Licorice Root Benefits and Best Supplements

Best Licorice Root SupplementsLicorice root is a truly historical herb – it has been used as medicine and a food since Ancient Egypt and is still used today through Chinese, Ayurvedic and Western herbal medicine traditions.

The root of the licorice plant contains many volatile oils, flavanoids, sterols, polysaccharides and other constituents that have benefits on the human body. The most well-studied of these is called glycyrrhizin and it’s so potent that it has some nasty side-effects when taken in high doses.

But first, the good stuff:


Demulcent For Coughs, Sore Throats & Heart Burn

Licorice root is known as a demulcent – a type of herb that soothes sensitive mucous membranes. The lining of the throat, oesophagus and stomach are easily irritated from local infections, inflammation and injury. Components in licorice root stimulate the release of mucus to protect this sensitive tissue from irritation and remove any impurities.

  • NOTE: Some studies have shown the mucus-boosting action of licorice can also occur in other tissues including the lungs and bladder where it may help to purge out infections.

Licorice is also known as an “antitussive” – a funny word meaning that it suppresses an over-active coughing reaction, partly due to its natural anti-inflammatory action. Licorice root reduces inflammation directly and by increasing cortisol levels. Cortisol’s actions on inflammation is similar to pharmaceutical Cortisone cream used for red, itchy skin conditions – it stops cells from produce so many inflammatory chemicals.

  • Researchers are examining the use of licorice in reducing stomach ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria. A 2014 study showed that licorice root extract was as effective as bismuth medication in eradicating the ulcer-causing bacteria, and other studies have shown that licorice root can soothe symptoms of ulcers such as heart burn [1] [2].

As a bonus, licorice contains triterpenoids, molecules which have been shown to have antibacteria and even antiviral action that may help to destroy the influenza virus and improve recovery from the flu! [3]

  • In 2003, a study was performed on the popular herbal tea Throat Coat which contains rich levels of licorice root. The study showed that drinking the tea provided rapid relief to sore throat pain and that the analgesia lasted at least 30 minutes after the first sip. [4]

Licorice Root & Stress Hormones

Cortisol, a major adrenal hormone, is released to deal with the physical effects of stress. Adrenal glands may be unable to secrete enough cortisol during times of prolonged stress and acute trauma, leading to symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Glycyrrhizin steps in and is able to inhibit the body’s metabolism and elimination of cortisol – this keeps cortisol in the body for longer, allowing it exert its effects for longer, giving the adrenal glands a break and a chance to recover.

By regulating cortisol levels in this way, licorice root can actually help to balance stress hormones in the long-term and relieve symptoms of fatigue, irritability, moodiness, sluggish immune responses and more.

NOTE: Licorice root may correct low cortisol levels or when cortisol is being released at the wrong time. But using licorice during times of acute or manageable stress probably won’t help much – in fact, it could make things worse by upping the action of cortisol unnecessarily. Save licorice for when you are suffering from serious burn-out, or if you’ve got a sudden cold, flu or cough, and reach for some other stress-busting supplements instead to deal with the short-term worries.


Licorice root with Oestrogen & Testosterone

Licorice flavonoids can act as phyto-oestrogens. They bind to oestrogen sites on cells, effectively taking up space where oestrogen could have attached. This reduces oestrogen’s effects on the body as the flavonoids do not cause the cell to respond as it would if oestrogen was bound to it instead. This is great if you’re suffering from conditions of high oestrogen with symptoms of irregular periods, headaches, mood swings, or severe menopause symptoms like hot flushes.

  • A 2012 study showed that 990mg of licorice root extract per day could reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes during menopause [5].

CAUTION: Licorice may reduce oestrogen so much that it effects fertility in healthy women. Only use licorice long-term or in high doses under the care of a qualified physician and herbalist.
Some herbs lower one sex hormone and boost another – but not licorice root! It takes down oestrogen and testosterone.

Licorice appears to deactivate the enzyme that converts androstenedione into testosterone. This leads to lower the level of total testosterone being produced – not great if you’re looking to boost your T levels, but could be a god-send if you suffer from conditions with abnormally high androgens like PCOS where it also acts to control blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity [6].

The upshot is that licorice can seriously alter the balance of sex hormones for better or for worse. Speak to a qualified naturopath or herbalist for personalised advice.


Does Licorice Root Help Weight Loss?

Maybe… Licorice boosts cortisol’s actions in the body and one of those actions is to hold onto abdominal fat, so it doesn’t make much sense that this potent root would help to burn fat. There are a few studies that suggest licorice could reduce body fat without altering BMI, either through its anti-inflammatory flavonoid content or by affecting the liver [7][8]. To date there isn’t enough research out there to back up licorice as a weight-loss wonder.


How to Take Licorice Root

Licorice root is easy to find and you can buy the actual dried root on Amazon and brew up your own concoction. This is simple enough to create a low-dose tea, but for real therapeutic action look for products with licorice root extracts – these supplements and teas have isolated the active components from the woody roots and concentrated them into doses that are strong enough to have therapeutic action on the body. This is the form most commonly used in herbal medicine and used in scientific studies.

IMPORTANT!

Long-term use of licorice root can cause high blood pressure and fluid retention. This is because after the glycyrrhizin content of licorice root has been excreted by the liver, it can be re-absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract – this means that it has an accumulative effect, and can cause hypertension and fluid retention. Some supplements bypass this problem by selling deglycyrrhizinised licorice (DGL) and these are generally considered safe to use long-term, but speak to a herbalist or naturopath for personalised advice.

Therapeutic dose ranges:

  • 5 – 15mg of root per day (equivalent of 200 – 600mg glycyrrhizin)
  • 2 – 5mL of 1:1 fluid extract per day
  • Teas containing 2 – 4g of root should be simmered for 5 minutes
  • 3000mg of DGL appears to be safe and effective in people with chronic duodenal ulcers, but see a naturopath or herbalist if you’re thinking of doing high doses like this.

