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The Top 4 Therapeutic Uses of Licorice

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The Top 4 Therapeutic Uses of Licorice

Licorice, scientifically known as Glycyrrhiza glabra, is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the legume family, Fabaceae. It is native to Southern Europe and parts of Asia and is widely cultivated for its sweet-tasting roots. The plant features compound leaves and spikes of blue to violet flowers, but it is primarily valued for its root, which contains various bioactive compounds, including glycyrrhizin, flavonoids, and polysaccharides. (22)

Licorice has a rich historical and cultural background dating back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures. In traditional herbal medicine, licorice has been employed for its diverse therapeutic properties. Its roots are believed to possess anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant qualities. Because of this, licorice has been investigated for its potential in managing various health conditions, such as respiratory disorders, digestive issues, skin ailments, and metabolic disorders. Known for its sweetening properties, licorice is also often used as a natural sweetener in the food industry. (16


Top Health Benefits of Licorice

Licorice root offers a variety of health benefits due to its rich content of bioactive compounds. Here are some of the top health benefits associated with licorice:

Licorice Root for Digestive Health

Licorice has long been valued for its therapeutic benefits in providing digestive support and alleviating various gastrointestinal complaints. One of its hallmark features is its ability to soothe the digestive tract. It does this through its demulcent properties; the polysaccharides in licorice form a protective layer on the mucous membranes of the stomach and esophagus, offering relief from irritation (e.g., caused by excess stomach acid). Licorice also increases blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract to promote the healing of inflamed and damaged tissues. These soothing, healing, and anti-inflammatory effects make licorice particularly useful in managing acid reflux/GERD, indigestion, peptic ulcers, and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). (15)  

Licorice also exhibits mild laxative properties, aiding in relieving constipation by promoting bowel movements.

Additionally, licorice has been studied for its role in supporting a healthy gut microbiome, specifically regarding the eradication of H. pylori infection. Clinical research shows that adding licorice to antibiotic therapy improves the eradication rate by an additional 21% compared to conventional treatment alone. 

Licorice Extract for Skin Conditions

Many compounds in licorice help reduce inflammation, balance the skin microbiome, and prevent oxidative damage within the skin. One of its notable properties is its ability to brighten and even out skin tone. Licorice extract contains glabrene and isoliquiritigenin, compounds that inhibit melanin production, effectively reducing hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and melasma. (15

Furthermore, licorice extract possesses potent anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. This makes it particularly useful for individuals with sensitive or redness-prone skin, including those with conditions like rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis. Studies have found that topical application of licorice-derived preparations reduces redness, itching, peeling, and swelling in these skin conditions.

Licorice extract also serves as an antioxidant, protecting the skin from free radical damage caused by environmental factors like UV radiation and pollution. This antioxidant activity helps prevent premature aging, keeping the skin youthful and healthy-looking.

Licorice extract has been studied for its potential in managing acne. Clinical research in patients with mild to moderate acne shows that a topical application of licorice, calendula, and snail secretion filtrate reduces inflammatory acne lesions compared to placebo.

Licorice and Adrenal Support

Licorice, specifically its active component glycyrrhizic acid, has been associated with adrenal support due to its impact on cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Licorice can inhibit corticoid dehydrogenase enzymes, thereby prolonging the half-life of cortisol in the body (allowing it to persist for a longer duration). This action can benefit individuals with conditions associated with low cortisol levels, such as Addison's disease. (1

These cortisol-sparing effects have been applied to a more general application of licorice to support adrenal function in functional adrenal dysfunction during times of stress or fatigue. By helping to maintain appropriate cortisol levels, licorice enhances the body's response to stress, potentially reducing feelings of exhaustion and supporting overall energy levels. Licorice's ability to modulate cortisol levels has led to its use in herbal adaptogenic formulations designed to support the adrenal glands and promote a healthy stress response.

Licorice Root for Respiratory Health

Like its use for digestive complaints, licorice's demulcent qualities make it an excellent botanical candidate for treating sore throat. A 2019 literature review concluded that topical applications of licorice before surgery (via lozenge or gargle) reduce the incidence and severity of postoperative sore throat.

Additionally, licorice acts as an expectorant, aiding in the thinning and expulsion of mucus from the respiratory tract. This quality is particularly valuable in managing coughs, especially those accompanied by excessive mucus production. 

Research has suggested that licorice compounds exert anti-asthmatic effects, attributed to their anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties. Research has shown that adding licorice to conventional asthma medications improves lung function markers in asthmatic patients.

Caution and Considerations

Despite its promising therapeutic benefits, it is crucial to note that licorice should be used cautiously, as excessive consumption can lead to adverse effects, including hypertension and potassium imbalance. Therefore, while licorice holds significant therapeutic potential, it should be used judiciously and under professional guidance to maximize its benefits and minimize potential risks.

Licorice and High Blood Pressure

Licorice's active component, glycyrrhizic acid (glycyrrhizin), has mineralocorticoid-like effects on the body. Mineralocorticoids are hormones, like aldosterone, that regulate electrolyte and fluid balance, primarily by increasing sodium reabsorption and potassium excretion in the kidneys. This can lead to a condition known as pseudoaldosteronism, where the body retains sodium and loses potassium, leading to high blood pressure (hypertension) and low potassium levels (hypokalemia). These effects are a particular concern for people with preexisting high blood pressure or heart or kidney disease. (13, 15)

According to the European Union, the upper limit of intake for glycyrrhizin is 100 mg/day, corresponding to 60-70 grams of crude herb. Clinical trials and in vivo studies have suggested a safe daily glycyrrhizin intake of 0.015-0.229 mg/kg body weight per day. Because of these unwanted side effects, many supplements contain a specific preparation of licorice called deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), in which the glycyrrhizic acid has been removed. (13, 22)

Licorice and Pregnancy

Oral administration of (glycyrrhizin-containing) licorice during pregnancy has been reported to have abortifacient, estrogenic, and steroidal effects, leading to pregnancy complications and poorer health outcomes in children. Licorice consumption equivalent to 500 mg of glycyrrhizin weekly during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm delivery. Therefore, patients should always consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider before using licorice while pregnant.

Licorice Supplements and Dosage

Licorice supplements are available in various forms, catering to different preferences and health needs. Dried licorice root is prepared for teas, tablets, capsules, lozenges, and liquid extracts. Licorice extracts that do not contain glycyrrhizin are called DGL and do not have the undesirable side effects associated with other forms of licorice. (11)

It is also important to note that many "licorice" products sold in the United States do not contain actual licorice. Anise oil is often used instead. Ask your healthcare provider for quality supplement recommendations to ensure you purchase a therapeutic supplemental product. (13) 

Licorice dosing will vary depending on the type of herbal preparation and health problem. In general, the following doses three times daily are considered to be safe and effective (15): 

  • Powdered root: 1-2 grams
  • Fluid extract (1:1): 2-4 mL 
  • Powdered extract (4:1): 250-500 mg



Licorice is a fascinating herb with many therapeutic properties, offering promising solutions for various health conditions. However, it is crucial to approach licorice with caution and awareness. Dosing is critical; excessive consumption, especially in supplement form, can lead to adverse effects, including elevated blood pressure and potassium imbalance. Individuals – especially those with pre-existing health conditions, such as hypertension, kidney disorders, or heart conditions – should consult a healthcare professional before incorporating licorice supplements into their health regimens. 

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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