The symptoms of menopause can be quite a nuisance. But, whether you love it or hate it, licorice could be the secret to easing the discomfort. In fact, studies show licorice root contains compounds that activate estrogen receptors to boost levels of the hormone in the body. During menopause your estrogen levels dip, this triggers hot flashes, but licorice has been found to counteract such uncomfortable symptoms.
If you're not a fan of the candy, not to worry, it's the root itself not the sugary treats that are thought to be effective against menopausal symptoms. So, taking supplements is just fine. In fact, in a 2012 study of 90 women, found that those who took capsules containing licorice extract reported decreased frequency and severity of hot flashes. Another study conducted in 2014 found that women who took licorice supplements reported shorter duration of hot flashes.
However, before you take licorice root, speak to your doctor. New research has discovered that it may also contain compounds that interfere with prescription drugs when taken together. In a presentation for the American Chemical Society, Richard van Breemen, PhD, director of the UIC/NIH Center for Botanical Dietary Supplements Research, discovered that three types of licorice - two North American species, Glycyrrhiza and G. inflata, and a European species called G. glabra, inhibited liver enzymes that help you metabolize drugs. Van Breemen says that 'the liver has enzymes that process medications, and if these enzymes are induced, or inhibited, the drugs will either be processed too quickly or too slowly, respectively.
His team found that the two North American species induced these enzymes, meaning they could cause your body to process prescription drugs way too fast. They discovered that the European species, G. glabra, was the least likely to interfere with medications. They found that even though it inhibited the enzymes, it didn't induce them.
As great as the benefits may be, licorice is a potent root that has the potential to negatively affect the body in other ways. It contains glycyrrhizic acid, which can elevate sodium levels and reduce potassium levels, an effect that could lead to abnormal heart rhythms, as well as high blood pressure, edema (swelling), lethargy and congestive heart failure. For this reason, the FDA has warned black licorice lovers over 40 with hypertension or heart problems to limit how much of it they eat.
Furthermore, in van Breemen's research, 15 to 20% of Americans report using plant-derived dietary supplements (such as those containing licorice root) simultaneously with prescription meds. To be safe, it is important that you should always tell your healthcare provider if you plan to take any supplements. But he does believe licorice is a viable natural treatment for hot flashes, and plans to start clinical trials on G. glabra-based supplements in 2018.
Although current research hails licorice's potential as a natural menopause symptom treatment, professor and bioscientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Jodi Flaws, does not believe there is enough evidence. She has conducted her own research against its use for menopausal treatment.
In a 2016 study that she conducted on mice, published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, she found that one licorice compound - isoliquiritigenin - actually interfered with estrogen production. They found that isoliquiritigenin reduces the ability of the ovary to make the hormone estrogen. This finding is important because estrogen is the major hormone produced by the ovary and it is also the hormone that is linked with a reduction in risk of hot flashes.
In conclusion, as with any dietary supplement, you should consult with your doctor before taking capsules containing licorice, especially since the FDA does not regulate supplements. Van Breemen adds that in the future, they hope that eventually more of these products will undergo clinical testing of safety and efficacy.
Still unsure? Discover more about the benefits of taking licorice root as well as the risk by watching the video below.