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Black Licorice
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Back in the 1970s my dad suddenly began having blood pressure problems. He was then in his forties. It was sky high.

Standard advice back then was to quit smoking, lose weight, and exercise. Except my father quit smoking ten years previously. He was not overweight, and exercised regularly. The puzzled doctor asked my dad if he ate black licorice.

Dad did. It was something dad loved. He went through a pound bag of licorice every week or so.

The doctor told dad his hypertension was due to eating licorice. Stop it. To my dad, it sounded like an old wives’ tale, but he did what the doctor ordered and gave up eating licorice. Dad’s hypertension went away.

Since then he avoids licorice. He still misses real licorice.

Black licorice, from the licorice root, it turns out, is powerful stuff. It contains glycyrrhizin, a compound fifty times sweeter than sugar. This sweetness combined with a unique flavor has made licorice a popular treat for literally thousands of years.

However, glycyrrhizin short-circuits the body’s potassium control. When potassium levels drop, the body kicks out this enzyme to signal the kidneys to stop removing potassium. Glycyrrhizin deactivates this enzyme, so your kidneys excrete too much potassium. Soon, potassium levels drop precipitously.


When potassium levels drops too much it upsets fluid balance – leading to bloating and soaring blood pressure. Fluid imbalances can also cause, muscle pain, cramping, and a feeling of weakness.

Low potassium levels also interrupt neural transmission. Commands sent through the nervous system misfire, leading to breathing problems, heart arrhythmias (the heart beating irregularly), and paralysis. Additionally, glycyrrhizin also alters estrogen levels.

How much licorice does it take to cause problems? The FDA recommends healthy adults keep licorice consumption under two ounces a day. Dad’s pound a week was too much. For those with hypertension, pregnant or nursing, or on blood thinners (like warafin) as little a one-sixth of an ounce a day can cause problems. For them, it is best to avoid licorice completely.

Glycyrrhizin is present only stuff made from licorice root, however. Red licorice is safe. Today, most black licorice candies in the United States do not use licorice root. They use anise for flavoring and food coloring for color. Foreign licorice can, though.

The bad news? Licorice root is now popular in home remedies and herbal supplements. Black licorice soothes sore throats. Licorice tea is promoted as an antidepressant, an expectorant and a natural way to promote sleep. Herbalists often omit warnings of its dangers.

The good news? You must eat significant amounts at one sitting or continue consuming licorice over long periods of time – two to three weeks – before licorice generally begins causing real problems. Chomping a black jelly bean or two from a bag of thirty-flavor jelly beans is unlikely to harm healthy people.

Even better? Once you stop eating black licorice the problems it causes usually vanish. Remember what happened with my dad. Once he stopped eating licorice, his blood pressure returned to normal.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

http://blogs.webmd.com/breaking-news/2011/10/black-licorice-dangerous-candy.html https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/licorice

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