Saturday, November 18, 2006

Licorice: Uses and Health Benefits

Herbal Drinks
Licorice is harvested from the root and dried rhizomes of the low-growing shrub Glycyrrhiza glabra . Currently, most licorice is produced in Greece, Turkey, and Asia.

Licorice was used in ancient Greece, China, and Egypt, primarily for gastritis and ailments of the upper respiratory tract. Ancient Egyptians prepared a licorice drink for ritual use to honor spirits of the pharaohs. Its use became widespread in Europe and Asia for numerous indications.
During World War II, the Dutch physician F.E. Revers observed improvements in patients' peptic ulcer disease from a licorice preparation. He also noted facial and peripheral edema, sparking scientific investigation into licorice's properties and adverse effects. In the 1950s, there were reports of patients with Addison's disease 'craving' licorice candy, viewed by some as early evidence of steroid modulating properties.

In addition to its medicinal uses, licorice has been used as a flavoring agent, valued for sweetness (glycyrrhizin, a component of licorice, is 50 times sweeter than table sugar). The generic name "glycyrrhiza" stems from ancient Greek, meaning "sweet root." It was originally used as flavoring for licorice candies, although most licorice candy is now flavored with anise oil. Licorice is still used in sub-therapeutic doses as a sweetening agent in herbal medicines, lozenges, and tobacco products (doses low enough that significant adverse effects are unlikely).

Licorice has a long history of medicinal use in Europe and Asia. At high doses, there are potentially severe side effects, including hypertension (high blood pressure), hypokalemia (low blood potassium levels) and fluid retention.Most adverse effects have been attributed to the chemical component glycyrrhiza (or glycyrrhizic acid). Licorice can be processed to remove the glycyrrhiza, resulting in DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice), which does not appear to share the metabolic disadvantages of licorice.

In Europe, licorice has most often been used to treat cough, bronchitis, gastritis, and peptic ulcer disease. In Chinese medicine, it is felt to benefit Qi , reduce "Fire Poison" (sore throat, skin eruptions), and diminish "Heat." Specific conditions treated by Chinese herbalists include gastric and duodenal ulcers, abdominal pain, pharyngitis, malaria, tuberculosis, abscesses and sores. In Ayurveda, licorice is felt to be effective in the treatment of constipation, inflamed joints, peptic ulcer disease, and diseases of the eye.

Uses based on scientific evidence

Apthous ulcers / canker sores
Some research suggests that licorice extracts, DGL and carbenoxolone may provide benefits for treating cankers sores. However, studies have been small, with flaws in their designs. The safety of DGL makes it an attractive therapy if it does speed healing of these sores, but it is not clear at this time whether there is truly any benefit.

Atopic dermatitis
Topical licorice extract gel has been shown to be effective in the treatment of atopic dermatitis in preliminary human study. Further research is needed to confirm these results.

Bleeding stomach ulcers caused by aspirinAlthough there has been some study of DGL in this area, it is not clear what effects DGL has on gastrointestinal bleeding.

Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF)
A small clinical pilot study and laboratory study of a multi-ingredient preparation containing licorice, called Immunoguard, suggests possible effects in managing FMF. Well-designed study of licorice alone is necessary before a recommendation can be made.

Herpes simplex virus
Laboratory studies have found that DGL may hinder the spread and infection of herpes simplex virus. Studies in humans have been small, but they suggest that topical application of carbenoxolone cream may improve healing and prevent recurrence.

High potassium levels resulting from abnormally low aldosterone levels
In theory, because of the known effects of licorice, there may be some benefits of licorice for high potassium levels caused by a condition called hypoaldosteronism. There is early evidence in humans in support of this use. However, research is preliminary and a qualified health care provider should supervise treatment.

Peptic ulcer disease
Licorice extracts, DGL and carbenoxolone have been studied for treating peptic ulcers. DGL (but not carbenoxolone) may offer some benefits. However, these studies have been small, with flaws in their designs, and results of different studies have disagreed with each other. Therefore, it is unclear whether there is any benefit from licorice for this condition.

Reducing body fat mass
Preliminary data shows that licorice may reduce body fat mass. Further research is needed to confirm these results.

Viral hepatitis
The licorice extracts DGL and carbenoxolone have been proposed as possible therapies for viral hepatitis. Animal studies have investigated the mechanism of licorice in hepatitis, and studies in humans have shown some benefits with a patented intravenous licorice preparation that is not available in the United States. Studies using oral licorice have been small, with flaws in their designs. Therefore, it is not clear whether there is any benefit from oral licorice for hepatitis treatment.

Genital herpes
Available studies have not found any benefit from carbenoxolone cream when applied topically to the skin to treat genital herpes infections.

Uses based on tradition or theoryThe below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. 

Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

Adrenal insufficiency (Addison's disease), allergy, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antispasmodic, antitumor, aplastic anemia, asthma, bacterial infections, bad breath, breast cancer, bronchitis, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, colitis, colorectal cancer, constipation, coronavirus, cough, cysts, dental hygiene, depression, detoxification, diabetes, diuretic, diverticulitis, dysmenorrhea, eczema, Epstein-Barr virus, fever, functional dyspepsia, gastroesophageal reflux disease, gentamicin induced kidney damage, graft healing, hepatoma, high cholesterol, HIV, hormone regulation, hot flashes, hyperpigmentation disorders, immune system stimulation, inflammation, inflammatory skin disorders, laryngitis, liver cancer, liver protection, lung cancer, melanoma, melasma, menopausal symptoms, metabolic abnormalities, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, muscle cramps, obesity, osteoarthritis, plaque, polycystic ovarian syndrome, prostate cancer, pruritus, rheumatoid arthritis, RSV, SARS, skin disorders, sore throat, stomach upset, tobacco-associated lung cancer, urinary tract inflammation.
Herbal Drinks

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