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Do You Know Nutrition: Explore Licorice's health benefits

By By Phylis Canion
Nov. 12, 2013 at 5:12 a.m.

Phylis Canion

When I was a kid, my parents gave me licorice to eat for my asthma. I was telling my grandkids about how we ate licorice, and they all turned their noses up. I am an 80-year-old grandpa and think a stick or two of licorice couldn't be that bad for them. What do you think?

In my younger days, I would always ride with my grandfather to the auction ring during the summer months, and he always shared his favorite "snack" with us, which was licorice.

The first time I remember him opening the bag, I thought I would gag from the smell, but after a stick or two, I always felt bulletproof - maybe because we thought we were eating an adult snack. But nevertheless, we ate it and were always healthy. Now, for a bit of licorice history.

Licorice has been around since ancient times and was even found in the tomb of King Tut. Licorice is from the root of a perennial plant and is a member of the pea family. Licorice, prized for its roots, contains glycyrrhizic acid. This acid is 50 times sweeter than sugar and is used as a flavoring in food, tobacco, alcohol, cosmetics and, of course, in licorice candy. Licorice is considered demulcent since it is soothing to irritated membranes and an expectorant because it helps with congestion as well as exhibiting anti-inflammatory effects and anti-allergy activity.

Current research conducted at Rutgers University supports the use of licorice in the treatment of prostate and breast cancers. Licorice also helps reduce stomach acid and increases mucus secretion in the gastric tract, helping reduce heartburn, indigestion and gastric and duodenal ulcers. Because licorice is a powerful drug, serious health problems can result from consuming too much for long periods of time.

Individuals who suffer from high blood pressure, glaucoma, diabetes, kidney or liver disease as well as anyone who is taking digitalis or has suffered from a stroke or heart attack, should limit his or her licorice intake. Organic licorice is always a better choice for that old-fashioned flavor and healthful properties.

Thought for the week: Failure teaches success.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant; email her at doc.phyl@yahoo.com. This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.

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