Licorice in pregnancy

Licorice in pregnancy

Pregnancy and Licorice

Licorice in pregnancy: introduction

Liquorice (in English “liquorice” or in American “licorice”) is the common name of a botanically defined herbaceous plant G . hairless.

Licorice, especially in roots, has a large number of food applications. On the other hand this product contains some dubious active ingredients whose safety is often the subject of controversy.

In this article we will deal in detail with the implications that the consumption of licorice can have during pregnancy.

General information on licorice

The root of the licorice is consumed, having a sweet and sour taste and a characteristic flavour, as well as various phytotherapeutic properties attributable above all to the active principle called glycyrrhizinic acid. By virtue of its pharmacological characteristics, the consumption of licorice can have several useful applications but also several contraindications . In this article we will better explain its role in the pregnancy diet .

Licorice root is not eaten, rather it is chewed and sucked. However, it is possible to obtain the drug , the extract and the pure aroma, widely used both in industrial and home production.

Insights: hints of botany on licorice

The licorice plant is a perennial herb that belongs to the Fabaceae family, i.e. that of leguminous plants , genus Glycyrrhiza and species glabra . Native to southern Europe and parts of Asia, such as India, licorice is not “related” to other similar-tasting plants such as anise , star anise, wild fennel .

Ownership and Use

Properties of licorice

Licorice extracts have a number of medical applications and are also used in herbal medicine or as herbal remedies . Its properties are: pain reliever – anti-inflammatory for the stomach , bronchodilator , expectorant and laxative .

Glycyrrhizin has also demonstrated antiviral , antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective , and blood pressure -increasing effects in vitro and in vivo. In addition, intravenous glycyrrhizin slows the progression of viral and autoimmune hepatitis. Topically applied licorice demonstrated positive activity against atopic dermatitis in a clinical study . It can also be useful in the treatment of hyperlipidemia (high amount of fat in the blood). It also appears to be effective in treating inflammatory skin hyperpigmentation. Some data suggest that it may find application in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases and dental caries .

Using licorice

For thousands of years, licorice has been used for healing purposes for indigestion , inflammation of the gastro – duodenal mucosa ( gastritis ), gastro-duodenal ulcer , cough and constipation . This is one of the rare cases in which the application of folk medicine corresponds to that of traditional medicine.

Toxicity in Pregnancy

Pregnancy, licorice and baby intelligence

Some scientists from the University of Helsinki (in Finland) have hypothesized that one of the active ingredients contained in licorice, when taken during pregnancy, can affect the IQ of the unborn child, memory capacity and even cause attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ( ADHD ).

Researchers have found that eating licorice while pregnant can correlate with a number of problems with fetal development. This is confirmed by research (also published in the ” Journal of Epidemiology”) carried out on 378 adolescents with an average age of 12.5 years (born in 1998). In Finland, compared to the rest of the countries of the European Union, the consumption of licorice is higher thanks to the popularity of “salmiakki”, a snacksalty to the taste of the famous root. According to the research, girls whose mothers consumed large amounts of licorice during pregnancy (over 500 mg of glycyrrhizin per week, compared with a lower limit of 249 mg/day) were more likely to enter puberty early. In addition, girls and boys whose mothers had consumed large quantities of licorice scored on average seven points lower on intelligence tests, and a parallel higher score on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Controversies on the study of licorice in pregnancy

As with many other diet studies, the big picture is too complex to establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Moreover, glycyrrhizin (the active ingredient of licorice) is not exclusive to this plant and is also found in other products. However, only licorice intake was measured as part of the study, so the actual amount of glycyrrhizin the women consumed is only a rough estimate. There are many factors that influence cognitive development and it is not clear whether the researchers have actually taken them into account.

Is licorice bad for pregnancy?

Hard to tell. There are currently no guidelines suggesting that pregnant women should avoid licorice completely. However, as a precaution, it is advisable to avoid consuming licorice root, herbal remedies , extracts, drugs and flavorings that contain it.

Side effects

Side effects of excess licorice

Excessive consumption of licorice, estimated at over 2 mg of active ingredient per kilogram of body weight per day, can cause various side effects. In particular, the unexplained hypokalaemia (abnormal reduction of potassium in the blood), maintenance of natraemia ( sodium in the blood), muscle weakness, reduction of aldosterone , decline of the renin-angiotensin system and increase of atrial natriuretic hormone (for compensate for changes in homeostasis ).

Licorice intoxication is therefore responsible for impaired corticosteroid metabolism ( hypermineralcorticosteroid syndrome) . In particular, glycyrrhizin and enoxolone exert an inhibitory effect on the degradation of cortisol and its main active constituents. For this reason, in addition to the clinical signs and symptoms described above, the following easily appear: edema , weight gain or loss and arterial hypertension .


Safety of licorice consumption

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers foods containing licorice and derivatives (including the active ingredient glycyrrhizin) to be generally safe, as long as they are not consumed in excess.

Although in healthy people about 400 mg/day of active ingredient (about 200 g of candies) should be needed to trigger symptoms, other jurisdictions suggest not to exceed 100-200 mg/day of glycyrrhizin, which can be translated into about 70-150 g of licorice.

A normal, healthy person should be able to consume 10 mg of glycyrrhizin per day without experiencing any side effects.

As we anticipated in the paragraph concerning the consumption of licorice during pregnancy, it is advisable to avoid it in large quantities. Reasonable consumption (< 249 mg/week of glycyrrhizin) should have no adverse effects.


Contraindications of the use of licorice

They must avoid large quantities of licorice, or in any case doses equal to or greater than 100 mg/day, especially people:

  • Heart disease
  • Suffering from renal insufficiency
  • Hypertensive
  • During pregnancy (but only in considerable quantities).

In these cases, 50 mg/day of licorice can be considered safe.

Other Uses

Other uses of licorice

Most of the marketed licorice (90%) is used as a flavoring agent for tobacco, especially intended for US cigarettes, to which licorice imparts sweetness and a distinctive flavor. Nonetheless, the licorice drug exerts a bronchodilator effect that improves smoke inhalation .

The licorice flavor (from extract or aroma) is also widely used (5% of production) in the confectionery industry for candies and chewingum, ice creams , synthetic sweeteners (in some European and Middle Eastern countries) and in the pharmaceutical industry as an excipient ( 5% of production).



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