Can you spot the problem with this headline?:
Licorice root is not synonymous with licorice flavored candies or sweets. While some brands may contain licorice root extract, others use artificial flavors. Pick up a package of Good & Plenty, and you’ll get a very small dose of licorice root. Pick up a package of black Twizzlers, and you’ll get nothing of the sort.
That said, whatever licorice is there comes within a potent packet of sugar. Of the four main ingredients in Good & Plenty, for instance, three are forms of sugar: sugar, corn syrup and molasses. (The fourth is wheat flour. “Licorice extract” is one of nearly a dozen other ingredients each comprising “2% or less” of the final product.) The composition is similar for other licorice candies, from licorice sticks and drops to old fashioned licorice pipes: some combination of sugars and flour.
Sugar, of course, contributes to a host of health problems, from dental decay to immune suppression to increasing the risk of bladder cancer. If you’re looking to any particular plant or other food to give health benefits, it kind of defeats the purpose if it comes loaded with added sugars.
Importantly, while the writer of the media release for the licorice root study made the simplistic equation of the plant with sweets, the study authors didn’t. In fact, they had nothing to say about candy. Rather, they had a lot to say about the compound glycyrrhizin’s apparent ability to fight serious, antibiotic-resistant infections resulting from burns.
Specifically, they found that in burned mice, glycyrrhizin improved the ability of damaged skin to create small proteins that serve as the first line of defense against infection. These proteins, called antimicrobial peptides, work by puncturing the cell membranes of bacteria similar to how pins pop balloons.
“It is our hope that the medicinal uses of glycyrrhizin will lead to lower death rates associated with infection in burn patients,” said Fujio Suzuki, Ph.D., one of the researchers involved in the work. Suzuki also said that more research is necessary to determine if this finding would have any implications for people with cystic fibrosis, who can develop Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections in their lungs.
Yeah, we know: not as sexy as an “eat candy” headline.