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Licorice (Mulethi): Uses, Benefits, Side Effects, and More!

By Dr Ashok Pal +2 more

Introduction

Licorice, scientifically known as Glycyrrhiza glabra, is one of the most popular medicinal plants belonging to the Fabaceae family.1 It is a perennial herb grown in temperate zones. The plant parts used are runners and roots, which are collected in the fall season. The medicinal use of licorice in western and eastern cultures dates back thousands of years, it is also one of the most common ingredients in Chinese medicine.2 The name Glycyrrhiza is derived from the Greek terms ‘glykos’, meaning sweet, and ‘rhiza’, meaning root. It is native to the Mediterranean region and grown in India, China, Spain, Iran, Russia and Italy.3 Licorice is also known as, Jothi-madh and Mulaithi (Hindi), Licorice, Liqourices, and Sweet wood (English), and Licorice, Liqourices, and Sweet wood (Sanskrit).

Did you know? 

mulethi

  • Licorice root can help relieve symptoms of dyspepsia, such as stomach pain and discomfort. source: ncbi
  • Licorice root can help promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. source: ncbi
  • Licorice root can help reduce symptoms of indigestion and bloating. source: ncbi
  • Licorice cough drops should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women without consulting a healthcare provider. source: NCCIH 
  • Licorice root may help to thin mucus and promote its expulsion from the respiratory tract. source: NCCIH 

Nutritional Value

Licorice is the source of polysaccharides, simple sugars, proteins, amino acids, and mineral salts like calcium, sodium, potassium, iron, zinc, copper, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, silicon, and selenium. It also contains vitamins like B1, B2, B3, B5, E and C. Pectins, starches, resins, and gums.1  

The chief constituent of the roots is glycyrrhizin, a triterpenoid saponins 50 times sweeter than sucrose.1

I have great news for those suffering from indigestion problems! A study found that the root extract of licorice might be a natural and effective remedy for indigestion. It may reduce symptoms, improves individual discomforts, and boosts quality of life.

Dr. Siddharth Gupta, B.A.M.S, M.D (Ayu)

Also Read: Ashwagandha: Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

Properties of Licorice

The properties of licorice are given as follows.

  • It may show antibacterial property
  • It may show anti-inflammatory property
  • It may show expectorant (helps in secretion of sputum) property
  • It may show demulcent (relieves irritation) property4

Also Read: Shilajit: Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

Potential Uses of Licorice

I would suggest licorice if you’re looking for a natural solution to keep your pearly whites healthy! It may have some incredible benefits for your oral and dental health. Yep, it’s true! Studies have shown that licorice and its powerful components are super effective against common oral problems such as cavities and gum diseases.

Dr. Rajeev Singh, BAMS

Due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, there are many potential mulethi benefits and uses associated with licorice root extract.4 Potential uses of licorice against some health conditions are given below.

Potential uses of licorice for cancer

The potential use of licorice in different cancers has been observed in lab-scale studies. However, more research is required to support the use of licorice against human cancer. Therefore, you are advised to strictly adhere to the doctor’s advice and treatment.

Human cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is prevalent cancer in women. Isoliquiritigenin (ISL) is a flavonoid compound present in licorice. In cell line studies, ISL therapy reduced cancer cell growth and enhanced apoptosis (cell death). Thus, ISL may be used for its anticancer property.4

Breast cancer

Globally, breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death in women. ISL could suppress the development of breast cancer during trial. ISL increased apoptosis of cancer cells and inhibited vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2/vascular endothelial growth factor, which are proteins active in cancer cells.4 Therefore, ISL may show potential use in breast cancer.

Liver cancer (in adults)

ISL has shown many anticancer benefits in liver cancer in adults. It showed chemoprotective benefits in an animal model. It also lowered the risk of liver cancer. The antioxidant activity of ISL reduced the oxidative stress caused due to cancer cells. It also stopped the growth of cancer cells.4 ISL may have potential use in liver cancer.

Colon cancer

Administering licorice extract showed a significant reduction of tumour development in colon cancer cells in an animal trial. Licorice extract may be used as a chemoprotective agent to manage colon cancer.4 Therefore, ISL has shown potential use in colon cancer.

