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. That last compound can help with TBI (traumatic brain injury) by reducing inflammatory cytokines.
Some of the licorice-derived compounds block the breakdown of a hormone called cortisol in your body which helps you deal with stress. That said, excessive amounts of cortisol are pro-inflammatory. At some point, your cortisol levels diminish (with enough stress) and then you have very low levels. 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 (by raising cortisol levels). 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. Some people say that they use licorice used as a substitute, instead of Florinef for POTS (read my article here on POTS: How Salt Affects Your Blood Pressure.)
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. Be careful not to get too much. I just read a scientific paper (in German) that reported a man who experienced angina due to excessive licorice (this is not like candy, it’s an herb with powerful, impressive health benefits). Take it with obvious cautions, and make sure your physician or holistic practitioner approves of it.
Some companies now make a deglycyrrhizinated form of licorice root, which is the form that is free of glycyrrhizin (the part that works on adrenals, and might increase blood pressure). It’s called “DGL” which stands for “deglycyrrhizinated licorice” 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. It is popular for gastric and duodenal ulcers. If you would like to read more on that topic, read my article: Advice for Ulcers & H. Pylori.
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. You can try Enzymatic Therapy’s DGL before meals.
Nature’s Answer is a licorice root extract, it is not DGL, so this could help with adrenals and it comes in dropper form.
For a few months, I took it by the spoonful! I bought Wise Woman’s “licorice solid extract” and it actually tastes good! You can mix it in tea or eat it with a little spoon. It does not taste like Twizzlers 😉
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Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.