Just in time for tonight's annual trick-or-treating festivities, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning adults over the age of 40 to watch their black licorice intake. Like all things in life, moderation is key when it comes to this old-fashioned favorite, the FDA says, because eating too much of this chewy candy could actually land you in the hospital.
If you're over the age of 40, limit yourself to no more than two ounces (about three 1-inch pieces) of black licorice per day, the FDA warns in its consumer update. Why? Chowing down on more than that can cause an irregular heartbeat, also known as an arrhythmia.
The cause of this unexpected health risk is glycyrrhizin, a sweetening compound in licorice that causes potassium levels in the body to drop dramatically, according to experts at the FDA. When this happens, people can experience high blood pressure, edema (swelling due to excess water), lethargy, and heart failure in addition to irregular heartbeats.
Linda Katz, MD, says the FDA received a report last year of a black-licorice fan experiencing unspecified problems after munching a few too many pieces of licorice. Previous studies have indicated black licorice could have a negative effect on people who have a history of heart disease or high blood pressure. Fortunately, Dr. Katz says potassium levels can usually be restored and there are few, if any, permanent health problems.
That said, it's always best to be safe rather than sorry. So the FDA recommends the following to people who like black licorice:
— Consult your doctor before eating black licorice if you take medications, herbs, or supplements as the licorice can interact with them.
— People of all ages should avoid eating large amounts of black licorice in one sitting.
— If you have already eaten a lot of black licorice and notice muscle weakness or irregular heartbeats, stop eating it immediately and contact your doctor.
Health Benefits of Licorice
Licorice has long been used in traditional medicine to treat conditions like a sore throat, cough, heartburn, stomach ulcers, bronchitis, and viruses like hepatitis; however, more research is needed to determine if licorice is actually an effective treatment for any of those conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health says there is insufficient data.
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