One of the many staples of Halloween, black licorice candy, can be a real treat for those with a sweet tooth. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns the tangy-tasting morsel can be tricky if eaten in large amounts by those with high-blood pressure or heart conditions.
FDA food experts say licorice contains a compound called glycyrrhizin, a sweetening chemical that comes from the root of licorice shrubs which are mainly grown in Greece, Turkey and Asia. The glycyrrhizin compound can lower potassium levels, which can lead to abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), high blood pressure, edema (swelling) or even congestive heart failure.
Several medical journals have linked black licorice to health problem in adults over 40 years old, some with histories of heart disease or high blood pressure, according to the FDA. The federal agency also reports that last year, it received a report from one licorice lover who experienced similar health issues after eating the tangy treat.
Thankfully, nearly all of the licorice candy in the U.S. isn't made from actual licorice root. (Anise oil, which mimics the taste and smell of licorice, is used instead.) And the abnormal heart rhythms and other side effects aren't permanent.
Still, the FDA warns that adults over 40 years old with heart conditions probably shouldn't over-indulge. The agency says more than two ounces a day for more than two weeks could lead to arrhythmia. The FDA also advises:
- No matter what your age, don't eat large amounts of black licorice at one time.
- If you have been eating a lot of black licorice and have an irregular heart rhythm or muscle weakness, stop eating it immediately and contact your healthcare provider.
- Black licorice can interact with some medications, herbs and dietary supplements. Consult a health care professional if you have questions about possible interactions with a drug or supplement you take.
Licorice has been touted as an alternative natural supplement to treat various ailments such as bronchitis, coughs, sore throat and stomach woes, but scientific studies have been inconclusive of its effectiveness.
For more information on licorice, see Consumer Reports' Guide to natural health supplements. And if you've had any issues eating black licorice, contact your local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator.
Black Licorice: Trick or Treat? [FDA]