(The Conversation) – Black licorice might look and style like an harmless deal with, however this sweet has a darkish facet. On Sept. 23, 2020, it was reported that black licorice was the perpetrator within the death of a 54-year-old man in Massachusetts. How might this be? Overdosing on licorice sounds extra like a twisted story than a believable truth.
I’ve a longstanding curiosity in how chemical substances in our meals and the setting have an effect on our physique and thoughts. When one thing seemingly innocent like licorice is implicated in a demise, we’re reminded of the well-known proclamation by Swiss doctor Paracelsus, the Father of Toxicology: “All issues are poison, and nothing is with out poison; the dosage alone makes it so a factor isn’t a poison.”
I am a professor within the division of pharmacology and toxicology and author of the book “Pleased to Meet Me: Genes, Germs, and the Curious Forces That Make Us Who We Are.”
The basis of the issue
The unlucky man who lately succumbed to extreme black licorice consumption isn’t alone. There are a smattering of comparable case studies in medical journals, by which sufferers expertise hypertension crisis, muscle breakdown and even demise. Hostile reactions are most ceaselessly seen in individuals over the age of 40 who’re consuming way more black licorice than the common particular person. As well as, they’re often consuming the product for extended durations of time. In the most recent case, the Massachusetts man had been consuming a bag and a half of black licorice every single day for 3 weeks.
Licorice is a flowering plant native to components of Europe and Asia. Its scientific title, Glycyrrhiza, is derived from the Greek phrases “glykos” (candy) and “rhiza” (root). The fragrant and candy extract from its root has lengthy been used as an natural treatment for all kinds of well being maladies, from heartburn and abdomen points to sore throats and cough. Nevertheless, there’s insufficient evidence to support that licorice is effective in treating any medical condition.
Glycyrrhizin (additionally known as glycyrrhizic acid) is the chemical in black licorice that provides the sweet its signature taste, but it surely additionally results in its poisonous results.
Glycyrrhizin mimics the hormone aldosterone, which is made by the adrenal glands when the physique must retain sodium and excrete potassium. Sodium and potassium work collectively as a form of mobile battery that drives communication between nerves and the contraction of muscle mass. An excessive amount of glycyrrhizin upsets the steadiness of those electrolytes, which might elevate blood stress and disturb the center’s rhythm. Different signs of extreme licorice consumption embody swelling, muscle ache, numbness and headache. Examination of the person who died from consuming an excessive amount of licorice revealed that he had dangerously low levels of potassium, consistent with glycyrrhizin toxicity.
It must be famous that quite a lot of licorice-based meals don’t comprise actual licorice, however use a flavoring substitute known as anise oil, which doesn’t pose the risks mentioned right here. As well as, regardless of its title, red licorice rarely contains licorice extract. As an alternative, purple licorice is infused with chemical substances that impart its cherry or strawberry taste.
Merchandise that comprise actual licorice are often labeled as such, and record licorice extract or glycyrrhizic acid among the many substances. Be suggested that some merchandise, comparable to black jelly beans or Good & A lot, are mixtures of various candies that comprise each anise oil and licorice extract.
Hidden risks that improve threat
Glycyrrhizin has the distinct licorice taste and is 50 times sweeter than sugar and has been utilized in different kinds of sweet, comfortable drinks, tea, Belgian beers, throat lozenges and tobacco. This could make it difficult to maintain observe of how a lot glycyrrhizin has been consumed, and a mixture of those merchandise might set off opposed results.
Some individuals take dietary or well being dietary supplements that already comprise licorice, which will increase the chance of poisonous results from consuming black licorice sweet. Sure medicines comparable to hydrochlorothiazide are diuretics that trigger elevated urination, which might decrease potassium ranges within the physique. Glycyrrhizin additionally lowers potassium ranges, additional disrupting the steadiness of electrolytes, which might produce muscle cramps and irregular coronary heart rhythms.
Individuals with sure preexisting circumstances are extra vulnerable to black licorice overdose.
For instance, sufferers who have already got low potassium ranges (hypokalemia), hypertension or coronary heart arrhythmia are more likely to have larger sensitivity to the results of extreme licorice. These with liver or kidney deficiencies may also retain glycyrrhizin of their bloodstream for longer occasions, growing their threat of experiencing its opposed results.
What to do?
In case you’re a fan of black licorice, there isn’t any must ban it out of your pantry. Eaten in small portions infrequently, licorice poses no important risk to in any other case wholesome adults and kids. However it’s advisable to watch your consumption.
With Halloween approaching, make sure you remind your children that sweet is a “sometimes food,” particularly the black licorice. The FDA has issued warnings concerning the uncommon however critical results of an excessive amount of black licorice, advising that folks keep away from consuming greater than two ounces of black licorice a day for 2 weeks or longer. The company states that when you have been consuming lots of black licorice and expertise an irregular coronary heart rhythm or muscle weak point, cease consuming it instantly and speak to your well being care supplier.
Some scientists have additional cautioned towards the routine use of licorice within the type of a dietary complement or tea for its alleged well being advantages. A review article from 2012 warned that “the every day consumption of licorice is rarely justified as a result of its advantages are minor in comparison with the opposed outcomes of persistent consumption.”
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