Watch out for the tricks from black licorice treats

Who knew that candy could kill? Okay, maybe not kill, but one kind can mess around with your heart rhythm. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning this week about licorice candy —  the good kind, made with real licorice root, not artificial flavour. They warn that if you’re 40 or older, eating ¼ cup of black licorice pieces a day for at least two weeks could land you in the hospital with irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia.

The culprit, the FDA says, is something called glycyrrhizin, which is the sweetening compound derived from licorice root. When consumed in large amounts, the glycyrrhizin in licorice can cause potassium levels to fall. That, in turn, can cause arrhythmia, as well as high blood pressure and oedema (swelling), lethargy, and congestive heart failure in some people. No one is saying this is a problem of epidemic levels. The FDA says it received one report last year “of a black licorice aficionado who had a problem after eating the candy.” But other researchers has linked black licorice to health problems in people over 40, some of whom had existing heart issues.

The fix is fairly simple. If potassium levels are restored, there are usually no permanent health problems. But the point is not to get yourself in trouble with the candy in the first place.

So if you have a fondness for black liquorice, FDA offers this advice:

  • No matter what your age, don’t eat large amounts of black liquorice at one time. 
  • If you have been eating a lot of black liquorice and have an irregular heart rhythm or muscle weakness, stop eating it immediately and contact your healthcare provider. 
  • Black licorice can interact with some medications, herbs and dietary supplements. Consult a health care professional if you have questions about possible interactions with a drug or supplement you take.

Of course, the warning doesn’t apply to red licorice, which – as all licorice aficionados will tell you – is not licorice at all. It’s shaped the same way but usually has no licorice root in it.

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