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Licorice Root

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This fact sheet provides basic information about licorice root—common names, usefulness and safety, and resources for more information.

 

Common Names:  licorice root, licorice, liquorice, sweet root, gan cao, gan-zao, Chinese licorice

Latin Name: 
Glycyrrhiza glabra, Glycyrrhiza uralensis

Background

  • Most licorice root grows in Greece, Turkey, and Asia. Anise oil is often used instead of licorice root to flavor licorice candy.
  • Centuries ago, licorice root was used in Greece, China, and Egypt for stomach inflammation and upper respiratory problems. Licorice root also has been used as a sweetener.
  • Today, people use licorice root as a dietary supplement for digestive problems, menopausal symptoms, cough, and bacterial and viral infections. People also use it as a shampoo.
  • Licorice is harvested from the plants’ roots and underground stems. Licorice supplements are available as capsules, tablets, and liquid extracts.

How Much Do We Know?

  • A number of studies of licorice root in people have been published, but not enough to support the use for any specific health condition.

What Have We Learned?

  • Glycyrrhizin—a compound found in licorice root—has been tested in a few clinical trials in hepatitis C patients, but there’s currently not enough evidence to determine if it’s helpful. Laboratory studies done in Japan (where an injectable glycyrrhizin compound is used in people with chronic hepatitis C who do not respond to conventional treatment) suggest that glycyrrhizin may have some effect against hepatitis C.
  • There’s some evidence that topical licorice extract may improve skin rash symptoms, such as redness, swelling, and itching.
  • A Finnish study of mothers and their young children suggested that eating a lot of actual licorice root during pregnancy may harm a child’s developing brain, leading to reasoning and behavioral issues, such as attention problems, rule-breaking, and aggression.
  • Studies of licorice root extracts in people for cavities, mouth ulcers, and oral yeast infections have returned mixed results.

What Do We Know About Safety?

  • In large amounts and with long-term use, licorice root can cause high blood pressure and low potassium levels, which could lead to heart and muscle problems. Some side effects are thought to be due to a chemical called glycyrrhizic acid. Licorice that has had this chemical removed (called DGL for deglycyrrhizinated licorice) may not have the same degree of side effects.
  • Taking licorice root containing glycyrrhizinic acid with medications that reduce potassium levels such as diuretics might be bad for your heart.
  • Pregnant women should avoid using licorice root as a supplement or consuming large amounts of it as food.

Keep in Mind

  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

NCCIH Clearinghouse

The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.

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PubMed®

A service of the National Library of Medicine, PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals. For guidance from NCCIH on using PubMed, see How To Find Information About Complementary Health Approaches on PubMed.

Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), National Institutes of Health (NIH)

ODS seeks to strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary supplements by evaluating scientific information, supporting research, sharing research results, and educating the public. Its resources include publications (such as Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know), fact sheets on a variety of specific supplement ingredients and products (such as vitamin D and multivitamin/mineral supplements), and the PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset

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Key References

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.
NCCIH Publication No.: 
D318
Updated: 
September 2016

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.


NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advise of your primary health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.


U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

nccih.nih.gov

This page last modified December 01, 2016