Safety of Licorice Root During Pregnancy

Image of pregnant woman touching her belly with hands
Licorice root is not safe for use during pregnancy. (Image: chatsimo/iStock/Getty Images)

If you are pregnant, you should not use licorice root, despite its purported medicinal properties. None of these properties are proven, and licorice is potentially damaging to both mother and developing fetus. In addition, licorice root may cause health problems even if you are not pregnant. Consult your health care provider before adding any supplement or herbal remedy to your diet.

Unsafe During Pregnancy

Licorice root may mimic the effects of estrogen, a female sex hormone, and may induce premature labor in pregnant women. Consequently, women who are pregnant should not use licorice root or any derivative or whole licorice. The safety of licorice root in nursing women has not been evaluated.

Fetal Development Complications

The estrogen-like effects of licorice root may cause severe fetal development complications if this herbal supplement is used during pregnancy. A male fetus exposed to high levels of estrogen may develop testicular abnormalities, which may lead to infertility later in life. In addition, female fetuses exposed to too much estrogen during development may develop reproductive tract problems.

Toxicity

Certain forms of licorice root contain a substance called glycyrrhizin. Anyone who consumes too much glycyrrhizin may be at risk of developing a hormonal condition known as pseudoaldosteronism. Altered hormone levels during pregnancy may lead to miscarriage, early labor or fetal development problems. Pseudoaldosteronism may cause fatigue, lower limb swelling, headaches and elevated blood pressure. In certain cases, this condition may also induce a heart attack. Seek prompt care from your medical provider if you experience pseudoaldosteronism or heart attack symptoms during pregnancy, including chest or upper body pain, difficulty breathing, nausea, dizziness or excessive sweating. Without prompt medical care, a heart attack may be fatal to both you and your baby.

Additional Contraindications

Pregnant women aren't the only people who should avoid using licorice root. Treatment with this herbal supplements may be unsafe for people with certain health concerns or conditions. Women who have hormone-sensitive medical problems, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or uterine, ovarian or breast cancer should avoid taking licorice root. Due to its estrogen-like properties, licorice root may worsen symptoms associated with your health problem. Anyone who has unusually low potassium levels or heart problems, including elevated blood pressure or heart failure, should also avoid taking this herbal treatment. Treatment with licorice root is inappropriate for people with diabetes or liver or kidney disease. In addition, do not take licorice root for at least two week before undergoing any type of surgical procedure.

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