People were taking licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) medicinally as much as 4,500 years ago in ancient Egypt and Syria. Today, it’s recognized as one of the most researched herbal remedies, and studies have confirmed many of its traditional uses. Although licorice root is recommended for many different complaints, the two most common are adrenal exhaustion and digestive problems.
ALIAS: Two types of licorice root supplements are available, and it’s crucial to understand the difference between them. The first is essentially a whole licorice root extract that contains glycyrrhetinic acid, which is helpful in resolving adrenal exhaustion but may cause hypertension if overused. The other type is deglycyrrhizinated—commonly known as DGL licorice—in which the glycyrrhetinic acid has been removed to prevent blood pressure issues.
HOW IT WORKS: Glycyrrhetinic acid blocks the body’s breakdown of cortisol, which has potential health benefits and risks. Glycyrrhetinic acid can boost adrenal gland function, which enhances stress resistance. However, too much glycyrrhetinic acid can mimic the body’s overproduction of aldosterone, a condition known as pseudoaldosteronism, which leads to high blood pressure, sodium and water retention, and potassium depletion.
Jim faced tremendous stresses at his job. Late hours ate into his sleep, and he became dependent on coffee. He knew it was serious when his fatigue became chronic and he felt dizzy standing up.
A physician gave Jim a saliva cortisol test, which showed that he was suffering from adrenal exhaustion. The doctor recommended several "adaptogenic" supplements, including licorice root, rhodiola, ashwagandha, vitamin C, and B vitamins.
Jim felt better after a couple weeks, and completely recovered after three months—at which time, he decided to look for a less stressful job.
Adrenal exhaustion. When you experience chronic stress, your body increases production of the stress-buffering hormone cortisol. Adrenal exhaustion develops when the body can no longer sustain this high cortisol output. Fatigue typically follows, and many people become dependent on caffeine to increase their energy levels. Licorice root (containing glycyrrhetinic acid) helps because it blocks the body’s breakdown of cortisol, enabling a restoration of normal levels of the hormone.
People with adrenal exhaustion typically have low cortisol levels in the morning and high levels in the evening, providing a late-night “second wind.” So take licorice root supplements with breakfast and lunch, but not dinner, to help restore a normal cortisol pattern. You will need less licorice root as you recover.
Digestive problems. Licorice is considered a demulcent—that is, an herb that provides a soothing coating to the upper digestive tract. DGL licorice supplements may lead to improvements in heartburn, gastric reflux, and gastric and duodenal ulcers.
Diabetes. Some evidence indicates that the licorice root may also help reduce blood sugar and insulin resistance, two of the hallmarks of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Although these studies used pure glycyrrhetinic acid, it may be better to use DGL licorice root to avoid an increase in high blood pressure.
Cavities. Research at the University of California’s school of dentistry suggests that licorice root can protect against cavities. Both in-vitro and two small human studies found that licorice root led to a significant reduction in cavity-causing bacteria. Bear in mind that sugar-filled licorice candy is likely to promote cavities, not reduce them.
Inflammation. Licorice has broad anti-inflammatory properties—important because every disease process involves inflammation to some degree. Cell studies have documented that licorice root reduces the activity of many different proinflammatory compounds, including cyclooxygenase, lipoxygenase, and prostaglandin E2. In Japan, a product containing glycyrrhetinic has been used by doctors for 60 years to treat allergies and hepatitis.
BACKGROUND CHECK: Glycyrrhetinic acid (also known as glycyrrhizin) is 50 times sweeter than sugar—hence, its use in candy. However, licorice candies typically contain large amounts of sugar and should not be used medicinally. In fact, many candies use similar tasting herbs, such as anise or fennel, to mimic the taste of licorice.
GLEANINGS: The German government has long licensed licorice root as a medicinal tea to be used for the treatment of bronchitis and gastritis.
HEADS UP: Before taking licorice for adrenal exhaustion, make sure you have a correct diagnosis. Some of the key symptoms include fatigue, low blood pressure, and dizziness when standing up.
WHAT TO TAKE: If you suffer from adrenal exhaustion, choose a “whole” licorice root supplement or tincture containing glycyrrhetinic acid. For all other needs, use a DGL supplement. Follow label directions because product potencies may vary.
Michael's naturopathic adrenal xtra energy support combines licorice with other adrenal-supportive nutrients, including ashwaghanda, rhodiola, vitamin C, and pantothenic acid.
Nature's Life DGL Licorice is a chewable form of the herb. All you need is one tablet daily to help ease digestive-related issues. Bonus: The tablets are sugar free and sweetened with xylitol.
traditional medicinals organic licorice root tea is a delicious tea made with wild-collected, not farm-grown, licorice. Also, the licorice is certified according to the FairWild Standard.