Potential uses of licorice for respiratory tract infection

Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation are causes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. ISL has shown anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, due to which it was able to reduce the inflammatory cells in an animal study. Licorice might be explored as a potential remedy for obstructive respiratory diseases.4 However, if you experience any respiratory problems, you must contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Potential uses of licorice for liver

I came across a study that showed the protective effects of licorice extract in the kidneys of diabetic rats. It suggested that it may help improve blood glucose levels and reduce kidney damage. Although licorice extract may be a natural super-hero for diabetes and kidney health, its effects on humans still need to be investigated.

Dr. Smita Barode, B.A.M.S, M.S. 

Glycyrrhizin found in licorice root has shown liver-protective potential in viral hepatitis. Japan and China have developed glycyrrhizin as a liver protective medicine. The anti-inflammatory and antiapoptotic properties of glycyrrhetinic acid, a compound found in licorice, may provide liver-protective benefits.4 However, if you are suffering from liver problems, reach out to your healthcare provider immediately and get a proper diagnosis.

Potential uses of licorice against microbes

Many laboratory studies suggest that licorice extract might be a potential agent against bacterial infection. During trials, liquorice extract has shown promising results against Candida albicans and Staphylococcus aureus infections.4 However, infections require a medical diagnosis and treatment. If you experience any signs of infection, contact your healthcare provider before using licorice.

In my opinion, licorice root extract might just be your secret weapon against hot flashes. Licorice root extract shows promise for ladies going through menopause. It might act as a natural remedy for managing hot flashes.

Dr. Anuja Bodhare, B.A.M.S, M.D (Ayu)

Potential uses of licorice for inflammation

Inflammatory illnesses are becoming common and have a significant impact on daily life. Flavonoids found in licorice may be used as a potential medication for inflammation. Licorice extract has anti-inflammatory properties in managing various diseases, like acute kidney disease. ISL has shown anti-inflammatory activities in kidneys.4 More research is needed to support the use of licorice in inflammatory conditions in humans. Therefore, talk to your healthcare provider and get a proper diagnosis.

Potential uses of licorice for skin

Potential uses of licorice in eczema and psoriasis

Glycyrrhetinic acid may help manage eczema, contact and allergic dermatitis, and psoriasis. It may exert an effect like that of hydrocortisone. It might also be used to enhance the effects of topically applied hydrocortisone by stopping the enzyme responsible for destroying the activity of hydrocortisone.2 However, do not use licorice as an alternative to modern medicine unless recommended by your doctor.

Potential uses of licorice in herpes simplex

As per clinical studies, glycyrrhetinic acid may reduce the healing time and pain related to cold sores and genital herpes. Also, glycyrrhizin could inactivate Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV 1) irreversibly during a trial. HSV 1 is the pathogen responsible for Herpes Simplex infection.2 However, if you notice any signs of cold sores on the skin, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Using any herbal remedy without consulting your healthcare provider can worsen the situation.

Potential uses of licorice in melasma

Glabrene and ISL are components found in licorice. These compounds may stop the enzyme tyrosinase, which is the key enzyme involved in melanin formation. Skin disorders like melasma and age spots arise due to the accumulation of melanin. Glabrene and ISL may be helpful as skin-lightening agents.2 However, do not use any herb or remedy on your skin without talking to a skin doctor first.

Though there are studies showing the benefits of licorice in various conditions, these are insufficient and there is a need for further studies to establish the true extent of the benefits of licorice on human health. 

Also Read: Lemongrass: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects and More!

How to Use Licorice?

Roots and rhizomes of licorice can be used in the form of:

  • Powder
  • Tea
  • Tonic
  • Extract
  • Tincture3

Your Ayurvedic physician will prescribe the form and dose as per your requirement.

You must consult a qualified doctor before taking licorice or any herbal supplements. Likewise, do not discontinue or replace an ongoing treatment of modern medicine with an ayurvedic/herbal preparation without consulting a qualified doctor.  

Also Read: Benefits of Gargling Salt Water: A Research-Backed Oral Health Guide

Side Effects of Licorice

Licorice is the word for mulethi in English. Potential mulethi side effects are shared below.

  • Regular ingestion of licorice is associated with hypertension, sodium and water retention, and hypokalemia (below normal levels of potassium in the blood).2 
  • Excessive licorice consumption can cause metabolic alkalosis, low renin activity, and hypoaldosteronism.4

Before using licorice or any herbal remedy, you are advised to talk to your healthcare provider about the possible side effects associated with its use. It will help you avoid side effects.

