It's sticky, it's sweet and some folks are repulsed by the taste of it. But for others, black licorice is an alluring indulgence that tempts them to overconsume. You know that eating too much of anything can leave your tummy feeling crummy, but eating large amounts of black licorice can have negative effects beyond mere tummyache.
Black licorice contains a substance called glycyrrhizic acid that acts similarly to a hormone called aldosterone. Aldosterone increases the amount of potassium that your body excretes in urine. If you consume large amounts of black licorice over time you may become deficient in potassium – a condition known as hypokalemia.
Hypokalemia is an abnormally low concentration of potassium in your blood. Fruits and vegetables, such as bananas and potatoes, provide dietary potassium. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, hypokalemia is rarely due to insufficient potassium intake. In most cases, potassium loss is the culprit. Since black licorice can increase potassium excretion, it can result in hypokalemia.
Effects of Hypokalemia
If your black licorice consumption is high enough that hypokalemia results, you may experience heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure, water retention, fatigue and congestive heart failure, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. For this reason, the FDA warns against the consumption of large amounts of black licorice within a brief time period.
Positive Effects of Black Licorice
Black licorice consumption isn't all bad. It has been used for centuries by herbalists for conditions ranging from muscle cramps to eczema, according to MedlinePlus. Though there is no actual scientific evidence to back up its purported uses, evidence has supported the use of licorice in combination with other herbs as a possible remedy for heartburn.
You don't have to swear off black licorice completely, but in order to avoid complications from this particular candy, you should keep your consumption within certain limits. MedlinePlus states that even for healthy people, consuming 30 g or more each day for a few weeks can result in hypokalemia, high blood pressure, paralysis and even brain damage. If you have heart disease, kidney disease or use a lot of salt, these effects can occur with as little as 5 g or licorice per day. The FDA states that eating a number of 2-oz. bags of black licorice for 14 days or more can result in abnormal heart rhythms, lethargy and congestive heart failure. As with everything else, enjoy your black licorice in moderation.