According to the findings of a recent case report, side effects of black licorice may lead to serious heart risks, including death, when large amounts are consumed.
Researchers from Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital highlighted problems experienced by a man who suffered a fatal cardiac arrest, after consuming several bags of black licorice each day. The report published last month by the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that while this may be uncommon, it may could be an unexpected result of consuming massive amounts of black licorice.
The case report details the death of a 54-year-old man, who was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital after suffering cardiac arrest associated with ventricular fibrillation.
In January 2019, the patient was in a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant when he gasped suddenly and lost consciousness. Emergency medical technicians arrived, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation was initiated.
He had no history of heart problems, walked his dog regularly and worked a physically demanding job as a construction worker. He ate a poor diet and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. He recently switched from eating red licorice each day to black licorice, which was done three weeks before his death.
According to the case study the patient ingested too much glycyrrhizic acid, which is found in black licorice. The glycyrrhizic acid caused his potassium levels to drop quickly, prompting cardiac arrest. The patient never regained consciousness and died about 24 hours after arriving being hospitalized.
Glycyrrhizic acid is a plant extract from the licorice root. It is often used as a sweetener for candies and other foods. However, it can lead to dangerously low potassium levels if consumed in high enough doses. This can also lead to high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, edema, lethargy, and congestive heart failure.
In the case of this patient, eating several bags per day ultimately lead to his death, doctors determined.
Doctors ran multiple lab tests and confirmed his potassium levels were well below normal. They studied his medical history and discovered he had no family history of cardiac disease or other conditions linked to low potassium levels.
There was no other clear cause for why his potassium levels were so low. The case was reported to the FDA.
Researchers said the case raises a public health issue, highlighting the potentially deadly risk of consuming large amounts of licorice.
Other studies have also raised concerns regarding high levels of licorice consumption. In 2012, a study focused on a 35-year-old man who drank a liter of licorice flavored water and temporarily lost control of his motor functions.
The doctors say consumers need to be informed by candy and other food manufacturers about the levels of glycyrrhizic acid in their products.
These are very unusual cases and are not the norm, but there still should be a warning to the public to be aware of any substance taken into the body in excess., the researchers wrote.