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Olwen Anderson's Blog

The power and the perils of licorice

Saturday, November 12, 2016
“Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe.” You’ve probably come across this truism, and surprisingly, licorice, that delicious natural treat, falls squarely into this category: It’s natural but potentially very unsafe.  And since the root of this delicious herb is readily available in concentrated lolly-like form this could be a good time for us to review its power, and also the perils for your health if you decide to use licorice in therapeutic quantities without a herbalist’s guidance.

Licorice has many different actions in your body. As an adrenal tonic, it helps combat the low blood pressure of adrenal fatigue. Inflamed tissues like gastric ulcers are soothed by it. As a broad-spectrum anti-viral it helps combat colds and flu, and helps clear the floods of mucous that come with a cold. In a hormonal disorder like PCOS, licorice (combined with other herbs) helps block the excess androgen (male) hormones that can lead to facial hair and acne. Also, it acts as a ‘synergist’, which in herbal terminology means it’s going to potentiate the other herbs in a mixture.

It helps that licorice tastes so good, making it easier to take sometimes bitter herbal mixtures. That’s the good news: powerful and easy to take. But in large doses, or for a long time, licorice can cause some problems.

One of the controllers of your blood pressure level is the balance between sodium and potassium in your bloodstream. Licorice promotes sodium increase and potassium decrease, inducing an increase in blood pressure. Worse, it can help promote fluid retention too through influencing your kidneys. For this reason, people with kidney disease also may be advised to avoid licorice.  And this is why folk with hypertension shouldn’t take licorice because it so effectively lifts blood pressure

In the long term, licorice can upset your potassium balance enough to increase heart arrhythmia (palpitations), something menopausal women are vulnerable to. This is because potassium and sodium work together biochemically to help create the electric nerve impulses that control heart beat rhythm.

How much licorice is safe? That depends: The soft chewy sweets sold as ‘licorice’ often don’t have much real licorice in them. But if you often enjoy those concentrated solid licorice squares as a sweet treat, and you have some health issues like high blood pressure, kidney problems or heart rhythm issues, perhaps have a chat with your health practitioner before you pop another in your mouth.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'How Much Salt Is Too Much' here

 


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