You don’t hear much about licorice these days, and that’s probably because it has a love-it-or-hate-it kind of flavour.
It’s a shame that licorice is often overlooked, because licorice root has a wealth of healthy properties that can really benefit you. The Chinese have been using licorice root in medicine for thousands of years, and believe that it gives vitality and longer life amongst other things. You can get it in stick form, extract, powder or tablets, so even if you don’t like the taste you can still take it.
So what health issues is licorice good for? Benefits include the following:
1. Liver Protection
Licorice contains glycyrrhizin, which can help liver disorders by reducing toxicity and helping to stabilize normal liver function. Isoliquiritigenin is another compound present in licorice, which can help protect the liver cells from a high-fat diet and damage caused by oxidative stress.
2. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Extracts of licorice have anti-inflammatory properties, and has been effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis. Research shows it could also help by providing relief from pain and swelling.
Antioxidants found in licorice roots are effective for maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol. Licorice also contains a flavonoid called glabridin, which can have a beneficial effect in preventing the build up of bad LDL cholesterol, and helps reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and similar diseases.
4. Immune Booster
Licorice helps to raise the levels of interferon, which is an anti-viral agent. Along with glycyrrhizic acid, interferon stimulates immune cells and can help the body fight off infectious viruses and bacteria.
5. Soothes the Stomach
One study found that the glycyrrihizic acid in licorice root can help suppress the bacteria H. pylori, and stop it growing in the gut. Research also shows that people who suffer from heartburn, gastritis or peptic ulcers can benefit from licorice root.
6. Reduces Stress
Licorice supplements can give your overworked adrenal gland some relief. Stress can make the adrenal gland react by pumping out high levels of cortisol and adrenaline. Licorice root extract helps to stimulate the adrenal gland, and promotes a healthy level of cortisol.
7. Protects Skin and Teeth
Topical gels containing licorice can help eczema sufferers, due to its antibacterial properties. Holistic practitioners also recommend licorice for tooth decay and gum disease.
You can make a licorice face mask to brighten your skin by mixing turmeric powder and fuller’s earth with licorice tea. Apply the pack and allow it to dry, then rinse off with normal water. To keep your skin hydrated, add coconut or olive oil to the mixture before you apply it.
8. Assists Cancer Treatments
An American study shows that licorice can help protect against carcinogenic DNA damage. The same study found that polyphenols in licorice root could also help to kill cancer cells. Some research suggests that licorice may work better than chemotherapy in some circumstances, as it only kills unhealthy cells. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, destroys healthy cells along with damaged ones.
9. Boosts Brain Health
Carbenoxolone, a compound found in licorice, has been found to reduce stress and slow down brain ageing. Another compound called liquiritigenin was found to have a positive effect on brain cells, and could help prevent Alzheimer’s. Some sources say that licorice could help depression, but there needs to be more research on this.
10. Relieves Symptoms of Menopause and PMS
Sufferers from menstrual cramps can find relief with licorice root. It helps alleviate pain and moderate the spasms. The root has an estrogen-like effect in women, and this can help relieve symptoms of PMS and menopause.
11. Aids Sleep
If you suffer from insomnia, there is a specific type of licorice root that can induce sleep, and even increase the amount you get. Glycyrrhiza glabra is the root that contains compounds like gabrol and liquiritigenin that have been found to induce sleep, and reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
12. Improves Hair Health
The flavonoids, phytoestrogens and essential oils in licorice root promotes scalp health as well as taking care of the hair. It can be used to soothe an itchy scalp and reduce dandruff. It is also said to be a protection against premature balding, but that’s not scientifically proven.
For the hair, it can help treat dull, lifeless hair, split ends, and sun-induced hair damage.
13. Could Improve Male Fertility
Studies have shown that licorice root can help treat erectile dysfunction, and it can also have a beneficial impact on male hormone levels. An Italian study has shown that licorice may also increase testosterone levels. Talk to your doctor first before using licorice for this, as the evidence from the studies is contradictory.
14. Can Help Diabetes Treatment
Licorice is actually 50 times sweeter than sugar, so it might seem strange to use it as a treatment for diabetes! Research has thrown up some surprising revelations about the molecules in licorice root, which possess anti-diabetic properties.
Animal studies show that diabetic rats had a drop in their blood sugar levels when given licorice extract. Glabridin and amorfrutin were the compounds in licorice thought to be responsible.
15. Treats Tuberculosis
Studies into the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis showed that licorice is an effective treatment, and can also reduce the length of healing time. It’s thought to work so well because the antimycobacterial and antimicrobial action of the compounds present in it make it an effective treatment for lung infections.
16. HIV Treatment
Studies have shown that the glycyrrhizin present in licorice root can help treat HIV-related diseases. It helps inhibit the spread of the infecting virus by encouraging the production of beta-chemokines, and also helps prevent the destruction of white blood cells by the HIV virus.
17. Neurological Disorders
Sufferers of Bell’s palsy and Lyme disease can find some relief with licorice. It helps by preventing the involuntary flow of tears and other symptoms, such as paralysis in those patients with Bell’s palsy.
18. Herpes and Shingles
Licorice root extract has been used to treat herpes simplex, sores and shingles. Studies show that the antiviral action of licorice may help suppress the return and progression of cold sores caused by herpes.
19. Weight Reduction
Research indicates that some individuals had a significant reduction in body fat after taking three grams of licorice root extract every day for two months. Eating licorice for long periods of time isn’t recommended – there is usually a week without licorice root after every two weeks using it, up to the two-month maximum length of treatment.
20. Aphthous Ulcers or Canker Sores
Aphthous ulcers, which are also known as canker sores, are small, non-contagious lesions that appear on the inside of the mouth and gums. Studies have shown that treatment with licorice extract can show a significant improvement in both pain and inflammation.
Side Effects of Licorice
Long-term consumption of licorice root isn’t recommended. It might cause hypertension, low blood potassium levels, cataracts and fluid retention. Pregnant women should not take licorice root, due to the estrogenic action it has.