Most of us know of the sweet taste of licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root. Used for many years to flavor the candy of the same name, licorice has since been replaced by anise and other flavorings in this popular treat.
Retailers sell licorice as a candy or in powders, capsules, lozenges, concentrated drops, tinctures and extracts. Chewable tablets and other licorice products for extended anti-ulcer therapy now often contain very little (just 2% or less) of the active component glycyrrhizin (also known as glycyrrhizic acid). These deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) products cause fewer side-effects and are much safer for long-term use than glycyrrhizin-containing licorice. An average dose of DGL licorice is 200mg.
The herb's natural sweetness and flavor – it is 50 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar) – are due to its high content of glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin is also responsible for most of licorice's medicinal properties, including its ability to reduce inflammation, soothe throat tissues and reduce allergy symptoms. The ulcer-healing compounds in licorice are thought to be flavonoids. They apparently work by promoting the overall health of the gastrointestinal system rather than reducing the secretion of stomach acid that triggers ulcers. Additional compounds with therapeutic effects include sterols and gums.
Because of its sweetness, licorice is still often used as a masking agent for various vitamin/mineral mixes as well as a sweetener and flavoring for teas, tinctures and other supplement products. Glycyrrhizin has a similar structure to adrenal steroids and has been used successfully in treating adrenal insufficiency, fatigue, various skin problems, as well as female hormonal regulation.
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is an excellent treatment for peptic and gastric ulcers and has no hypertensive side-effects. Licorice root and licorice root extracts are used in many types of supplemental formulas such as: female hormonal products, energy products, lung/demulcent products, and adrenal support products. It may also be found as a flavoring or sweetener in a variety of powders and tablets.
Because glycyrrhizin can cause high blood pressure and other problems, it should only be taken on the advice of a health care practitioner.
Warning: Do not use licorice on a daily basis for more than five days at a time, as it can elevate blood pressure. Do not use licorice at all if you have high blood pressure.
Taking high or repeated doses of licorice extracts containing glycyrrhizin may cause adverse health effects related to salt and water retention (including elevated blood pressure), which goes away when licorice is stopped
People with kidney or heart problems or a history of high blood pressure should avoid regular use of glycyrrhizin-containing licorice products. Licorice may interfere with corticosteroid medications and antidepressants known as MAO inhibitors.
Licorice root can raise blood pressure, so hypertensive patients should avoid it or be closely monitored when using it. Licorice may also interfere with high blood pressure medications.
For acute treatment, DGL (de-glycerrizinated licorice root) topically may prove to be of benefit. A mixture of DGL and warm water applied to the inside of the mouth may shorten the healing time for mouth ulcers. This DGL mixture is made by combining 200mg of powdered DGL and 1 cup or less (250ml) of warm water. Swish in the mouth for 2 to 3 minutes twice per day for one week. The use of ordinary licorice root powder may provide benefit also. [J Assoc Physicians India 1989; 37: p.647]
Licorice root extract can help with IBS as it is anti-inflammatory and is said to soothe irritated intestinal mucous membranes by stimulating mucus production. It has also been shown to improve circulation within the digestive tract, and researchers in Ireland have found that licorice root can relieve symptoms of ulceration, often seen in IBS patients.
Licorice root, particularly deglycyrrhized licorice, can be a useful adjunct to antibiotic treatment because it accelerates the healing of the stomach lining. Deglycyrrhized licorice root (DGL) and glutamine have been used to get people off of antacids, H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors (PPI).
Licorice root is a specific herb that has been used for centuries to support these glands. If cortisol levels are low, one of the ways to sustain more normal levels is to slow or inhibit its breakdown. This can be accomplished naturally.
The only known readily available inhibitors of the enzyme that deactivates cortisol (11 beta-HSD) are glycyrrhizic acid (found in licorice root extract), progesterone, and flavonoids (in grapefruit). The concept of extending cortisol bioactivity via 11 beta-HSD inhibition is well established, but the manner in which progesterone alters 11 beta-HSD is not currently clear. You could eat 10 to 15 grapefruits or take licorice root extract to sustain cortisol levels. However, licorice root used regularly in large doses can produce high blood pressure, water retention, potassium wasting, and breast enlargement in men. A Naturopathic Doctor should be able to guide you in using licorice root alone or in combination with other adrenal agents.
Drink an herbal sore-throat tea containing slippery elm bark, hyssop, licorice root and sage.
Recommended dosage is 250 to 500mg, three times per day. Do not take licorice if you have high blood pressure. One of the active constituents in licorice, glycyrrhizin, is commonly used in Japan as an injected therapy for hepatitis B and C.  Glycyrrhizin also blocks hepatitis A virus from replicating in test tubes. It is not known whether oral licorice extracts that are high in glycyrrhizin are effective against hepatitis.
Glycyrrhizin, found in licorice root, shows steroid-like activity and has a long history of use as an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic agent, actions which have now been documented. Glycyrrhiza is an expectorant, which can be useful for relieving asthma.
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