When herbalists talk about licorice, they aren’t referring to the sweet black candy with the same name, although licorice root was the original flavor for the candy. Licorice root, harvested from the licorice, or Glycyrrhiza glabra, plant, is an herbal remedy and food ingredient with thousands of years of use. DGL, or deglycyrrhizinated licorice, is a derivative of licorice root. While both products may be beneficial, do not use them to treat any medical condition unless directed to do so by your doctor. The FDA does not oversee herbal remedies, so quality and safety may vary from one product to the next.
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Licorice Root and DGL
Licorice root, harvested, dried and cut, comes directly from the peeled root of the licorice plant, which is native to the Middle East. After drying, herbal manufacturers may grind the hard roots into a powder or make a liquid extraction. The root contains glycyrrhetic acid, triterpene saponins, flavonoids, isoflavonoids, cumestan derivatives and hydroxycoumarins, according to the “PDR for Herbal Medicines.” The root may have anti-inflammatory and anti-platelet properties. The presence of glycyrrhetic acid in licorice root is of concern because it can cause side effects in some. Through a process that removes the acid, called deglycyrrhizination, DGL results, which is still beneficial in treating some conditions. If the product does not contain glycyrrhetic acid, the label will specify “DGL Licorice.”
Potential Internal Benefits
Licorice root and DGL licorice are both instrumental in treating peptic ulcers in the lining of the stomach, the small intestine, the mouth and the esophagus, according to the “Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine.” Lozenges, mouthwashes, chewable tablets and teas include the herbal methods available for taking licorice root or DGL. In addition to ulcers, licorice root may be beneficial, due to the presence of glycyrrhetic acid, for treating adrenal gland problems, hypoglycemia, high cholesterol and muscle spasms. Clinical studies confirming these benefits are lacking, however.
Potential External Benefits
Topical ointments containing extract of licorice root may assist in the treatment of minor skin conditions, including eczema, carbuncles, wounds and minor cuts, according to the “PDR.” Since glycyrrhetic acid is not available in milder, DGL preparations, the benefits of topical use for these conditions may not be as effective.
The “PDR” lists chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, renal disorders, high blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat as potentially dangerous side effects associated with taking regular licorice. The risk of side effects increases with overdosing. Do not give licorice root to those who suffer from heart disease, fluid retention, kidney or liver disorders, diabetes or elevated blood pressure. In addition, do not give licorice root to pregnant women and nursing mothers, unless directed to do so by a doctor. Talk to your doctor about the potential interference of licorice products, including DGL, with any current medications you’re taking. Licorice may interfere with ACE inhibitors, corticosteroids, diabetes medications, laxatives, digoxin, contraceptives and MAO inhibitors.