Licorice - Treats more than a sweet tooth
In traditional Chinese medicine, licorice is one of the most common drugs, drawn on for everything from the common cold to liver disease. The herb is highly esteemed for its soothing effects on inflamed membranes and its expectorant properties in removing phlegm and mucus from the respiratory tract. In both East and West, it is popular for relief from respiratory ailments (i.e. allergies, bronchitis, sore throats), as well as acid reflux, heartburn, and digestive tract inflammation. A recent survey of Western medical herbalists placed licorice as the 10th most important herb used in clinical practice.
The anti-inflammatory powers of licorice extract are undisputed. A study appearing in the July 24, 2008 edition of the journal Shock found that mice treated with glycyrrhizin extract from licorice experienced markedly reduced inflammation, swelling, and tissue damage after induced spinal cord injury. As if lab mice hadn't suffered enough, another study administered licochalcone A, extracted from licorice root, to mice that had been induced with ear and paw edema. Proving to be very effective against acute inflammation, the licorice root significantly reduced paw edema compared to controls four hours after injury.
The increased emphasis on natural therapies for skin conditions has led to clinical studies involving licorice and inflammatory skin dermatoses. In its June edition, the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology reported that licorice is an effective treatment for rosacea, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and drug-induced skin eruptions. Besides being used to treat stomach ulcers, licorice root is now being applied on canker sores, as reported in the March/April issue of General Dentistry. When housed in a medicated, dissolving oral patch, licorice root takes on a mild taste and significantly decreases ulcer size.
When licorice extract is added to cosmetic formulas in active quantities, it can control redness, flushing, and other types of inflammation. A natural skin lightening alternative to chemical hydroquinone, licorice extract contains an active called glabridin, which inhibits tyrosinase, the enzyme that causes pigmentation in response to sun exposure. It can also help diminish the dark pigmentation resulting from scars. As far as hair goes, licorice is helpful for controlling scalp sebum and keeping dandruff under control. Ayurvedic medicine believes that licorice induces hair growth and that a paste composed of licorice and milk can be applied on bald patches to restore hair.
Licorice extract can be found on an ingredients list under the name dipotassium glycyrrhizate, an anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory salt with skin-soothing properties. Clinical tests point to this ingredient as an effective treatment for atopic dermatitis because of its ability to reduce redness and irritation. Another one of the active components of licorice root is glycyrrhetinic acid, which seems to have mythical powers over a traumatized epidermis. Not only has it been credited with anti-inflammatory abilities, but it also demonstrates anti-allergic, anti-viral, antibacterial, and hepatoprotective benefits.
It's worth noting that glycyrrhizin extract should not be used during pregnancy or by persons with diabetes, glaucoma, heart disease, high blood pressure, and history of stroke. Excessive consumption of glycyrrhizin can cause a hypersensitivity to aldosterone, a hormone produced by the adrenal cortex. This condition may result in fatigue, headaches, and high blood pressure. As a result, some licorice root extracts, called deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), have had the glycyrrhizin removed and seem to be equally effective at reducing inflammation.