When you think of licorice, the twisted, chewy candy you enjoy at the movies is probably what comes to your mind. The real licorice herb comes from the root of a plant called Glycyrrhiza glabra, which has a sweet flavor and is used medicinally for a variety of conditions. Licorice contains a compound known as glycyrrhizin, which could interfere with some medications and medical conditions. For this reason, manufacturers may remove the compound, thereby creating deglycerized, or deglycyrrhizinated, licorice, also known as DGL.
Glycyrrhizin is a part of herbal licorice that can have a hormone-like effect on your body if you consume it in large amounts, according to New York University Langone Medical Center. Glycyrrhizin works like the hormone aldosterone, which impacts your kidney function. Taking too much glycyrrhizin can make you retain excess fluid, which can increase your blood pressure. Also, the compound can make you lose potassium, which can lead to harmful health effects such as fatigue, muscle cramping and loss of consciousness. Eating as little as 5 grams of licorice per day can cause adverse side effects if you have high blood pressure or disease of the heart or kidneys. The University of Maryland Medical Center does not recommend using licorice products for more than four to six weeks to prevent adverse side effects.
To prevent adverse side effects from consuming licorice that contains glycyrrhizin, manufacturers may remove the compound. This licorice type is considered safer for consumption if you have medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney problems, which could otherwise keep you from consuming licorice products. Make sure that any licorice-containing products you want to consume, such as teas or candy chews, contain DGL. Even though DGL poses less risk of side effects than non-DGL, ask your doctor whether DGL is still safe for you to take if you have such medical conditions.
Even without glycyrrhizin, licorice has benefits for treating medical conditions. For example, DGL may be used to relieve pain and discomfort associated with stomach ulcers, according to NYU Langone Medical Center. The recommended dosage for ulcer relief is two to four 380-milligram DGL tablets taken before you eat and right before you go to sleep. DGL powder mixed with warm water also can be gargled four times per day to relieve pain associated with canker sores.
Some licorice candies sold in the United States actually contain very little real licorice or none at all, according to eMedTV. Instead, artificial flavoring or anise, a flavor similar to licorice, is added. So, if you are avoiding glycyrrhizin, you may need to read food labels carefully to ensure either DGL licorice or artificial flavorings were added.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.