Scary Treat? Black Licorice Can Harm Heart, Warns The FDA

While indulging our sweet-tooth may be a time-honored Halloween tradition, there’s one tasty morsel that could turn out to be more of a trick than a treat for some of us, the Food and Drug Administration warns.

Black licorice can lead to heart arrhythmias and other health problems when consumed by adults in large quantities, the FDA noted in its pre-holiday alert.

Experts say that consuming 2 ounces of black licorice per day for two weeks can set the heart stuttering in susceptible individuals. The culprit is a compound called glycyrrhizin, which is what gives licorice its sweet flavor.

Glycyrrhizin causes the kidneys to excrete potassium. And low levels of potassium can make the heart beat dangerously fast or out of sync, says Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine.

The compound also leads to salt and water retention which can be a problem for people with heart failure or high blood pressure, Fonarow said.

It’s long been known in some cultures that licorice was more than just a sweet indulgence. In certain parts of the world, the chewy stuff is prescribed to treat everything from heartburn to bronchitis to viral infections. So far, though, there hasn’t been a study proving that licorice can cure anything, the FDA alert noted.

Because licorice is a bioactive food, which means it can tweak metabolic processes in the body, you also have to worry about interactions with medications, Fonarow said.

“Licorice can be a problem for people taking diuretics, digoxin and laxatives,” Fonarow said, explaining that the combination of the candy with these medications can also drive potassium down to dangerously low levels. “It can also interfere with normal cortisol metabolism.”

Some studies have suggested that licorice can drive up blood pressure in women taking oral contraceptives because of the potassium effect.

The FDA suggests that everyone, young and old, be careful about how much black licorice they consume at one time.

And if you’re one of the unlucky ones who develops an irregular heart rhythm or muscle weakness after eating a lot of licorice, the agency suggests you “stop eating it immediately and contact your healthcare provider.

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  • by Audra Location: SoCal on Nov 2, 2011 at 05:11 AM
    It's not new information, but not everyone is terribly informed. The difference these days is that we've gone back to the more natural varieties being on the shelf due to health food stores and products. Those have real licorice in them in higher amounts. People are now more indulgent in such things than they were in the 1800s and early 1900s, so the combination of those two things can lead to a problem, true enough. Yes, it elevates blood pressure. So... eat one or two pieces occasionally and be happy. If you don't have a high BP problem, worry less about it. It's not that difficult.
  • by Resident Location: Greenville on Oct 29, 2011 at 05:56 PM
    In Greece they drink Ozo which has the licorice taste, same compound in it. Has anybody told them about this?
  • by curious on Oct 29, 2011 at 12:32 PM
    wonder if they will have dead people on the packages of black licorice now? its only fair. we need the govt to protect us like that.
  • by Puff on Oct 29, 2011 at 06:37 AM
    I am not very young, but I have never heard of anybody dieing from an OD on licorice.
    • reply
      by Formerly O.L.I. on Oct 29, 2011 at 11:12 AM in reply to Puff
      Lol; I still enjoy a small piece of Licorice, every now and then. It's got a peculiar flavor. I notice there are no Licorice-flavored coffee creamers; wouldn't that be a hoot!
  • by nope! on Oct 29, 2011 at 06:24 AM
    if it were up to the FDA no one would know anything would hurt them and theyd charge you for keeping that information secret!..oh yeah..i guess they already do that!
  • by Formerly O.L.I. Location: ENC on Oct 29, 2011 at 05:32 AM
    Don't mean to sound like a know-it-all, but I was told in my younger days that black licorice can raise one's blood pressure and not to eat much. I like it, but I don't eat it anymore. Seems like it should now come with one of those 'warnings' on the package, if it interacts with medications so fiercely. Oh well...
  • by MADDOG 91 Location: U.S.A. on Oct 29, 2011 at 04:44 AM
    If it was up to the FDA everything in the world would hurt you if you eat it. People,,,you know what is good for you and what is not. Eat,Love,and be Happy. Life is short enough. ENJOY

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