Licorice helps protect the stomach from upset, and it is also a common ingredient in cold medicines because it helps the body recover from respiratory infections. Licorice is a natural ingredient as it comes from an herb commonly found in Europe.
Where does licorice come from?
Licorice is an herb native to Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Ancient civilizations, such as those in Greece, Egypt and China, used licorice root to treat stomach pains and upper respiratory problems. Some of the ancient wisdom regarding licorice root is actually correct in modern medicine, according to current scientific knowledge.
How does licorice root work?
Licorice root, when taken by mouth, coats the linings of the throat and stomach to provide protection from stomach upset. As people chew and swallow tablets, the pure licorice root forms a barrier of protection against heartburn and gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD, or simply acid reflux or heartburn).
Licorice might form a protective layer ahead of taking aspirin and ibuprofen. Studies show that when taking certain kinds of licorice supplements and aspirin simultaneously, patients generally see no damage to the lining of the stomach due to the pain relief pills.
Where do people find licorice root in supplements or medicines?
Licorice root is a very potent anti-inflammatory herb. Patients might find it as an ingredient in cough medicines to treat colds. Licorice might show up in ulcer medications as a way to treat heartburn. There are topical medications that combine licorice root with steroids to treat inflammation near the skin. Usually, licorice works in concert with other ingredients to provide the desired anti-inflammatory effects. Patients should look for licorice root on ingredient labels.
Surprisingly, people used to take licorice for stomach ailments all of the time before the 1950s. Then, people started consuming too much of it and they developed health problems before licorice fell out of favor within the medical community. Licorice is making a comeback thanks to some updated research.
What about dosing for licorice root supplements?
Licorice root is likely safe for people who take it by mouth in doses of less than 3 grams per day for three to four weeks. For any periods of time beyond this, patients should take no more than 1 gram per day, which comes out to 1,000 milligrams of the ground-up herb.
Normal doses of licorice root are found in chewable tablets of 400 milligrams or 760 milligrams. If people buy a 400-milligram dose, they should take two of these 20 minutes before eating food as a way to relieve heartburn or acid reflux. For people who buy the 760-milligram tablets, they just take one chewable tablet.
Typically, people take these herbal supplements for up to four to six weeks for a total of 600 to 800 milligrams per meal. After six weeks, doctors may wean patients down to 300 to 400 milligrams per meal for GERD.
They key here is that people must chew the supplements that contain licorice root as opposed to swallowing them whole. People who don’t like the taste of licorice can find flavors that are more agreeable, such as chocolate.
How do the supplements work?
Licorice root supplements work better than actual licorice because they are deglycyrrhized. Glycyrrhizin is a chemical in licorice root that causes water retention, low potassium levels and high blood pressure in high doses. When patients look for licorice supplements, look for ingredient labels that say “deglycyrrhized” (DGL), because people can take these supplements without limits. Common supplement manufacturers produce DGL tablets for people to chew, and consumers can find these at most national retailers in the pharmacy section.
The standard dose of the pure, ground up licorice herb is between 250 to 1,000 milligrams per day. These pure licorice root supplements are fine to take as long as patients don’t consume 100 milligrams of glycyrrhizin per day.
Doctors note that taking DGL with aspirin or ibuprofen drastically reduces stomach damage caused by ibuprofen or aspirin. Patients must take these items at the same time so the DGL protects the gut from the digestive effects of the pain relievers. DGL is so effective, some doctors may decide to treat GERD with licorice instead of strong medications. DGL might also treat inflammation in the intestines and the bowel.
What are any problems with taking these supplements?
The only problems with taking licorice comes from taking the actual herb from the root. DGL is safe to consume at any levels. Patients should consider finding supplements that have other ingredients that could treat the same type of ailment.
Every patient should discuss their individual situation with their doctor. Supplements affect different people in different ways, and if patients have any reaction or odd symptoms after taking licorice root, they should stop taking the supplement and talk to their physician immediately. Even though there is plenty of information about licorice root online, there is nothing that can substitute for the advice of a doctor.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Licorice Root.” September 2016. Viewed on Feb. 9, 2017. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/licoriceroot
University of Maryland Medical Center. “Licorice.” Reviewed on Feb. 2, 2016. Viewed on Feb. 9, 2017. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/licorice