Take licorice root 30 minutes before meals to treat digestive issues, or with food for other issues.

CAUTION: Daily doses above 100mg of glycyrrhizin may cause side effects including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Exceedingly high cortisol
  • Fluid retention
  • Breathlessness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Lethargy
  • Visual disturbances

5 Best Licorice Root Supplements

#5 Traditional Medicines Throat Coat (16 teabags)

Throat CoatThis delicious, effective herbal tea contains 760mg of licorice root and 60mg of concentrated extract per teabag. Describing this tea as “slimy-in-a-good-way”, Traditional Medicines have combined potent licorice root with other demulcent and pain killing herbs like slippery elm bark, marshmallow root and a propriety blend. They use 100% certified organic ingredients in this earthy, naturally sweet, silky blend.

This tea is great for relieving sore throat pain – there’s even research to back it up [1]! With so many demulcent herbs, this could be a great blend for relief of heart burn, coughs and stomach pain too. Steep in hot water for 10 minutes for maximum benefits.


#4 Bulk Supplements Pure Licorice Root Extract Powder (250g)

Bulk Licorice PowderThis clean and pure 4:1 extract has been powdered and packaged into a large bulk bag for a bargain price. The licorice extract has been standardised to deliver 22% glycyrrhizin, and 600mg of licorice extract per ¼ teaspoon dose – and that’s it! No fillers, binders or flow agent additives. This is a great choice if you’re looking for a product that makes it easy to specialise your dose, or if you want a powder to add to smoothies, teas, or even to homemade skin-care products!


#3 Natural Factors Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Root Extract (DGL) (400mg, 180 chewable tablets)

Safe Licorice SupplementFor long-term doses of licorice root, a DGL supplement can bypass unwanted side effects of high blood pressure and fluid retention. This chewable supplement by Natural Factors combines a 10:1 extraction of DGL licorice root along with anise powder for digestive support, stomach ulcer pain relief, and improved mucus production. One tablet before a meal deliver a good therapeutic dose of licorice root, and the act of chewing these tablets may help to stimulate peptic secretions to promote better digestion. They have been sweetened with stevia and xylitol but still pack a strong licorice root taste – these are a great choice if you suffer from digestive issues and like the flavor!


#2 Douglas Laboratories Licorice Root-V (with Glycyrrhizin) (500mg, 60 capsules)

Douglas Labs Licorice VDouglas Laboratories creates high quality products with potent doses based on scientific study – each capsule of this supplement contains 500mg of licorice root powdered extract which has been standarized to deliver 60mg of glycyrrizin. Because of the glycyrrhizin content, this isn’t necessarily a good choice for long-term use but it is a great selection if you’re looking for short-term adrenal and hormone support – or if you’re looking to boost your blood pressure! One per day is enough to deliver a therapeutic dose and avoid side effects of high glycyrrhizin intake.


#1 Nature’s Answer Licorice Root Liquid Extract (1 fl oz)

Best Licorice Root TinctureA sweet-flavoured liquid supplement, Nature’s Answer alcohol-free licorice root extract offers a standardised 1:1 concentration. Each 2mL serve contains the f 2,000mg of dried herb. Nature’s Answer use alcohol to extract the most potent active constituents from dried licorice root, and then remove all alcohol and impurities via a patented cold bio-chelated extraction process.

This is a great choice if you’re looking for therapeutic grade licorice root extracts, and particularly useful if you have trouble swallowing tablets, capsules, or stomaching powders. This liquid extract tastes good and is naturally sweetened from the licorice content. It can be taken directly squirted into the back of the throat to soothe sore tonsils, or diluted and taken with water. Liquid extracts are generally absorbed more quickly and with higher bioavailability than powders or capsules, so go with this supplement if you are looking for serious therapeutic action from your licorice root.


Further Reading:

  • [1] Momeni, A., et al. (2014) Effect of licorice versus bismuth on eradication of Helicobacter pylori in patients with peptic ulcer disease. Pharmacognosy Res., 6:4, 341 – 344. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25276073
  • [2] Raveendra, K. R., et al. (2012) An Extract of Glycyrrhiza glabra (GutGard) Alleviates Symptoms of Functional Dyspepsia: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Evid Based Complement Altern Med. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3123991/
  • [3] Wang, L., et al. (2015) The antiviral and antimicrobial activities of licorice, a widely-used Chinese herb. Acta Pharm Sin B., 5:4, 310 – 315. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4629407/
  • [4] Brinckmann, J., et al. (2003) Safety and efficacy of a traditional herbal medicine (Throat Coat) in symptomatic temporary relief of pain in patients with acute pharyngitis: a multicenter, prospective, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study. J Altern Complement Med., 9:2, 285 – 298. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12804082
  • [5] Nahidi, F., et al. (2012) Effects of Licorice on Relief and Recurrence of Menopausal Hot Flashes. Iran J Pharm Res., 11:2, 541 – 548. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3832176/
  • [6] Arentz, S., et al. (2014) Herbal medicine for the management of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and associated oligo/amenorrhoea and hyperandrogenism; a review of the laboratory evidence for effects with corroborative clinical findings. BMC Complement Altern Med., 14, 511. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4528347/
  • [7] Honda, K., et al. (2009) The molecular mechanism underlying the reduction in abdominal fat accumulation by licorice flavonoid oil in high fat diet-induced obese rats. Anim Sci J., 80:5, 562 – 569. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20163621
  • [8] Armanini, D., et al. (2003) Effect of licorice on the reduction of body fat mass in healthy subjects. J Endocrinol Invest., 26:7, 646 – 650. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14594116

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