Today, I’m going to introduce a versatile health material, “licorice,” which can be found in many aspects of our lives, including traditional Chinese medicine stores, food seasoning, the tobacco industry, and even night markets. What is licorice, and what are its benefits? Let’s explore them one by one.
What is Licorice?
Licorice is a perennial leguminous plant primarily grown in warm regions such as Southern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, with its growing season mainly in the summer. The sweetness of licorice extract is 50 times that of sucrose, making it useful in the food industry for flavoring (e.g., licorice flower tea) or candy production (e.g., star anise-flavored licorice candy). It is also used as a flavoring agent in the tobacco industry.
In addition, licorice has been widely used in herbal or traditional medicine, and it is a component in over half of Chinese herbal prescriptions for harmonizing purposes. Licorice has a long history of use in ancient Egypt, China, and India in medical applications. Traditional therapies involving licorice include its use in preventing gastric and duodenal ulcers, treating coughs, anemia, sore throats, regulating menstrual cycles, promoting lactation, and various folk remedies. To date, over 400 active components have been isolated and identified from licorice extracts.
15 Health Benefits of Licorice
Animal experiments have found that licorice extract effectively treats coughs.
Cell and animal experiments have shown that licorice root extract, when combined with zinc, helps enhance immune regulation.
Licorice extract contains active anti-inflammatory compounds.
Chronic Fatigue Prevention
Animal experiments have demonstrated that licorice extract can improve chronic fatigue.
Licorice extract has been found to have analgesic effects in various pain induction models.
Suppression of Helicobacter pylori
Cell experiments have shown that licorice leaf extract can prevent the spread of Helicobacter pylori.
Interventions with licorice root extract in different animal models have been found to protect against acute liver damage.
Licorice root extract enhances the memory of experimental animals.
Licorice leaf extract is thought to have antiepileptic effects by reducing the maximum electric stimulation response.
Licorice extract effectively enhances stress resistance in a fruit fly model.
In vitro experiments have found that licorice extract has free radical scavenging capabilities.
The antihyperglycemic effect of 100 mg/kg 18 beta-glycyrrhetinic acid per kilogram of body weight is equivalent to the clinical antihyperglycemic drug Glibenclamide.
Licorice extract effectively inhibits tumor growth in animal models, although it may interfere with the effect of the anticancer drug Cisplatin.
Licorice extract can inhibit the increase of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) under a high-fat diet.
In vitro experiments have shown that licorice extract inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus.
Where is Licorice Commonly Used?
Cough and Phlegm Relief
Licorice can stimulate the secretion of tracheal mucosa, providing relief from pain and phlegm reduction. Several compounds in licorice enhance the production of immunoglobulin E and interferon-gamma, thus boosting overall immunity.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Chalcone and amorfrutin in licorice extract can regulate carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and control fat cell differentiation. Licochalcone E isolated from licorice is beneficial for controlling blood sugar in type 2 diabetes.
Glabridin in licorice extract reduces the activity of fat synthesis enzymes and total fat tissue. Flavonoid oil can promote fatty acid oxidation and reduce fat accumulation.
Secondary metabolites in licorice have antibacterial properties. Licorice extract can inhibit Streptococcus mutans and reduce biofilm formation.
Licorice intake can lower cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL-c) levels. A year-long study found that daily consumption of 0.2 grams of licorice ethanol extract can have a positive effect on plasma apolipoproteins, potentially preventing cardiovascular diseases.
Compounds in licorice have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may improve peptic ulcers. Licorice extract can increase mucous secretion in the digestive tract, aiding in the management of peptic ulcers. Licorice root extract polysaccharides inhibit the adherence of Helicobacter pylori to gastric mucosa.
Licorice extract contains potent antioxidants that effectively scavenge free radicals and prevent lipid peroxidation.
Components like Glycyrrhizin and 18β-glycyrrhetic acid in licorice extract can inhibit free radical generation and reduce lipid peroxidation, thus protecting the liver. Glycyrrhizin has the ability to inhibit the replication of hepatitis C virus (HCV).
Glycyrrhizic acid in licorice can inhibit cancer cell proliferation. In cell experiments, licorice has been observed to stimulate apoptosis in cancer cells
Licorice Side Effects and Contraindications
Licorice and its derivatives are considered generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means they are not expected to have negative effects on the body when consumed in normal dietary quantities.
However, if licorice is consumed in excess of around 40-50 grams per day for more than 2 weeks, it can lead to side effects such as edema (swelling), weakness, high blood pressure, low blood potassium levels, and irregular heart rhythms. There is currently no established lethal dose, but individuals with a history of high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, pregnant women, and those with kidney issues should still use licorice with caution.
💡 Based on current safety research, it is recommended that licorice intake should be less than 5 grams per day, and for licorice extract, it should be less than 3 grams per day.
Unless consumed in excessive amounts, licorice is generally safe and can offer a wide range of health benefits. However, due to individual differences, licorice may cause mild to severe adverse reactions. In general, moderate consumption is very safe. Therefore, aside from those with specific sensitivities or during pregnancy, most people can enjoy the sweetness of licorice without risking health problems caused by excessive intake of sucrose or fructose.