A Scary Treat? FDA Warns on Overconsumption of Black Licorice

It turns out Mom and Dad weren’t completely wrong when they told you that too much candy wasn’t a good thing.

Just in time for kids of all ages, the FDA is encouraging moderation if you enjoy snacking on black licorice given out during the biggest candy eating holiday of the year.   As you dig into your candy this Halloween, the FDA provides these warnings about the old-fashioned standby:

  • if you’re 40 or older, eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could cause an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia; and
  • it can interact with some medications, namely herbs and dietary supplements – consult a health care professional if you have questions possible interactions with a drug or supplement you take.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says the plant’s root has a long history of use as a folk or traditional remedy in both Eastern and Western medicine. It has been used as a treatment for heartburn, stomach ulcers, bronchitis, sore throat, cough and some infections caused by viruses, such as hepatitis; however, not enough data is available to determine if licorice is effective in treating any medical condition.

Black licorice can contain the compound glycyrrhizin, which is the sweetening compound derived from licorice root. Glycyrrhizin can cause potassium levels in the body to fall, resulting in abnormal heart rhythms, as well as high blood pressure, edema (swelling), lethargy, and congestive heart failure.  However, potassium levels are usually restored with no permanent health problems when consumption of black licorice stops.

Plus, many licorice candy products or food with licorice flavoring do not actually contain any real licorice but instead use anise oil, which has a similar smell and taste but none of the linked health problems.

The takeaway message from the FDA?

No matter what your age, don’t eat large amounts of black licorice at one time.