Too Much Black Licorice Could Cause Heart Problems, FDA Warns

Consuming too much black licorice may cause abnormal heart rhythm or high blood pressure, according to warnings issued by federal health experts in conjunction with the Halloween holiday. 

While Americans will be binging on candy for the next week or so, the FDA issued a black licorice warning, indicating that eating excessive amounts may cause heart arrhythmia, swelling or even congestive heart failure

The warning notes that it is, in fact, possible for someone to overdose on black licorice.

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The agency encouraged moderation when choosing to snack on black licorice, especially if you are 40 years or older. Eating the equivalent of two ounces of black licorice a day for two weeks could cause a person to require medical attention, according to the warning.

Black licorice contains glycyrrhizin, which is a sweetener made from the licorice root, which comes from a low growing shrub mostly grown in Greece, Turkey, and Asia. Large amounts of glycyrrhizin may cause potassium levels in the body to drop, which in turn may cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy, and congestive heart failure.

The FDA received a report after Halloween last year of one person who experienced heart problems from black licorice. The agency identified the person as a black licorice “aficionado,” but did not indicate how much of the candy was consumed by the individual.

Medical journals have also linked black licorice over consumption with health problems, including heart issues, especially among individuals older than 40 years. This can be especially problematic for those who may also have a history of heart disease and/or high blood pressure. However, once you stop eating black licorice, normal potassium levels are typically restored and there are usually no permanent health problems, the agency notes.

Black licorice is often also used as flavoring in food, but the foods manufactured in the U.S. do not contain licorice. Instead, anise oil is used, which has the same taste and smell. Licorice root is also sold as a dietary supplement, but can be found deglycyrrhizinated (DGLA), with the glycyrrhizin removed.

The FDA recommends not eating large quanitities of black licorice at once. The agency also suggests that if you’ve eaten a lot of black licorice and experience symptoms, like irregular heart rhythm or muscle weakness, stop eating it immediately and see a doctor.

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