Dear Pharmacist: What is licorice root? I heard you talk about it at a lecture and say something like it could take the place of lots of different drugs, and that it helped with chronic fatigue. — W.W. Dallas, Texas
Answer: Licorice root is an herbal remedy often used in Chinese traditional medicine. It’s ancient, and was used by the Greeks and Romans for many health concerns such as ulcers, sore throat, asthma, depression, menopause, arthritis, heartburn, gastrointestinal concerns of all sorts and various viral infections (like hepatitis and the flu). Unfortunately, licorice candy (mmm, Twizzlers) doesn’t have quite the same effect, but hey, that’s not to say you couldn’t indulge in that every now and then! Just know that licorice root is a totally different animal, and unlike candy, it has many medicinal properties.
Licorice contains healing flavonoids, phytoestrogens, and glycyrrhizin. Some of these compounds block the breakdown of a hormone called cortisol in your body which helps you deal with stress. Many of us are walking around with severe adrenal fatigue, and depending on a few other medical factors, licorice root could be just what you need to help cope with stress. It also happens to boost levels of natural interferon, which is an important component of your immune system helping you defend yourself from infection.
Licorice root helps soothe irritated membranes while removing mucus from your respiratory tract, making it a great adjunctive remedy for cough and cold. The phytoestrogens also mimic the effect of estrogen, which can help with menopausal symptoms, as well as cognitive function — but be careful here, because anything that is estrogenic (even mildly so) has the potential to drive certain cancers, especially those of the reproductive tract.
A 2011 study performed on rats in China provided evidence that glycyrrhizin could protect against some of the more drastic negative outcomes from spinal cord injuries, by suppressing inflammatory chemicals (called cytokines) and blocking the release of a gene that promotes further inflammation (HMGB1). In a separate human study, it was also observed that licorice root reduces body fat in part by suppressing aldosterone, which is the hormone that tells your body to hold on to salt and water.
Licorice root is available in many oral dosage forms. Excessive intake of licorice root can exacerbate hypertension and other heart problems, by disrupting the salt and water balance that your body strictly maintains, so ask your doctor if it’s right for you. It happens compliments of the glycyrrhizin.
Some companies now make a deglycyrrhizinated form of licorice root, which is the form that is free of glycyrrhizin. It’s called “DGL,” and while this form doesn’t really improve adrenal fatigue concerns, it is great for long-term use and specifically helpful for digestive problems of all sorts including gastritis, reflux and heartburn. DGL is best taken in a chewable tablet form about 20 minutes before eating your meals. DGL is a supplement I usually recommend to people who find themselves compelled to take acid blockers and antacids.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. For more information about Suzy Cohen, visit her website at www.suzycohen.com.