Also Read: Black Cohosh: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects and More!

Precautions to Take With Licorice

Here are some general precautions you need to take with licorice. 

  • While taking licorice, monitoring of blood pressure and electrolytes is recommended. Increasing the dietary potassium intake is also suggested.
  • Licorice should be avoided in patients with a history of renal failure and hypertension or those who are currently using digitalis preparations.2 
  • People taking insulin or any oral hypoglycemic drug must closely monitor their blood glucose levels when using licorice.2
  • Licorice consumption should be avoided in pregnant and breastfeeding women as there is insufficient data available regarding its safe consumption during pregnancy and lactation.5

Also, before using licorice for any health condition, you are advised to consult your doctor about the possible precautions associated with licorice.

Interaction With Other Drugs

Licorice root extract inhibits a major human drug-metabolising enzyme called the P450 enzyme. Therefore, it may increase the effects of drugs metabolised by the P450 enzyme.2

Also, if you are taking medicines for any health conditions, make sure you talk to your healthcare provider about the possible interactions of the drug with other herbs and medications.

Also Read: Marshmallow Root: Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects & More! 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What is licorice?

The plant Glycyrrhiza glabra is commonly known as licorice. It belongs to the Fabaceae family. It is a medicinal plant.3

What is licorice called in Tamil?

Licorice is called Atimaduram in Tamil.3

Is it safe to consume licorice during pregnancy?

Licorice use should be avoided during pregnancy due to insufficient data available regarding its safe use.5 Consult your healthcare provider before using any herbal remedy.

Is it safe to add licorice to food?

Licorice root is used as a flavouring agent for chewing gums, candies, baked goods, ice creams, and even soft drinks. The use of licorice extract and glycyrrhizin in foods has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Association, the Council of Europe, and the joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives.1

What are the benefits of licorice for skin?

Glycyrrhetinic acid may help manage eczema, contact and allergic dermatitis, and psoriasis. In addition, Glabrene and isoliquiritigenin found in licorice might be helpful in skin disorders like melasma and age spots that arise due to the accumulation of melanin. Glabrene and isoliquiritigenin may also be useful skin-lightening agents.2 however, before using any herb on your face or skin, you are advised to talk to your skin doctor.

How to use licorice for sore throat?

Licorice might be used as a demulcent for sore throat. Licorice powder, as well as extract, may be used for managing sore throat.3 however, if your symptoms don’t improve, talk to your healthcare provider.

Can licorice be used as a sweetener?

Glycyrrhizin, the main constituent of licorice root, is 50 times sweeter than sucrose. Therefore, it can be used as a sweetener.1

References

1. Pastorino G, Cornara L, Soares S, Rodrigues F, Oliveira MBPP. Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): A phytochemical and pharmacological review. Phytotherapy Research [Internet]. 2018 Dec 1 [cited 2022 Mar 15];32(12):2323. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7167772/#:~:text=Pharmacological%20experiments%20have%20demonstrated%20that,studies%20have%20reported%20some%20concerns.

2. Murray MT. Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice). Textbook of Natural Medicine [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2022 Mar 15];641. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7348626/

3. Sharma V, Katiyar A, Agrawal RC. Glycyrrhiza glabra: Chemistry and Pharmacological Activity. Sweeteners [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2022 Mar 15];87. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7124151/#:~:text=The%20chemical%20composition%20of%20G,%2Dinflammatory%2C%20antidiabetic%2C%20etc.

4. Wahab S, Annadurai S, Abullais SS, Das G, Ahmad W, Ahmad MF, et al. Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice): A Comprehensive Review on Its Phytochemistry, Biological Activities, Clinical Evidence and Toxicology. Plants (Basel, Switzerland) [Internet]. 2021 Dec 1 [cited 2022 Mar 15];10(12). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34961221/ 5. Licorice Root – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. [cited 2022 Mar 15]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=19&contentid=Licorice

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational/awareness purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional and should not be relied upon to diagnose or treat any medical condition. The reader should consult a registered medical practitioner to determine the appropriateness of the information and before consuming any medication. PharmEasy does not provide any guarantee or warranty (express or implied) regarding the accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of the information; and disclaims any liability arising thereof.

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