What is Liquorice and its Health Benefits

Liquorice or Licorice drug includes peeled as well as unpeeled stolons, roots and stems of Glycyrrhiza species belonging to the Leguminosae family. There are mainly three varieties of licorice and they are Glycyrrhiza glabra var.typica (Spanish licorice), G.glabra var.glandulifera (Russian licorice) and G.glabra var.violacea (Persian licorice). 

The Spanish licorice plant appears like an erect shrub up to 1.5 meters high bearing purplish blue colored papilionaceous flowers and it gives out large number of stolons. The Russian licorice plant has a big root stock along with a number of elongated roots, but does not bear stolons. The Persian licorice plant shows violet flowers. They have a faint and characteristic odour with a sweet taste. Unpeeled pieces are wrinkled longitudinally whereas peeled drug is fibrous without wrinkles. 

Chemical Constitution- Major constituent of licorice is glycyrrhizin, glycyrrhizinic acid, glycyrrhetinic acid. Others include glucose, sucrose, glycyramarin resins (bitter principle), asparagin and fat. Another important chemical aspect is presence of flavanoids i.e.liquiritin and isoliquiritin. And lastly it possesses an oleandane derivative called carbenoxolone.

Health Benefits of Liquorice

Anti-ulcer effect : Liquorice is widely used for treatment of peptic, gastric, duodenal and oral ulcers. Its flavanoid content possesses antigastrin effect. Carbenoxolone possesses mineralocorticoid activity; it changes the composition of mucous and increases mucosal barrier for diffusion of acid. It also inhibits the enzymes that activate prostaglandins and suppresses the activation of pepsinogen. Henceforth it is used in heartburn (dyspepsia), chronic gastritis and inflammation of mucosal lining. It is also used alongwith antacids for treatment of gastric reflux and reflux oesophagitis. It is applied in the form of gel for mouthwash in treatment of oral ulcers.

Expectorant/Demulcent property : Stick or Block licorice is used in cough and bronchitis as tablets or lozenges. Licorice has been used as an expectorant and demulcent from a long time.

How do you prepare stick or block licorice?—it is prepared from fresh or dried drug and the nature of the final drug product obtained is different in each case. Prepare at first a decoction of fresh/dried drug. Then filter it and keep aside till it becomes clear and decanted. Concentrate the clear liquid till suitable consistency is obtained. Finally you need to add starch, in required proportion, to the semi-solid mass and sticks or blocks is prepared. This is a concentrated preparation of glycyrrhiza and contains glycyrrhizin (10-13%), sugar (13%) and starch and gum about 23%. It is a popular home remedy and you can use it in respiratory diseases and in cough lozenges.

Flavoring/sweetening agent :  Liquorice is used as flavouring agent for chewing tobacco and snuff tobacco. Ammoniated glycyrrhiza is used as flavoring agent in beverages, confectionery, tobacco industries and pharmaceuticals. It is also administrated in formulations with nauseous drugs like ammonium chloride, alkali iodides, quinine, aloe, cascara etc.

Anti-inflammatory effect :  glycyrrhizin is an established anti-inflammatory drug. Liquorice is employed in place of corticosteroids for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, inflammations, and Addison’s disease. Warning heavy doses may cause sodium retention, consequently leading to hypertension, water retention and severe electrolyte imbalance.Liquorice

Anti-viral effect : it is found that liver gets affected by some use of chemicals and the person gets susceptible to liver diseases and also cirrhosis of liver can occur. Glycyrrhizin present in liquorice prevents such type of injury. Its anti-viral effect is seen in the fact that it irreversibly binds with the DNA and RNA viruses.

Anti-spasmodic effect : isoliquiritin and isoliquiritigenin contributes towards the said effect.

Miscellaneous health benefits of Licorice

  • Licorice liquid extract is reported to have been used as foam stabilizer in foam type of fire extinguisher.
  • Licorice is an ingredient of licorice compound powder which is claimed to have a potentiating the laxative action of senna.
  • Licorice is also claimed to have estrogenic property to some level.
  • Licorice is also used for treatment of skin diseases like eczema and prostrate cancer.
  • It is used to treat persons on long term steroid consumption because steroids tends to suppress the normal functioning of adrenal glands which are responsible for regulation of body’s response to stress conditions. And hence licorice should be taken with herbs so as to improve the functioning of adrenal glands.
  • Licorice is also used in a herbal form ‘shakuyaku-kanzo-to’ mainly indicated for enhancing fertility in females suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder. Licorice also finds its use in shampoos to remove the oiliness of hairs.

Other Probable Benefits of Liquorice

Liquorice is also undergoing research in treating many other conditions too. Clinical trials have been carried out which suggests that liquorice does have a role in treating bacterial diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. Other conditions includes inflammatory disorders like arthritis as well as liver disorders mainly hepatitis-B and hepatitis-C.

One clinical research study also states that liquorice can act as an inhibitory agent for getting relief from muscle cramps in patients that are diagnosed with cirrhosis or those undergoing haemodialysis. Debate is still going on whether liquorice can be used to eliminate body fat and thereby decrease body weight because liquorice has a drawback of retaining water in the body.
Efficiency of liquorice in treating prostrate cancer and systemic lupus erythmatosus and chronic fatigue syndrome is still under study and requires more clinical trials to strongly support it.

Side effects of Liquorice

A prolonged usage of licorice can also cause the formation of cataracts. Other side-effects of licorice include headache, tiredness, absence of menstrual period in woman, sodium and water retention, and decreased sexual interest and function in men.
Eating large amount of licorice or chewing tobacco containing licorice or glycyrrhetininc acid causes hypokalaemia.

Precautions while using licorice

Some precautions include:

  • Pregnant ladies must avoid using licorice because of chances of increasing risk of preterm labor as well as miscarriage or early delivery.
  • Licorice should not be given to patients with a known history of high blood pressure or those who have an increased salt intake.
  • It can also worsen in patients having arrhythmia or congestive heart failure. If you are suffering from a kidney disease or if you have a nerve-linked muscle problem then you should refrain from using liquorice, it will worsen your health more.
  • While undergoing any surgical procedures, it is mandatory to avoid liquorice consumption prior to the operation for some days because of its interference seen with blood pressure regulation.
  • Liquorice is also not safe for women having hormonal disorders basically those that worsen with estrogen. Henceforth it must not be given to patients suffering from ovarian cancer, breast cancer and uterine cancer.

List of different forms of preparations of licorice

  • Licorice powder- It is a powder of peeled drug.
  • Licorice compound powder- It contains senna leaf, licorice, fennel, sublimed sulphur and sucrose and is used as laxative.
  • Licorice liquid extract.
  • Glygyrrhiza fluid extract- contains licorice, ammonia and alcohol.
  • Licorice lozenges- contains licorice extract and anise oil along with a base.
  • Ammoniated glycyrrhizin- it is the ammonium salt of glycyrrhizin and used as sweetening agent.
  • Stick liquorice.

Consuming peeled licorice roots in powdered and dried forms; capsules, tablets and liquid extracts; glycyrrhizin removed licorice product (DGL).

Conclusion

As stated above liquorice has found itself multiple uses mainly in ulcer treatments and it is undergoing research in its potentials an anti-cancer drug. Its use as sweetening agent is still continuing its demand. It has also entered cosmetic line as a complexion promoter and vitaliser.