Is It Safe to Eat Licorice in Pregnancy?

Sandi Johnson
Sandi Johnson
Women have health concerns during pregnancy.
Women have health concerns during pregnancy.

Whether it is safe to eat licorice in pregnancy depends on the specific product in question. Licorice candy, for example, is typically safe as the product contains anise oil, rather than actual licorice. Anise oil has a taste nearly identical to black licorice and is commonly used to flavor licorice candies. Actual licorice plant, however, is not safe to eat or otherwise consume during pregnancy.

Eating licorice is not recommended during pregnancy.
Eating licorice is not recommended during pregnancy.

Used for a variety of medicinal purposes, the root of the licorice plant is commonly sold in herbal stores and through holistic healthcare providers. Commonly, licorice is used to treat sore throats and stomach or digestive problems like heartburn. Individuals suffering from coughs and congestion due to colds or the flu may also use licorice as an expectorant. Anecdotal reports suggest people with chronic fatigue syndrome, liver problems, lupus, and osteoarthritis may also gain benefits from consuming licorice.

Eating licorice may cause high blood pressure in pregnant women.
Eating licorice may cause high blood pressure in pregnant women.

In terms of licorice in pregnancy, these types of herbal remedies are not recommended for pregnant or nursing women. Although a relatively safe option for shampoos and other topical preparations, ingestion of licorice root or licorice derivatives can cause premature birth or miscarriage. Additional, although milder, concerns include elevated blood pressure, water retention, and hypertonia, a condition that causes a drop in potassium levels.

Eating licorice root while pregnant may cause premature birth or miscarriage.
Eating licorice root while pregnant may cause premature birth or miscarriage.

Not only is use of the root of licorice in pregnancy of concern, but other herbal mixtures that may contain licorice should be avoided. Chinese herbalists, for example, often use licorice root to help blend various other herbs, a practice known as “harmonizing.” While the amount of licorice in such mixtures is typically small, the risks associated with licorice in pregnancy do not rely on dosage. Even a small amount can cause water retention, high blood pressure, or loss of potassium in a pregnant woman.

High blood pressure, along with tiredness, diarrhea, fluid retention and other temporary changes to the body, is a side effect of licorice.
High blood pressure, along with tiredness, diarrhea, fluid retention and other temporary changes to the body, is a side effect of licorice.

Natural licorice contains glycyrrhizin, which mimics naturally occurring hormones responsible for controlling blood pressure and potassium levels. Some manufacturers offer deglycyrrhizinated licorice, but this type of licorice does not protect women from the risk of premature birth or miscarriage. Topical treatments, such as ointments for eczema and psoriasis, containing deglycrrhizinated licorice are, however, considered safe during pregnancy.

Consuming licorice during pregnancy may result in a wealth of problems for pregnant women and their unborn babies.
Consuming licorice during pregnancy may result in a wealth of problems for pregnant women and their unborn babies.

Known to mimic hormones such as estrogen, licorice is commonly used by some cultures to increase a woman's fertility. It is the same estrogen-like property that makes licorice in pregnancy so unsafe in terms of premature birth and miscarriage. For pregnant women, the increase in estrogen and similar properties creates a wealth of potential hazards, both for the woman and the unborn fetus. Insufficient information on the effects of licorice on breast milk exists, but medical professionals advise against using licorice while nursing.

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Discussion Comments

fBoyle

@SarahGen-- I don't agree with you because I had issues when I ate licorice candy while I was pregnant. I didn't have a lot but it gave me heart palpitations. I found out later that the active ingredient in licorice reduces potassium levels in the body and affects blood pressure and heart rhythm. It's best to avoid licorice during pregnancy.

It's also not true that licorice candies all have anise oil. Some of them have a combination of anise oil and licorice extract. So everyone should read the ingredients carefully.

SarahGen

@donasmrs-- I think the studies done on licorice are not entirely accurate. I'm sure that licorice could be harmful to a pregnant women and her baby, but one would have to consume a lot of licorice candy. I'm sure that having a few candies is not going to do anything. If you don't have any side effects such as cramps, don't worry.

I ate licorice candy sometimes when I was pregnant too. It helped with my nausea so I always kept some ginger candies and licorice candies on hand. I never experienced any problems and my baby was born perfectly healthy.

European countries consume a lot of licorice and I've read that many women in Finland eat licorice candy when they are pregnant. If licorice was as dangerous as these studies claim, I'm sure it would have been determined by now in Europe.

donasmrs

I'm four months pregnant and craving licorice candies like crazy. I ate several yesterday without even realizing that it could be unsafe. A relative had sent the licorice candies from Europe and I can't read the label so I have no idea if it contains real licorice or anise. I'm worried that I might have caused myself or the baby harm.

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