WASHINGTON – Just before Halloween, the biggest candy binge of the year, the Food and Drug Administration had a spooky warning for adults: Don’t overindulge in black licorice, especially if you’re 40 or older.
It turns out, a compound in licorice root can affect your heart rhythm. Older adults who eat 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks risk landing in the hospital with an irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, according to the FDA.
FDA experts say the culprit in black licorice is glycyrrhizin, the natural sweetening compound in licorice root. (The warning doesn’t apply to red licorice, which contains little or no licorice root.)
Glycyrrhizin can cause potassium levels in the body to fall, causing some people to experience an abnormal heartbeat, as well as high blood pressure, swelling from fluid retention, muscle weakness and congestive heart failure.
The FDA’s Linda Katz, M.D., says those older than 40 with a history of heart disease and/or high blood pressure should be careful about how much black licorice they eat.
On the other hand, you might want to check the ingredient label. Many licorice-flavored products manufactured in the U.S. do not actually contain real licorice. Instead, they use anise oil.
If you’re a licorice lover, the FDA offers these tips:
No matter what your age, don’t eat large amounts of black licorice at one time.
If you have been eating a lot of black licorice and experience an irregular heart rhythm or muscle weakness, stop eating it immediately and contact your health care provider.
Black licorice can interact with some medications, herbs and dietary supplements. Consult your doctor if you have questions about drug interactions.