Along with being a sweet treat, licorice might also be good for your health. Licorice comes from root of the low-growing Glycyrrhiza glabra plant, which grows in parts of Greece and Turkey. The plant has been used throughout history for a host of medicinal purposes. People in ancient Europe and Asia would use it to help with inflammation of the stomach and with problems in the upper respiratory tract.
Licorice also serves many purposes today. It’s used as a sweetener in some foods, and also flavors some licorice candies, although most use anise oil. Licorice flavoring contains the active ingredient glycyrrhizic acid, which can also be found in other products like gum, cookies, cough syrup, and tobacco.
How It Helps Your Health Today
If you suffer from heartburn, peptic ulcers, or gastritis, you may find some relief using licorice. The strongest evidence for its health benefits relates to ulcers. For example, one study showed that an extract of glycyrrhiza can act against a type of bacteria known to cause peptic ulcers.
In addition to gastrointestinal issues, licorice can help your skin. Herbal medicinists use it for skin inflammations like dermatitis, eczema, and cysts. The extract from licorice was used in one study to create a gel to help inflamed skin.
Results showed that applying the gel for a two-week period helped lessen symptoms of itching, swelling, and redness.
Licorice root has been one of the remedies of choice for upper respiratory problems since ancient times. Still in practice today, it helps ease coughs and sore throats, and breaks down phlegm.
In a recent study, researchers mixed licorice powder with water to prepare a gargle solution, which was found effective in soothing patients’ throats and also lessening coughs after surgery.
Can licorice do all this and help you lose weight? One study observed 15 people of normal weight who took in a preparation of licorice, including the active ingredient, glycyrrhizic acid. They ate the same amount of calories as before, and their body fat mass was measured for two months.
Results showed that licorice can reduce body fat mass, but there was no change in body mass index (BMI).
What’s the Best Way to Get Licorice?
You can find whole licorice root containing glycyrrhizic acid in powdered or thinly cut forms, created for teas, capsules, tablets, and extracts. You can also find deglycyrrihizinated licorice (DGL), which may have fewer side effects. However, that has been proven less effective for some of the ailments discussed.
For ulcers, the NYU Lagone Medical Center suggests a dose of two to four 380 mg tablets of DGL before meals and bed. For eczema, psoriasis, or herpes, they recommend 2 percent licorice gel or cream applied twice daily.
A word of caution, however: Taking large amounts of whole licorice for over two weeks can be harmful. Side effects might include high blood pressure, fluid retention, and abnormalities with your metabolism. The glycyrrhizic acid is largely responsible for the side effects.
As always, check with your doctor before you start taking supplements.