Licorice (or sweet root, in the UK it is called liquorice) is an herb used for thousands of years for many health issues.
Licorice is believed to help several medical problems. However, the scientific evidence behind these beliefs is scant.
Licorice is also used to soothe digestive problems. Let’s take a closer look at how it might help people with acid reflux and stomach ulcers!
Health benefits of licorice
Licorice root is believed to have many health benefits:
- helps bacterial and viral infections
- kidney problems
- lung, liver diseases
- menopausal symptoms
- atopic dermatitis
Please note that there are no or few studies to back these up. You might also want to check out the potential side effects of excess licorice consumption. (see below)
For more in-depth reading about the health benefits of licorice, please check out this study.
What is DGL?
DGL stands for deglycyrrhizinated licorice.
There is a component in licorice, called glycyrrhizin, which gives a sweet taste to licorice root.
Even though glycyrrhizin proved to be effective in soothing gastric problems, it is also associated with many of the side effects of licorice.
Therefore glycyrrhizin is often removed from tablets and capsules, to make licorice consumption safer. This study found that DGL is actually more effective against gastric ulcers than glycyrrhetinic acid.
How to consume licorice?
The root of the licorice plant is believed to offer numerous health benefits. Licorice root can be consumed in many forms: dried roots, tablets, tea, capsules, or powder.
Turns out it can make a difference how licorice is consumed:
To be effective in healing peptic ulcers, it appears that DGL must mix with saliva. DGL may promote the release of salivary compounds, which stimulate the growth and regeneration of stomach and intestinal cells. DGL in capsule form has not been shown to be effective.(source)
Chewing seems to be the way to go when consuming licorice.
Licorice for acid reflux and ulcer
Conventional acid reflux medications, like antacids and proton-pump inhibitors, decrease the amount of acid in the stomach. While this may soothe symptoms, it doesn’t treat the cause of the problem.
Licorice seems to work in a different way:
This process pretty much looks like the natural defense mechanism of our bodies.
This study found that licorice is also effective against the stomach problems caused by aspirin.
Licorice extract seems to help people with gastric ulcers caused by Heliobacter pylori infection:
These compounds may be useful chemopreventive agents for peptic ulcer or gastric cancer in H. pylori-infected individuals.(source)
This study examined the effect of licorice on duodenal ulcer in 32 patients:
Endoscopic examination in 32 cases of chronic duodenal ulceration treated with deglycyrrhizinized liquorice tablets showed that healing of the ulceration had occurred and in the majority the mucosa appeared normal. For optimum effect it appears to be important that the preparation in adequate dosage should be well chewed and swallowed on an empty stomach in the ambulant patient.(source)
This also seems to back up the findings of a study cited above: chewing seems to be the best way of consuming licorice.
Licorice for heartburn
Heartburn is a typical symptom of acid reflux.
When stomach acids enter the esophagus, they start to irritate the lining of the food pipe, causing a burning sensation around the middle of the chest. This is called heartburn.
As discussed above, licorice facilitates the production of mucus that might protect the esophagus from damage by digestive fluids.
On top of that, chewing licorice helps to secrete more saliva and works like chewing gum.
Chewing gums soothe acid reflux symptoms simply because of the extra saliva production, that washes off the acid from the esophagus.
Side effects of licorice
Unless consumed in excessive amounts, licorice is considered to be safe for most people.
However, long-term intake of large amounts of glycyrrhizin is known to cause several health issues:
- high blood pressure
- low potassium levels (hypokalemia)
- cardiovascular problems
Therefore people with heart or blood pressure problems should stay away from licorice.
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is probably safe for long term use, so if you are planning to take licorice tables, go for the DGL version.
Licorice might also adversely affect some drugs. Possible interactions have been observed with aspirin, insulin, corticosteroids, etc.
It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting to take licorice (or any other supplements).
Licorice has always been an important part of traditional medicine. It is believed to be effective against many diseases.
Even though scientific studies reinforcing these beliefs are scarce, some studies do confirm that licorice might be effective against acid reflux and peptic ulcers.
Licorice is available in many forms, but it seems to be most effective when mixed with saliva, so you might want to choose licorice tablets, that can be chewed.
It is recommended to choose the DGL version, as it is less likely to cause side effects.