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Liquorice

 

Liquorice

Liquorice or licorice is the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra from which a sweet flavour can be extracted. The liquorice plant is a legume (related to beans and peas) that is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. It is not related to Anise, Star Anise, or Fennel, which are the sources of similar flavouring compounds.

It is an herbaceous perennial, growing to 1 m in height, with pinnate leaves about 7–15 centimetres (3–6 in) long, with 9–17 leaflets. The flowers are 0.8–1.2 cm (½–? in) long, purple to pale whitish blue, produced in a loose inflorescence. The fruit is an oblong pod, 2–3 centimetres (1 in) long, containing several seeds. The flavor of liquorice comes mainly from a sweet-tasting compound called anethole (“trans”-1-methoxy-4-(prop-1-enyl)benzene), an aromatic, unsaturated ether compound also found in anise, fennel, and other herbs. Additional sweetness in liquorice comes from glycyrrhizin, a compound sweeter than sugar.

Use in medicine

Glycyrrhiza glabra from Koehler’s Medicinal-Plants

The compound glycyrrhizic acid, found in liquorice, is now routinely used throughout Japan for the treatment and control of chronic viral hepatitis, and there is a possible transaminase-lowering effect. Hepatoprotective mechanisms have been demonstrated in mice. Recent studies indicate that glycyrrhizic acid disrupts latent Kaposi sarcoma (as also demonstrated with other herpesvirus infections in the active stage), exhibiting a strong anti-viral effect.

Liquorice affects the body’s endocrine system as it contains isoflavones (phytoestrogens). It might lower the amount of serum testosterone slightly, but whether it affects the amount of free testosterone is unclear. Consuming liquorice can prevent hyperkalemia.[citation needed] Large doses of glycyrrhizinic acid and glycyrrhetinic acid in liquorice extract can lead to hypokalemia and serious increases in blood pressure, a syndrome known as apparent mineralocorticoid excess. These side effects stem from the inhibition of the enzyme 11?-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (type 2) and subsequent increase in activity of cortisol on the kidney. 11?-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase normally inactivates cortisol in the kidney; thus, liquorice’s inhibition of this enzyme makes the concentration of cortisol appear to increase.

Cortisol acts at the same receptor as the hormone aldosterone in the kidney and the effects mimic aldosterone excess, although aldosterone remains low or normal during liquorice overdose. To decrease the chances of these serious side effects, deglycyrrhizinated liquorice preparations are available. The disabling of similar enzymes in the gut by glycyrrhizinic acid and glycyrrhetinic acid also causes increased mucus and decreased acid secretion. It inhibits Helicobacter pylori, is used as an aid for healing stomach and duodenal ulcers, and in moderate amounts may soothe an upset stomach. Liquorice can be used to treat ileitis, leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease as it is antispasmodic in the bowels.

The compounded carbenoxolone is derived from liquorice. Some studies indicate it may inhibit an enzyme in the brain that is involved in making stress-related hormones, which have been associated with age-related mental decline.

Use in alternative medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine, liquorice is commonly used in herbal formulae to “harmonize” the other ingredients in the formula and to carry the formula to the twelve “regular meridians” and to relieve a spasmodic cough.

In herbalism it is used in the Hoxsey anti-cancer formula, and is a considered adaptogen which helps reregulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. It can also be used for auto-immune conditions including lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and animal dander allergies.

Liquorice may be useful in conventional and naturopathic medicine for both mouth ulcers and peptic ulcers. Liquorice is also a mild laxative and may be used as a topical antiviral agent for shingles, ophthalmic, oral or genital herpes.

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