This article started in response to a question: “what is the best supplement to take before a workout.” Licorice seems as good a choice as several other products. So I looked into it. First of all Licorice has a lot of interesting chemicals in it. Many of these seem to be good for you. As long as its used in moderation. Every silver lining has a cloud. Licorice contains several different pretty powerful anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are important because they protect cells and DNA from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage increases risk of cancer and shortens cell life. A research team in China, isolated six different compounds from licorice extract. The licorice compounds were then tested for anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation can also lead to oxidative damage and can increase risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and etc. Anti-inflammatory agents may protect long-term health. The compounds are listed below in case anyone wants to look into them a little more deeply. Interested in making the switch from booze and cigarettes to licorice and tea? New research indicates licorice may be the better choice.
All of the compounds had health protective qualities. Many shared the same properties. Here are a few of the things licorice extract can do:
- Anti-Oxidant Power. Three of the compounds in licorice extract were strong anti-oxidants. The three were better at scavenging free radicals than Vitamin C.
- Inhibit Lipid Peroxidation. A number of the compounds were able to inhibit lipid peroxidation. Lipid peroxidation damages cell membranes. Stopping lipid peroxidation is generally considered a good thing. Licorice compounds also inhibited production of reactive oxygen species. Reactive oxygen species are compounds that cause oxidative damage including lipid peroxidation.
- Inhibited prostaglandin E2. Inhibition of prostaglandin E2 may or may not be a good thing. Prostaglandin E2 is important in pregnancy and birth. But it also stimulates tumor growth possibly by increasing inflammation. It is possible that licorice extracts may be anti-carcinogens. It is possible that pregnant women should stay away from licorice.
- Inhibited production of interleukin-6. Interleukin-6 inhibitors are under study as anti-arthritis drugs. Interleukin-6 also activates inflammation. Elevated interleukin-6 is associated with atherosclerosis, depression, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, among other things. Interleukin-6 is important in good ways too. Inhibiting the hell out of it may create other problems. Such as maybe suppressing the immune system.
Should I eat tons of Licorice to protect my health?
No. Don’t eat tons of it. Licorice has a down side. Too much of most things is not good and there is not enough research to support going overboard. There are also compounds in licorice that are harmful. Licorice has been shown to raise blood pressure, for example. And there is a case report of a woman who overindulged in licorice (about 1.5 pounds) and became extremely ill. Her body underwent a series of changes unfavorable to a long life. To quote from the paper: Creatine kinase, hypokalemia, hypocalcemia and hypophosphatemia with low aldosterone and plasma renin levels and high intact PTH. So go light. She also got rhabdomyelesis.
Should I eat Twizzlers before working out or doing a CrossFit WOD?
You should avoid black licorice if you have high blood pressure. Otherwise a twizzler or two is probably fine once in a while. One or two red twizzlers will help you get pumped without the risks posed by black licorice. And exercise stimulates the body to produce its own anti-oxidants. Adding anti-oxidants before a workout may blunt your body’s response. In this case red Twizzlers may be better than black twizzlers as a pre-workout stimulant. Only black twizzlers are made with real licorice extract. If you check the package you will see that it contains “less than 3% licorice extract.” With good quality control you could eat a pound of black twizzler licorice and consume less than 3.6 grams of extract. The University of Maryland posts that licorice can be used at about 1.2 grams per day. A pound of twizzlers may contain three times that limit. Hard to say when the content might be anywhere between 3.6 grams and nothing. There is a lot of information and a lot of research being done on licorice as a medicinal plant. Much more than I expected. More than I can chew right now. There does not seem to be any research on the benefits or dangers of red twizzlers.
Licorice compounds with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties:
- licochalcone B
- licochalcone A
- glyurallin B
Fu Y, Chen J, Li YJ, Zheng YF, & Li P (2013). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of six flavonoids separated from licorice. Food chemistry, 141 (2), 1063-71 PMID: 23790887
Sigurjónsdóttir HA, Franzson L, Manhem K, Ragnarsson J, Sigurdsson G, & Wallerstedt S (2001). Liquorice-induced rise in blood pressure: a linear dose-response relationship. Journal of human hypertension, 15 (8), 549-52 PMID: 11494093
Shah M, Williams C, Aggarwal A, & Choudhry WM (2012). Licorice-related rhabdomyolysis: a big price for a sweet tooth. Clinical nephrology, 77 (6), 491-5 PMID: 22595392