Licorice root is a medicinal plant used for thousands of years in many regions.
Among its many health benefits, licorice has been used to treat infections, reduce inflammation, and support heart health.
This article details the main compounds in licorice as well as its possible benefits, safety, dosing, traditional uses, and implementation strategies.
Table of Contents
- What is Licorice?
- Health Benefits of Licorice Root
- Licorice Root Safety:
- How Much Licorice Root Should I Take?
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Licorice?
Licorice, or “Glycyrrhiza glabra”, is a medicinal plant found throughout Asia and Europe. It is thought to have originated in Iraq, although it is cultivated in many Asian and European countries today.
The licorice plant grows naturally in well watered areas with sandy, fertile soil.
While licorice is the English word for this plant, there are many other names depending on the language used, such as jaishbomodhu (Bengali), mulaithi (Hindi), and aslussiesa (Arabic).
Among the parts of the licorice plant, the root is the most bioactive component in terms of health benefits.
Licorice root is rich in many different compounds, such as amino acids, pectin, starches, sterols, and polysaccharides.
The main plant compounds in licorice root thought to deliver health benefits include:
- Triterpene glycosides (particularly glycyrrhizin/glycyrrhizic acid)
- Chalcones (e.g. isoliquiritigenin, isoliquiritin)
- Flavanones (e.g. liquiritigenin, liquiritin)
Among all of these, glycyrrhizin is the most well-researched. This triterpenoid glycoside is extracted from licorice root and has a sweet flavor. For this reason, it is often used in a variety of culinary recipes to make licorice candies and other licorice-flavored food items. But it has many potential health benefits too, which we’ll dig into below.
Health Benefits of Licorice Root
Licorice is a well-researched medicinal herb with many possible health benefits. Listed below are the main potential health benefits of licorice and its bioactive compounds.
1. May Promote Liver Protection
Recent evidence suggests that licorice may benefit liver health.
The liver plays an important role in the body. The liver processes all of the blood leaving the stomach and intestines. The liver helps to support metabolism, immunity, digestion, detoxification, and vitamin storage, among other functions. Maintaining liver health is key for overall health.
In one clinical trial involving patients with chronic hepatitis C, glycyrrhizin treatment significantly reduced alanine transaminase (ALT) (a marker of liver damage) compared to placebo.
A similar clinical study also found that intravenous glycyrrhizin therapy led to significant reductions in ALT in patients with chronic hepatitis C. The therapy was safe and well-tolerated up to 240mg daily.
In another clinical study involving over 1,000 patients with chronic hepatitis, patients treated with glycyrrhizin injections had a significant decrease in liver carcinoma compared to the control group.
One clinical trial involving women with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease found that licorice root powder markedly decreased levels of ALT and fatty build-up in the liver compared to the control group. Additionally, women treated with licorice root notably improved insulin resistance and inflammatory markers in the liver compared to the placebo.
In another clinical study involving patients with hepatitis C, long-term administration of a unique formulation of glycyrrhizin reduced the risk of liver carcinoma and liver cirrhosis (chronic liver damage involving scarring).
Also, in a clinical study of patients with chronic hepatitis B, glycyrrhizin administration led to a significant reduction in various enzymatic markers of liver damage. Moreover, this treatment appeared to reduce the risk of liver disease progression.
Lastly, one clinical trial found that nonalcoholic fatty liver disease patients showed greater reductions in ALT and other enzymatic markers compared to the placebo after receiving licorice root extract.
Summary:Clinical research indicates that licorice consumption may work to benefit liver health by reducing liver damage and supporting individuals with hepatitis C and B.
2. May Reduce Digestive Problems
Several clinical trials show that licorice root and its compounds may reduce digestive problems by working to treat ulcers and gut infections.
In one clinical trial on 120 patients with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, the addition of licorice extract supplementation on top of regular treatment appeared to increase the removal of H. pylori and reduce the incidence of stomach ulcers.
In another clinical study in patients with gastric (stomach) ulcers, licorice root extract significantly reduced nausea, vomiting, flatulence, and other symptoms compared to the control group.
In one clinical study involving individuals with amlapitta (an Ayurvedic condition involving indigestion and hyperacidity), treatment with licorice root powder reduced nausea, heartburn, and belching by over 60 percent.
