(NaturalNews) Most of us have fond memories of those black and red licorice whips we ate as kids. Now we are finding out that licorice is a lot more than a treat for the sweet tooth. Licorice root has recently been shown effective against allergies, hepatitis, inflammation and swelling, hypertension, excessive potassium in the body, skin conditions, viral infections, and tumor formation and cancer.
History of a healing superstar
Licorice root has been used since ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman times in the West, and since the second and third centuries B.C. in the East. In traditional Chinese medicine, licorice is one of the most frequently used drugs. In Japan, the oldest specimen of licorice introduced from China in the middle of the 8th century still exists in the Imperial Storehouse.
In both East and West, licorice has been used to treat a variety of illnesses ranging from the common cold to liver disease. The herb is highly valued for its ability to sooth and coat inflamed membranes, and to act as an expectorant, getting rid of phlegm and mucus from the respiratory tract. It is particularly popular for relief from respiratory ailments such as allergies, bronchitis, colds, and sore throats. It is also used as treatment for acid reflux, heartburn and stomach ulcers, digestive tract inflammation, diseases of the skin, relief from stress, and diseases of the liver.
More amazing properties of licorice revealed
Recent studies have provided additional evidence of licorice's anti-inflammatory properties. In the July 24 edition of the journal Shock researchers found that inflammation, swelling, tissue damage and cell death were markedly reduced in mice with induced spinal cord injury. The mice had been treated with glycyrrhizin extract from licorice root administered up to six hours following injury. In a separate study, these researchers found that glycyrrhizin extract treatment significantly ameliorated the recovery of limb function following spinal injury.
This study suggests that the devastating trauma that frequently follows spinal cord injuries may be significantly reduced in humans if they are quickly treated with glycyrrhizin extract following injury. Human trials are needed to support this suggestion.
Another study, reported in the June 11, 2008 edition of Pharmacological Research supports these conclusions. Researchers evaluated the anti-inflammatory activities of glycyrrhizin extract in a mice model of acute inflammation caused by induced lung injury resulting in pleurisy characterized by fluid accumulation. Again, potent anti-inflammatory effects were seen and measured parameters of the injury were significantly reduced. Researchers concluded that the method of prevention was through the NF-kappa B and STAT-3 activation pathways.
And to prove that there is no end to what laboratory mice have to endure on this earth, the journal Z Naturforsch, May-June issue, reports mice induced with ear and paw edema being treated with licochalcone A extracted from licorice root. At the same time, prostaglandin biosynthesis by licochalcone A was also studied in mouse macrophage cells. The licorice extract was shown to be remarkably effective against acute induced inflammation. It significantly reduced paw edema compared to controls by hour four following injury. Both COX-2 activity and expression were significantly inhibited by the extract at all test doses.
The increased incidence of skin conditions and the desire to use natural products to treat them has led to clinical studies evaluating the composition and clinical usefulness of natural products in the treatment of inflammatory skin dermatoses. The Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, July edition reports that licorice among other natural products is effective for use in treatment of rosacea, atopic dermatitis, sensitive and irritated skin, drug-induced skin eruptions, and psoriasis.
Animal studies and trials in humans have supported the value of licorice for stomach ulcers. One study found that aspirin coated with licorice reduced the number of ulcers in rats by 50% , even though high doses of aspirin have been shown to cause ulcers in rats. Studies in humans have shown that preparations containing the glycyrrhizin extract may be as effective as leading anti-ulcer medications in relieving pain associated with stomach ulcers and ulcer recurrence. In one study, licorice root fluid extract was used to treat 100 patients with stomach ulcers for 6 weeks. Ninety percent of the patients improved, with ulcers completely disappearing in 22 of the patients.
Licorice has a long history of promoting liver health and has been successfully used to prevent hepatitis. It has also been documented against tumors and cancer. Researchers report a May, 2008 study to determine the effectiveness of a formulation containing licorice root against liver cancer and on immune function. Growth induced liver cancer in mice was markedly inhibited with high, moderate and even low doses (49.66%, 48.52%, and 36.91% respectively). Natural killer (NK) cells and interleukin 2 level showed remarkable increases compared to controls.
Licorice is showing well in studies of its use in heart treatment. In recent research, people with high cholesterol experienced significant reductions in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels after taking licorice root extracts for one month. Systolic blood pressure was reduced by 10%. These measures returned to their previous elevated levels when the participants stopped taking the licorice supplements. In earlier studies with mice, licorice root extract reduced the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
A study has found that glycyrrhizin inhibited the growth of Japanese encephalitis virus in test tubes.
In a human study, licorice was found to reduce body fat. Fifteen normal-weight subjects consumed licorice for 2 months (3.5g per day). Body fat mass was measured before and after treatment. Licorice was able to reduce body fat mass and to suppress the levels of aldosterone, the hormone responsible for retention of salt and water in the body. Another study found that a topical preparation of glycyrrhetinic acid was able to reduce the thickness of fat on the thigh in human subjects.
Other research found that licorice mimics the effects of estrogen in the body. These phytoestrogenic activities resulted in decreased symptoms of PMS and menopause, including mild depression. It has also been shown to boost memory and cognition, two areas about which those with estrogen deficiency express great concern.
Licorice as a healing tool
Licorice products are made from the dried root of the plant. In addition to glycyrrhizin, the roots contain coumarins, flavonoids, volatile oils, and plant sterols. Licorice is available as preparations for teas, tablets, capsules, and liquid extracts. Licorice candy contains little to no licorice and is not effective as a therapeutic agent.
Some licorice root extracts have had the glycyrrhizin removed, and are known as deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). This form retains many of licorice's healing properties and is the better choice for long term use. Excessive consumption of glycyrrhizin can cause a condition in which an individual becomes overly sensitive to aldosterone, a hormone produced by the adrenal cortex. Fatigue, headaches and high blood pressure may result. DGL may be the better choice for treatment of stomach or duodenal ulcers. Studies have shown that DGL reduces inflammation and is as effective as prescription drugs for gastric ulcers, without the side effects.
Natural health experts Phyllis and James Balch report that licorice with glycyrrhizin should not be used during pregnancy, nor by persons with diabetes, glaucoma, heart disease, high blood pressure, severe menstrual problems, or history of stroke. It should not be used on a daily basis for more than seven days in a row.
For treatment of children's sore throat, a piece of licorice root may be chewed or licorice tea can be swallowed.
The following doses for adults are those endorsed by the University of Maryland Medical Center:
* Dried root: 1-5 g as an infusion or decoction (boiled), three times daily
* Licorice 1:5 tincture: 2 to 5 ml, three times daily
* Standardized extract: 250-500 mg, three times daily, standardized to contain 20% glycrrhizinic acid
* DGL extract: 0.4 to 1.6 g three times daily for peptic ulcer
* DGL extract 4:1: chew 300-400 mg. three times daily 20 minutes before meals, for peptic ulcer
University of Maryland Medical Center "Licorice"
About the author
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.