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Black Licorice and Stomach Pain

by
author image Shannon Marks
Shannon Marks started her journalism career in 1994. She was a reporter at the "Beachcomber" in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and contributed to "Philadelphia Weekly." Marks also served as a research editor, reporter and contributing writer at lifestyle, travel and entertainment magazines in New York City. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from Temple University.
Black Licorice and Stomach Pain
A close-up of black licorice candy. Photo Credit scisettialfio/iStock/Getty Images

Licorice is an herb that is derived from Glycyrrhiza glabra, a perennial that grows naturally in parts of Europe and Asia. It has been used for medicinal purposes in ancient Greece and Roman times, according to the "Journal of the Pharmaceutical Society of Japan." In modern times, the herb is used for its extract for the treatment of stomach problems and to produce candy, including black licorice.

About Black Licorice

Not all black licorice candy is made from Glycyrrhiza glabra. Black licorice also may be made with anise oil, a different herb that has an aroma and flavor that’s similar to licorice. The University of Michigan Health System reports that while anise is an alternative therapy that has been traditionally used for the treatment of indigestion, heartburn and stomach acid, there’s little or no scientific evidence to support these claims.

Licorice Compounds

Compounds in herbal licorice have been linked to easing stomach pain. In patients with stomach ulcers, 90 percent experienced an improvement in symptoms and 22 out of 100 were ulcer-free after six weeks of treatment with licorice, according to St. Luke’s Sugar Land Hospital in Texas. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL -- which is herbal licorice with the compound used for making candy removed – is often used for the treatment of peptic ulcers. Antacids with DGL have been shown in some studies to perform as well as prescription medications for the treatment of ulcers.

Side Effects

In some cases, eating black licorice made with glycyrrhizin could worsen stomach pain or cause breathing difficulties. Eating too much licorice can lead to water retention, also known as edema, and low potassium, or hypokalemia. Symptoms of edema include shortness of breath and chest pain. Hypokalemia can lead to constipation, which causes abdominal discomfort and cramps. Finally, consuming too much candy, even a confection with a known ulcer-curing compound, can cause indigestion, bloating, cramps and nausea.

Treatment

To get relief from abdominal pain, St. Luke's suggests taking herbal licorice rather than its confectionery cousin. You can consume 1 gram to 5 grams of infused dried licorice root three times a day or take 250 milligrams to 500 milligrams of licorice extract three times daily. For a peptic ulcer, take 0.4 gram to 1.6 grams of DGL three times a day. Avoid the risk of dangerous side effects If your symptoms persist a week or longer, stop taking licorice and talk to your doctor.

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