Licorice and Blood Pressure

Known as the "silent killer," high blood pressure is a common ailment that puts patients at risk for many serious health problems. Eating a healthy diet in general is one way to ward off hypertension, but did you know there is one type of candy in particular that may increase your risk? Learn the connection between black licorice and blood pressure, and whether you're better off staying away from the sweet stuff.

Black licorice and health problems

Black licorice is an old-fashioned staple that many people consider a tasty treat. The FDA, however, has reported a connection between the candy and certain health problems in people over 40. Eating large quantities of the stuff is believed to lead to irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, and other problems, in people with or without a history of heart disease or hypertension.

How does black licorice raise blood pressure?

Black licorice, and products that are flavored with black licorice, contain a compound called glycyrrhizin. This is the sweetening product that comes from the licorice root. Eating too much glycyrrhizin can cause the body's levels of potassium to fall.

When potassium levels drop too low, this can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, swelling and edema, a tired or weak feeling, and even congestive heart failure.

Generally, when a person stops eating the black licorice, their potassium levels go back to normal, and any resulting symptoms are usually reversed.

How much licorice is safe to eat?

The concerns about black licorice and blood pressure mainly just apply to people who are over 40 years old. However, no matter what your age is, you may want to moderate your licorice consumption, just to be safe.

If you eat around two ounces of black licorice per day, that can be enough to land some candy aficionados in the hospital with irregular heart rhythms within a couple of weeks.

The risk is higher depending on how much licorice you eat in one sitting, so try limiting yourself to just one or two pieces at a time.

Those who already have heart disease or high blood pressure might want to consider skipping the black licorice altogether.

When to call a doctor

If you have been eating a lot of black licorice, there are certain signs and symptoms that are red flags and should lead you to call your health care provider, especially if you are over 40. Call your doctor if you are experiencing muscle weakness, an irregular heartbeat, or any other symptoms which are out of the ordinary.

Black licorice is fine for most people to consume in moderation, but you may want to skip eating several ounces at a time or indulging in it every day. The connection between licorice and blood pressure is one that has only been made recently, but knowing about it may keep certain people from putting themselves at risk, or ending up in the emergency room with heart problems.

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