the body.

There are 4 steps to drug action for medicines taken orally:

  1. Drug dissolves into useable form in stomach
  2. Drug is absorbed into blood and transported to its site of action
  3. Body responds to drug and drug is able to perform its intended function
  4. Drug is excreted from the body either by the kidneys, liver or both.

iron1Risk factors of a negative drug/food interaction may include nutritional status and/or number of medications taken at one time.  Drug absorption can be altered by food consumption.  Certain foods can block the absorption of drugs and interfere with the drug’s ability to complete its intended task.

While not every drug and food interaction is listed below, the chart provided is a great starting place to better understand what medications you’re taking and what precautions you should be aware of.

  Function Body’s response Interaction with Food
Analgesic (acetaminophen) Relieve pain Can cause stomach irritation; increases risk for liver toxicity Good to take with food; a full stomach lowers the risk of stomach irritation
Anticoagulant (i.e. warfarin) Slows the process of blood clotting Can decrease risk of strokes in patients whose blood tends to clot too easily Those taking anticoagulants should be consistent in the amount of vitamin K; important to avoid eating large amounts of foods high in vitamin K
Antacid/Acid Blocker Neutralize stomach acid; acid blockers reduce stomach acid production Regular use can lead to lower B12 absorption even more Can lead to nutrient deficiencies due to stomach acid’s important in the digestion and/or absorption of nutrients; older people produce less stomach stomach, which can lead to low absorption of B12; supplements may be needed
Anticonvulsant (i.e. Phenytoin, Phenobarbital and primidone) Helps control seizures Can decrease appetite; cause diarrhea Can decrease availability of many nutrients; increase the use of vitamin D in body—meaning less vitamin D is available for important functions (i.e. calcium absorption); some decrease folic acid levels; alcohol use can increase drowsiness
Antibiotic (i.e. tetracycline) Treat bacterial infections Pencillin and erthromycin are most effective when taken on an empty stomach due to being partially destroyed by stomach acid when taken with food Some decrease synthesis of vitamin K by bacteria normally found in intestines
Antifungal (Griseofulvin) Treats fungus Increases drug absorption Take with a high fat meal
Antihistamine (i.e. chlorepheniramine, diphenhydramine) Treat allergies Can cause drowsiness; can increase appetiteàweight gain
Antiinflammatory (Naproxen, ibuprofen) Chronic joint pain, headaches and arthritis Can lead to stomach irritation or ulcers; when taken with food or milk it can decrease GI irritation; alcohol can cause damage or stomach bleeding Should be taken with food; avoid alcohol
Diuretic (spironolactone, furosemide, HCTZ) Causes body to excrete more urine; used to treat high blood pressure and fluid build up Can increase urine losses of minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium; limit mineral loss; decreases GI irritation May need to avoid or take mineral supplements; take with food
Laxative (Fibercon, Mitrolan) Increase movement of materials through digestive tract Increase fluid losses; can lead to dehydration Reduces the time for nutrient absorption; excessive use can deplete vitamins and minerals needed for normal bodily function
Blood Pressure Lowering Drugs Help control high blood pressure Can cause problems in controlling blood sugar Can negatively impact minerals such as potassium, calcium and zinc; natural licorice found in some candies can cause salt and water retention, which can increase blood pressure
Cancer Drugs (i.e. methotrexate) Used to treat different types of cancer Can irritate cells lining the mouth, stomach and intestines; can cause nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea Can impact nutrient status—methotrexate can reduce the availability of folic acid, may require supplementation
Mental Health Drugs Can treat depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions Can alter appetite; can impact weight in a significant matter Avoid alcohol with use as it can intensify drowsiness
Lipid Lowering Drugs (i.e. cholestyramine, lovastatin) Reduce blood cholesterol levels Can reduce the absorption of fat soluable vitamins, B12, folic acid and calcium; may be helpful to take a calcium or multivitamin supplement
MAIO Inhibitors (phenelzine, tranylcypromine) Decrease body’s use of monamines Can raise blood pressure levels Can interact with tyramine rich foods—i.e. aged and fermented foods, fava beans, Chianti wine, pickled herring

**It’s best not to drink grapefruit juice while taking medications as it enhances the absorption of some drugs. Wait at least 2 hrs. in between taking medications and drinking grapefruit juice** 

Have you had a particular experience or interaction when taking specific drugs or medications?  What has helped you?


Sugar It Naturally!


By: Nikki Nies

I’ve had many posts on sugar, the impact of sugar, high blood glucose levels, etc.  And yes, here’s another one for you.  As many of you know, sugar is a very real, valid addiction and having information on sugar is needed to keep the sugar intake at bay.  High intakes of sugar can not only lead to obesity, but diabetes, sugar crash, dental caries, hyperactivity and many other preventable issues.

I know it’s unrealistic to cut sugar out of your diet, it’s important to be reminded from time to time that there are some great sugar substitutes.  As with anything, moderation is key.  Using natural sugar doesn’t mean dousing your meals with syrup, but you can feel better about what you’re eating instead of opting for those artificial sweeteners.

Natural Sugar Description Suggested Used
Agave Nectar Tastes similar to honey; contains high fructose content, so use moderately Great for hot or iced tea;
Maple Syrup Comes directly from plant sap; contains over 50 antioxidants Granola, waffles
Lemon  Provides a nice squeeze of acid  Use in hot tea or iced tea
Honey Antioxidant rich Hot tea, homemade salad dressing
Applesauce Naturally sweet Use applesauce in substitution for white sugar;  great dessert
Erythritol Sugar alcohol; 0.2 kcal/g; white powder from a plant occurs naturally in fruits; doesn’t lead to tooth decay Use in chocolate baked goods (i.e. brownies)
Raisins Antioxidant and fiber rich Use in any baked goods
Cinnamon No calories included, adds a subtle taste of sweetness, boosts immunity Great in coffee, baked goods and tea
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder Use a splash in warm milk or hot water; add in vanilla as well
Reb A Derives from South American, natural extract from stevia plant, GRAS A lot goes a long way, put a few drops in the a bowl of oatmeal
Cranberries Tart antioxidants Replace sugar with cranberries in muffins or scones
Dates Have low glycemic index, antioxidiant rich Substitute 2/3 for 1 cup of regular sugar; use in granola bars or brownies
Grapefruit Provides a sweet and sour kick to dishes; provides daily dose of vitamin C Add to a cocktail over soda or tonic water
Coconut Sugar Made from sap of coconut flours; comes in block, paste or granulated form; loaded with potassium Add in to smoothies
Brown Rice Syrup Comes from brown rice; more nutritious than high fructose; buttery nuttery flavored syrup Works well in granola bars and baked breads
Rapadura Made from sugar cane, but skips the refining stage; retains vitamins and minerals lost when white sugar’s proceeded Keep 1:1 ratio when using instead of sugar
Lime Provides a tangy taste without extra sugar rush Perfect for a glass of sparkling water
Pureed Banana Eliminates the sugar Naturally becomes sweeter as it ripens, so no need to add extra sugar
Milk Natural sugar can add a touch of sweetness A little can go a long way in a cup of coffee
Yacon Syrup Sweetening agent extracted from yacon plant; has hints of apple and ½ the calories of cane sugar; sweet just like honey Works well in raw fruit smoothies or baked goods

We’re born with a natural liking for sweet foods.  If you keep on hand some natural sugars, hopefully over time you’re sugar intake from unnatural sources will decrease and you’ll limit your intake of artificial sweeteners, which can pack on additional calories.By the way, the sugar in fruit is one of the best sources of natural sugar.


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