In a combined in vitro and in situ study, researchers found that licorice root extract and polysaccharides reduced the adhesion of H. pylori to the lining of the gut, which could explain some of the benefits of licorice root on digestive symptoms.
Summary:Clinical studies have found that licorice root extract may work to aid in digestion and soothe the stomach.
3. May Benefit Dental Health
Licorice may also benefit dental health as there is clinical evidence in favor of licorice root’s effects on dry mouth, tooth decay, and more.
In one clinical trial involving children with various risk levels for dental caries (cavities), the researchers found that herbal lollipops containing licorice root extract reduced levels of Streptococcus mutans in the mouth. This is important because S. mutans is a bacteria that can lead to tooth decay and other dental problems.
In another clinical study, researchers applied glycyrrhizin to only one side of the mouth in subjects. They found that the glycyrrhizin-treated side significantly reduced plaque build-up compared to the untreated side.
In one clinical trial on subjects with dry mouth, a licorice-based mouthwash increased salivary flow rate and reduced dry mouth symptoms, the latter of which was significantly better than a pure water mouthwash.
In a clinical study involving patients with oral mucositis (inflammation of the mouth), the applying licorice root adhesive film significantly reduced pain and other symptoms, such as dry mouth and mouth ulcers. These effects were just as substantial as triamcinolone, a common drug medication for oral mucositis.
In another clinical trial on 104 individuals with chronic gingivitis, researchers looked into the effects of chlorhexidine mouthwash versus licorice mouthwash in reducing symptoms. They found that licorice mouthwash was nearly as effective as chlorhexidine mouthwash in reducing plaque accumulation and gingivitis symptoms, such as gum bleeding, pain, and inflammation. Moreover, the researchers noted that, unlike chlorhexidine, licorice mouthwash didn’t cause any unpleasant taste or tooth discoloration.
Summary:Clinical research shows that herbal preparations containing licorice root extract may be effective in promoting dental health.
4. May Aid Weight Loss & Body Composition
Many people are looking for ways to speed up weight loss. Interestingly, licorice may aid weight loss, body composition, and overall metabolism.
In one clinical trial on overweight subjects, participants received either 300, 600, or 900mg of licorice root oil or a placebo. The researchers found that licorice root oil significantly reduced body fat mass compared to the placebo. Additionally, the 900mg amount significantly decreased body weight, visceral fat, and LDL cholesterol.
In another clinical study on healthy weight individuals, a licorice composition significantly reduced body fat mass, but did not change body mass index (BMI).
In one clinical study on middle-aged to elderly individuals, licorice oil supplementation led to significant increases in muscle mass and decreases in body fat compared to the control group.
Another clinical trial on healthy subjects found that administering licorice flavonoid oil appeared to improve fat oxidation during light exercise, which could have benefits for fat loss.
Lastly, a clinical trial on overweight and obese subjects found that licorice root supplementation alongside a low-calorie diet significantly reduced fat mass, body weight, and insulin resistance. However, it should be noted that researchers found that the low-calorie diet alone seemed just as effective for decreasing obesity.
Summary:Clinical trials indicate that licorice root may have benefits for reducing body weight and improving metabolism.
5. May Improve Skin Conditions
Improved skin may be another potential benefit of licorice. Clinical research shows that licorice may benefit dry skin, redness, and other skin conditions.
In one clinical trial on patients with rosacea and facial redness, treatment with licochalcone A (a licorice-derived compound) significantly reduced facial redness and improved quality of life. Moreover, the treatment was well-tolerated and compatible with sensitive facial skin. And the effects were similar to metronidazole (a medication for skin redness and other ailments).
In a clinical study on individuals with sensitive skin and facial redness, licochalcone A treatment led to significant reductions in inflammatory markers in the face, decreased facial redness and stinging.
In another clinical trial on patients with atopic dermatitis (general skin inflammation/irritation), treatment with licorice extract (around 20% glycyrrhizic acid) was found to relieve symptoms of dermatitis such as redness, itching, and irritation.
Summary:A small number of clinical studies show that licorice may promote skin health by reducing symptoms of various skin conditions.
6. May Reduce Menopausal Symptoms
Licorice may also be of unique value to women as various clinical studies have shown it may relieve symptoms of menopause.
