Liquorice – A Broad Spectrum Tonic

Liquorice RootWe decided to post an article on liquorice (sometimes spelt licorice) after a recent study by A Momeni et al showed liquorice is as effective as Bismuth in the eradication of H Pylori. Bismuth is a heavy metal with some common side effects, so the availability of a natural alternative could prove very useful.


The great thing about writing an article on liquorice is that, unusually for an herbal food supplement, there is actually a huge amount of research indicating a very wide range of benefits! Some of the research does look at derivatives of liquorice such as glycyrrhizin and licochalcone A as pharmacists generally are not interested in the holistic benefits of the whole herb.  Also a lot of the research is laboratory based, so it is indicative rather than conclusive. To review this herb fully could be a book in itself, so rather than focusing on one particular aspect of this herbal “broad-spectrum tonic”, we are just going to list a number of benefits and cite one or two relevant articles for each benefit. Make sure you read the precautions at the end of the article as liquorice is not ideal for everyone


Liquorice for diabetes

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin have discovered that liquorice root also contains substances with an anti-diabetic effect


Liquorice is an anti-viral

Fiore et al 2008 reviewed a number of studies of the anti-viral properties of liquorice including randomized controlled trials which confirmed that the liquorice derived compound glycyrrhizin and its derivatives reduced hepatocellular damage in chronic hepatitis B and C. Other animal studies indicated positive effects against a number of powerful and dangerous viruses including SARS related coronavirus and HIV-1.


Liquorice and stomach ulcers

Liquorice root has a long history of use for soothing inflamed and injured mucous membranes in the digestive tract. A study by Goso et al 1996 with rats found Liquorice may protect the stomach and duodenum by increasing production of mucin, a substance that protects the lining of these organs against stomach acid and other harmful substances. However the results of human trials in this area have been mixed


Liquorice aids memory and learning

Chakravarthi and Avadhani found that doses of liquorice enhanced memory in rats and at some doses enhanced both learning and memory. Their conclusions stated “Liquorice appears to be a promising drug for improving memory in the management of impaired learning, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders.”


Anti-Inflammatory and Asthma

Studies have shown liquorice induces the adrenal cortex to make more natural cortisone, giving a systemic anti-inflammatory effect on the lungs and most other organs. Viral infection has emerged as the most common cause of severe episodes of asthma and S H Kim et al July 2014 have indicated that derivatives of liquorice have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect suppressing the probable causes of virally induced asthma attacks.


Liquorice root helps prevent and heal skin problems

Liquorice extract has often been compared to hydrocortisone for its anti-inflammatory action in various skin problems and has traditionally been used to treat eczemas, dermatitis, impetigo, and traumatized skin. Saeedi M et al found that a topical application of liquorice was more effective than placebo for treating atopic dermatitis. They also found a stronger concentration (2%) was more effective than the weaker one (1%).


Liquorice a tonic for the adrenal glands and is used to help Addison’s disease

Herbalists have used liquorice for many years to treat Addison’s disease. A number of research articles starting with the Edinburgh Group in the 1960s have backed this up over the last 50 years. R. Baschetti, (1995) also found liquorice helped with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


Liquorice and rheumatoid arthritis

LR Kim et al 2010 investigated the anti-inflammatory effects of a combination of liquorice extract and roasted liquorice extract in mice. They found liquorice provides benefits in protecting against both acute inflammation and chronic inflammatory conditions including rheumatoid arthritis.


Liquorice and cholesterol

Fuhrman and Aviram  found the anti-oxidant properties of liquorice could help reduce cholesterol and protect against atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries).


Liquorice, breast cancer and prostate cancer

Rafi et al 2002 demonstrated that a molecule isolated from liquorice was more effective than chemotherapy at attacking breast and prostate tumors and that was backed up by a study by E H Jo et al in 2004 which demonstrated that liquorice extract had similar anti-breast cancer properties


Liquorice as a laxative

Finally, we know that liquorice has traditionally been used for its laxative effects. We were not able to find any research on this attribute although several studies into other aspects did refer to this effect.


Precautions and interactions

Warning – do not take if pregnant (or trying to get pregnant), do not take higher does over long periods as it can cause high blood pressure. Some people also have allergic reactions to liquorice. Liquorice should not be used used with blood-thinning medications, antiplatelet drugs or aspirin, liquorice may increase the risk of excess bleeding. Liquorice root should also not be taken with cardiac glycosides, corticosteroids, diuretics, hormone therapy, insulin, laxatives, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors due to risk of serious side effects.


Any information we give in this blog is not meant to replace the advice of your health professional. We always recommend that you seek a full consultation with a registered herbalist