Black licorice could look and style like an harmless deal with, however this sweet has a darkish facet. On Sept. 23, 2020, it was reported that black licorice was the wrongdoer within the death of a 54-year-old man in Massachusetts.
How might this be? Overdosing on licorice sounds extra like a twisted story than a believable reality.
I’ve a longstanding curiosity in how chemical compounds in our meals and the atmosphere have an effect on our physique and thoughts. When one thing seemingly innocent like licorice is implicated in a dying, we’re reminded of the well-known proclamation by Swiss doctor Paracelsus, the Father of Toxicology: “All issues are poison, and nothing is with out poison; the dosage alone makes it so a factor is just not a poison.”
I am a professor within the division of pharmacology and toxicology and author of the book Pleased to Meet Me: Genes, Germs, and the Curious Forces That Make Us Who We Are.
The basis of the issue
The unlucky man who not too long ago succumbed to extreme black licorice consumption is just not alone. There are a smattering of comparable case stories in medical journals, through which sufferers expertise hypertension crisis, muscle breakdown and even dying.
Opposed reactions are most ceaselessly seen in folks over the age of 40 who’re consuming way more black licorice than the common particular person. As well as, they’re often consuming the product for extended durations of time.
In the most recent case, the Massachusetts man had been consuming a bag and a half of black licorice on daily basis for 3 weeks.
Licorice is a flowering plant native to components of Europe and Asia. Its scientific title, Glycyrrhiza, is derived from the Greek phrases “glykos” (candy) and “rhiza” (root). The fragrant and candy extract from its root has lengthy been used as an natural treatment for all kinds of well being maladies, from heartburn and abdomen points to sore throats and cough.
Nonetheless, there may be insufficient evidence to support that licorice is effective in treating any medical condition.
Glycyrrhizin (additionally known as glycyrrhizic acid) is the chemical in black licorice that provides the sweet its signature taste, nevertheless it additionally results in its poisonous results.
Glycyrrhizin mimics the hormone aldosterone, which is made by the adrenal glands when the physique must retain sodium and excrete potassium. Sodium and potassium work collectively as a type of mobile battery that drives communication between nerves and the contraction of muscle mass. An excessive amount of glycyrrhizin upsets the stability of those electrolytes, which might increase blood stress and disturb the guts’s rhythm.
Different signs of extreme licorice consumption embrace swelling, muscle ache, numbness and headache. Examination of the person who died from consuming an excessive amount of licorice revealed that he had dangerously low levels of potassium, consistent with glycyrrhizin toxicity.
It must be famous that a variety of licorice-based meals don’t include actual licorice, however use a flavoring substitute known as anise oil, which doesn’t pose the risks mentioned right here. As well as, regardless of its title, red licorice rarely contains licorice extract. As a substitute, pink licorice is infused with chemical compounds that impart its cherry or strawberry taste.
Merchandise that include actual licorice are often labeled as such, and listing licorice extract or glycyrrhizic acid among the many substances. Be suggested that some merchandise, comparable to black jelly beans or Good & Lots, are mixtures of various candies that include each anise oil and licorice extract.
Hidden risks that enhance danger
Glycyrrhizin has the distinct licorice taste and is 50 times sweeter than sugar and has been utilized in different forms of sweet, delicate drinks, tea, Belgian beers, throat lozenges and tobacco.
This will make it difficult to maintain monitor of how a lot glycyrrhizin has been consumed, and a mixture of those merchandise might set off opposed results.
Some folks take dietary or well being dietary supplements that already include licorice, which will increase the danger of poisonous results from consuming black licorice sweet. Sure drugs comparable to hydrochlorothiazide are diuretics that trigger elevated urination, which might decrease potassium ranges within the physique.
Glycyrrhizin additionally lowers potassium ranges, additional disrupting the stability of electrolytes, which might produce muscle cramps and irregular coronary heart rhythms.
Folks with sure preexisting circumstances are extra vulnerable to black licorice overdose.
For instance, sufferers who have already got low potassium ranges (hypokalemia), hypertension or coronary heart arrhythmia are more likely to have larger sensitivity to the consequences of extreme licorice. These with liver or kidney deficiencies can even retain glycyrrhizin of their bloodstream for longer occasions, growing their danger of experiencing its opposed results.
What to do?
If you happen to’re a fan of black licorice, there isn’t a have to ban it out of your pantry. Eaten in small portions once in a while, licorice poses no important risk to in any other case wholesome adults and kids. However it’s advisable to watch your consumption.
With Halloween approaching, remember to remind your youngsters that sweet is a ‘sometimes food‘, particularly the black licorice. The FDA has issued warnings concerning the uncommon however critical results of an excessive amount of black licorice, advising that folks keep away from consuming greater than two ounces of black licorice a day for 2 weeks or longer.
The company states that when you’ve got been consuming a whole lot of black licorice and expertise an irregular coronary heart rhythm or muscle weak spot, cease consuming it instantly and make contact with your well being care supplier.
Some scientists have additional cautioned towards the routine use of licorice within the type of a dietary complement or tea for its alleged well being advantages.
A review article from 2012 warned that “the day by day consumption of licorice is rarely justified as a result of its advantages are minor in comparison with the opposed outcomes of persistent consumption.”