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What Are the Health Benefits of Licorice Extract?

By Juniper Russo

Licorice extract, perhaps best known for its use as a confectionery seasoning, potentially offers several medicinal benefits. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, licorice root has been used extensively in both Eastern and Western medicine, and it continues to remain popular as a component of modern integrative naturopathy. If you are interested in using licorice extract or any other herbal supplement, consult your health care provider about the possible benefits and risks associated with it.

Stomach Ulcer Treatment

The UMMC acknowledges licorice's common use as a treatment for peptic ulcers, although the organization notes that there is insufficient evidence to support this. According to the UMMC, deglycyrrhizinated licorice may fight ulcers as effectively as prescription drugs when it is combined with antacids, but there is insufficient evidence to support the use of licorice extract alone. Licorice extract may also help prevent the formation of stomach ulcers in people taking aspirin, which tends to irritate the lining of the digestive tract.

Viral Infections

Licorice extract appears to possess antiviral properties, according to the National Institutes of Health. Limited, inconclusive evidence suggests that it can help treat herpes-family viral infections, including cold sores, chicken pox, shingles and genital herpes. Licorice extract may also help treat viral hepatitis, a form of liver disease caused by one of several contagious viruses. However, more research is needed to support these findings.

Upper Respiratory Health

The UMMC acknowledges licorice extract's traditional use as an expectorant, or a product that loosens phlegm, and as a demulcent, or a soothing agent. Traditionally, licorice has been used as a holistic treatment for coughs, colds and flu. Its active constituent compounds may help soothe and coat irritated respiratory tracts, while its antiviral properties may help shorten the duration of an upper-respiratory infection. Additionally, the UMMC acknowledges licorice extract's traditional use as an asthma treatment. These uses are currently unproven due to a lack of well-designed scientific evidence.

Hormonal Effects

Licorice contains estrogenic compounds such as anethole, dianethole and photoanethole. These compounds, also found in plants such as fennel and anise, increase the production of reproductive hormones such as prolactin, estrogen and progesterone. According to the NIH, licorice may help treat hormone-related conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome. Historically, it was used to induce labor and menstrual abnormalities. Until further studies have evaluated licorice extract's effects on the female endocrine system, it is prudent to avoid it unless otherwise directed by a qualified health care provider.

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