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Licorice whips your health problems

Licorice whips your health problems

Let me make one thing clear: When I talk about the health benefits of licorice, I’m not referring to licorice candy. Candy means sugar and the “licorice” is probably licorice (anise) flavoring-and who knows what that might be? So the stuff you find in the supermarket and at the movie theater concession stand is anise-flavored candy, not real licorice at all.

Licorice is found in the stem of a tall purple-flowered shrub. Glycyrrhizin (really hard to spell and even harder to say) is the herb’s key therapeutic compound. There are other ingredients but let’s concentrate on glicerizin, excuse me, I meant glycyrrhizin.

The following is going to be a little confusing; at least it was to me. There are two types of licorice and they are both excellent treatment options. But they act on different systems of the body, one on the digestive system (think Pepto-Bismol), and the other on the anti-inflammatory side (think aspirin). That covers a lot of territory and this is where it gets confusing.

There is licorice with glycyrrhizin (let’s shorten it to GZN since I will never be able to keep spelling it) and licorice without GZN, called deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL. Licorice from DGL is effective in many therapeutic areas. It reduces inflammation by preventing the breakdown of cortisol, the body’s primary stress-fighting adrenal hormone, making these hormones more available to the body. It also appears to enhance immunity by boosting levels of interferon, a key immune system chemical that fights off attacking viruses.

Here’s a list of some of the conditions the GZN form can be particularly helpful for:

  • Respiratory problems and sore throat
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Hepatitis
  • Skin irritations such as eczema and shingles
  • PMS and menstrual problems
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Heart disease. Recent studies have found that by limiting the damage from LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, licorice may discourage artery-clogging plaque formation and contribute to the healthy functioning of the heart. Research indicates that modest doses of licorice (100 mg a day) have this effect. The ingredient responsible, glabridin, is not present in licorice candy but can be obtained through licorice root supplements and standardized extracts.

But there is a downside to licorice with GZN. It may raise blood pressure in susceptible individuals. If you are taking a blood pressure lowering medication, it might neutralize the effect of the drug. (Hmm, is that a good thing or a bad thing?) So it is a good idea to stay away from licorice containing GZN and try DGL first.

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) can help to:

  • Alleviate ulcers, heartburn, indigestion, and inflammatory bowel problems such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In a number of clinical trials, standard anti-ulcer medications failed to perform as well as DGL supplements.
  • Control canker sores. By coating and shielding these painful mouth ulcers from irritants, chewable DGL wafers can accelerate healing.

It may also help with the problems listed above. Try it first, and if you do not get the expected results, then try GZN-containing licorice (but remembering the caveat about blood pressure).

Action to take:

1.) Start with the DGL form. Take two capsules of any standard DGL product twice daily.

2.) If the DGL form doesn’t work, then try GZN, but regular licorice, the GZN-containing type, should not be taken if you have hypertension, glaucoma, diabetes, or diseases of the heart, liver, or kidneys.

3.) As I said earlier, the licorice you’re probably most familiar with is sugar-laden candy. You can find real licorice in health food stores. It also comes in supplement form. DGL licorice is always marked as such, so if it doesn’t say DGL (deglycyrrhizinated) on the label, assume that it contains GZN.

Stick to my basic rules and you can try licorice for just about anything; you may be well rewarded. After all, can 2,000 years and a zillion people be wrong? Well, yes, I guess they can.

But licorice, when used properly, is a winner in my opinion.

Reference:

“Licorice,” WholeHealthMD.com (www.wholehealthmd.com), accessed 1/12/05

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