In a clinical trial on 90 menopausal women complaining of menopausal symptoms, licorice root extract significantly decreased the frequency and severity of hot flashes compared to the placebo.
Another clinical study compared the effects of licorice root supplementation and hormonal therapy on hot flashes in menopausal women. Researchers found that licorice was just as effective as hormonal therapy in reducing the severity, frequency, and duration of hot flashes.
Another clinical study also compared licorice to hormonal therapy in menopausal women. This study noted that licorice root had comparable effects in reducing the duration and number of hot flashes. While hormonal therapy seemed more effective at decreasing the severity, licorice extract was more effective for reducing the duration of the study participants’ menopause symptoms.
Summary:Clinical trials have found that licorice root may work to reduce the duration and severity of menopausal symptoms.
Licorice Root Safety:
Generally, licorice root appears safe for most people when used in a dose of 1-15 grams and for a moderate duration.
However, there are several safety concerns to be aware of when supplementing with licorice extract and its active compounds, such as glycyrrhizin, particularly when taking licorice dietary supplements in large doses or over a long period of time.
For example, excess amounts of licorice or glycyrrhizin consumption can lead to high blood pressure, high cortisol, headache, fatigue, edema, and even heart attacks. Additionally, excess consumption for long periods may lead to low potassium levels and high sodium levels. These side effects are due to two main things. The first side effect is an increase in cortisol, and the second is increased water retention and fluid build-up.
Individuals should be cautious of the amount of licorice they are consuming if they are pregnant, have heart or kidney conditions, or take various medications, including oral contraceptives, hydrocortisone, and prednisolone.
Always consult your doctor or health care provider before starting any supplement regimen.
How Much Licorice Root Should I Take?
Licorice root dosage depends on the preparation and intended health problems supplementation is meant to treat.
In general, research suggests a daily glycyrrhizin dosage of 1-25mg of glycyrrhizin for most people.
Given the natural concentration of glycyrrhizin in licorice root, the general recommended dosage for licorice is about 450mg-14g daily, depending on body size. This is roughly in line with the recommended dose of 1-5g stated earlier regarding safety.
However, this dose would change with supplements specifically standardized for glycyrrhizin. Often, a standard dietary supplement can have 10-20% glycyrrhizin, in which case one would only need 100mg-200mg total of licorice extract.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Licorice, known scientifically as Glycyrrhiza glabra, is a small perennial herb from the Fabaceae family. Its name was created from the Grecian words “glykys” (meaning sweet) and “rhiza” (meaning root), and the Latin word “glaber” (bare or slick).
Licorice grows to around 3ft tall. This plant has 9 -17 leaflets and 7-15cm long, pinnate leaves.
Additionally, Glycyrrhiza glabra has pale whitish blue to purple flowers and small, oblong fruits with several seeds in each pod.
History & Traditional Use:
Licorice root was used extensively throughout history and in herbal medicine. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), licorice was regarded as an essential herb and used in many cases for detoxification and to enhance the actions of other herbs.
Many other countries and medicinal systems have used licorice for hundreds of years for many different ailments. These include India (Ayurveda), Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Italy (Romans), and Nepal. Licorice was used in these areas for burns and wounds, promoting lactation, graying hair, pink eye, anemia, vomiting, constipation, general digestive health, and sore throat.
Furthermore, licorice products were often prepared as a concoction or paste with other substances, such as cow’s milk, rice milk, honey, or sugar water. Traditional medicine healers often used the root of licorice, typically powdered or ground up, but the stem was sometimes also used.
Glycyrrhiza glabra was (and still is) one of the most commercialized herbs, as it has been used in cosmetics, the food industry (e.g. licorice candies, confectionaries, etc.), and in pharmaceutical drugs.
Licorice root has been used in herbal medicine throughout many parts of the world for numerous ailments. Modern research shows that licorice may be beneficial for many conditions, owing to its bioactive components, such as glycyrrhizin. In particular, licorice may benefit liver health, digestion/gut health, dental health, weight loss, and skin conditions.
However, when taking licorice products, one must be cautious in order to stay within the recommended dose and not increase the risk of high blood pressure, headaches, high cortisol, and other complications.
Overall, licorice appears to be a worthwhile herb to try out for various health benefits and can be taken in many forms.