Licorice caution issued to oral contraceptive users

February 3, 2003 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Women's Health

Licorice caution issued to oral contraceptive users

Women who are taking oral contraceptives should avoid eating too much licorice, the German National Chemists Association advised recently.

They recommend that women who take oral contraceptives limit their consumption of the black confectionery to 10 grams a day because it can trigger edema, the accumulation of excess fluid in body tissues.

Oral contraceptives are known to be a contributing factor to edema, and women who take the pill and eat licorice around the same time are therefore even more likely to suffer from fluid retention.

Higher risk groups such as diabetics, people with high blood pressure, and those with heart or circulatory diseases, as well as pregnant women should avoid all licorice or eat it only occasionally in small quantities.

Large amounts of licorice could result in edema because it may deplete the body of minerals.

Licorice is made using a medicinal plant called glycyrrhiza glabra, which contains glycyrrhizic acid. This substance gives licorice its distinctive taste but if glycyrrhizic acid is consumed in large quantities, it can also deplete the body of minerals such as potassium, zinc and magnesium. These are needed to maintain the body's sodium balance, and maintain levels of fluid within the body. Fluid retention can in turn lead to higher blood pressure, or muscle damage, as well as swelling of the fingers, legs, feet, abdomen and breasts.

German health ministry guidelines recommend that people consume less than 100 milligrams (mg) of glycyrrhizic acid a day. Almost all licorice products contain less than 200 mg glycyrrhizic acid per 100 grams, so that people should be able to eat at least 50 grams of licorice per day without suffering any side effects. A handful of jellybeans would contain about 50 grams of licorice.

However, the scientists warned that researchers in Iceland had found that eating even small amounts of licorice every day can lead to an increase in blood pressure.

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