Licorice root (or licquorice) is one of the most widely prescribed herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. Licorice for heartburn is a very effective herbal medicine. But you need to know which form of licorice is best because, being a natural remedy, the adverse side effects can be overlooked.
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is the burning sensation you feel in your chest, which happens when stomach acid refluxes back into your esophagus or food pipe. This occurs due to too much pressure on your stomach or lower esophageal sphincter muscle weakness.
Your lower esophageal sphincter is a one-way valve that lets food into your stomach. In normal circumstances, it shuts tight and doesn’t allow food to reflux back up into your esophagus.
The following factors might be causing your acid reflux:
- overeating on a regular basis
- fatty, acidic or spicy food
- too much alcohol
Symptoms of acid reflux
- chest pain or burning sensation in your chest
- sore throat or strep throat
- hoarse voice
- feeling like you have a lump in your throat
- abdominal pain, often associated with helicobacter pylori bacteria
- weight loss
If left untreated, heartburn may result in the following digestive problems:
- gastroesophageal reflux disease
- stomach ulcers
- functional dyspepsia and indigestion
- Barrett’s esophagus
- esophageal cancer in rare cases
What is licorice?
Licorice root is a herbal supplement used in traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine. It is the woody root of the glycyrrhiza glabra plant and has a distinct sweet taste.
Health benefits of licorice for heartburn
Licorice root contains more than 300 active ingredients, including glycyrrhetinic acid, which has antiviral properties, antimicrobial properties, anti-inflammatory properties, and antitumor properties, among other positive effects on health (1).
While most home remedies either soothe your digestive tract or affect the production of stomach acid, the medicinal properties of licorice work in different ways.
Mucus production protects digestive system lining & treats ulcers
In traditional Chinese medicine, licorice is used to treat peptic ulcers, which are often associated with heartburn. Peptic ulcers can form in your lower esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.
Licorice increases mucus production, which coats the lining of your stomach and esophagus and protects it from stomach acid so that your discomfort from heartburn and ulcers is lessened.
Relieves abdominal pain
Helicobacter pylori is a potentially dangerous bacteria that thrives when there is a large amount of acid in your stomach. This bacteria can cause heartburn, bloating, nausea and abdominal pain.
Clinical studies found that licorice root extracts, glabridin and glabrene, effectively treated helicobacter pylori bacteria. A significant decrease in symptoms was found in all participants, with no adverse reactions (4, 5).
Protects against sore throat
Traditionally, licorice was used as a common natural remedy for a sore throat. Clinical studies demonstrated that gargling licorice root before surgery reduced the incidence and intensity of sore throat and coughing after intubation was removed (2, 3).
There’s no scientific evidence for treating sore throat with licorice outside of surgical examples, although there are plenty of anecdotal reports to support this claim.
Other health benefits of licorice root extract
Licorice may help many other conditions, including:
- skin issues like dermatitis
- canker sores in the mouth
- skin, breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers
- upper respiratory conditions such as asthma
- weight loss
- hepatitis C
Adverse side effects of licorice for heartburn
Licorice contains glycyrrhizin, a toxic compound that can be life-threatening if you have large amounts.
Too much licorice can reduce your potassium levels and cause the following medical conditions:
- high blood pressure
- abnormal heart rhythms
- water retention
- kidney disease (6).
Do not consume licorice root extract if you are pregnant, as it can induce preterm labor.
Licorice drug interactions
Licorice root extract interacts with other medications. If you take any other medicines, you should seek medical advice before using licorice as herbal medicine.
Medication that reduces your potassium levels such as diuretics and corticosteroids, are not suitable to take with licorice as they can reduce your potassium levels, which can be dangerous (7).
What form of licorice is best?
The main forms of licorice for heartburn that you might take are:
- fresh or dried licorice root
- black licorice candy
- deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) in powder or tablet (chews)
Because licorice root extract is a herbal supplement, the United States Food and Drug Administration does not regulate it’s manufacture, so ingredients and quality can vary. Always buy licorice from a reputable source.
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice for heartburn (or DGL licorice)
Due to the toxicity of the compound glycyrrhizin, it can be removed from licorice and you still get all the good benefits. This product is called deglycyrrhizinated licorice or DGL licorice. And you can get DGL licorice as a powder or chewable tablets.
Due to the potentially serious side effects of consuming glycyrrhizin, DGL licorice is the safest form of licorice for long-term use. Compared to licorice root, DGL licorice has fewer drug interactions with other medicines.
Fresh or dried licorice root tea for acid reflux
The root of the licorice plant is used to make herbal tea. You can usually buy fresh or dried licorice root at health food stores, or licorice root tea can be purchased at the grocery or health food store.
A word of warning, if you’re using licorice root, you will have no idea how much glycyrrhizin you are consuming. And it is possible for you to overdose.
How to make licorice root tea
To make licorice root tea, place one licorice root in a cup and pour a cup of boiling water over it.
Allow your licorice root tea to sit for 5 minutes, then strain.
How much licorice tea is safe to drink?
If you’re using fresh or dried licorice root, it’s hard to know how much is safe to drink because you don’t know precisely how much glycyrrhizin is in it.
My research has found suggestions from half to two cups of licorice tea per day for up to two weeks is safe.
I suggest you do your research, and if you’re unsure, consult your health professional before drinking fresh or dried licorice root tea for heartburn as part of your daily life.
The best way for you to drink licorice tea may be tea bags. Follow the boxes’ recommendations for how much licorice tea to drink per day.
Also, there are other herbal teas you can consume for natural heartburn relief, such as chamomile tea, slippery elm, or ginger tea.
LEARN MORE: 21 Best Teas For Digestion
Black licorice candy and heartburn
Today, most “licorice” is flavored with anise oil, which has the same licorice flavor and smell but doesn’t contain the potentially toxic glycyrrhizin.
However, you can still get the real deal. You need to look for “black licorice.” Also, you should check the ingredients list to be sure.
If you’re going to eat black licorice for heartburn relief, you need to be careful with how much you consume due to the glycyrrhizin in it.
And if you’re wondering, red “licorice” is candy and does not actually contain any licorice.
How much black licorice candy can I eat?
It is best to eat black licorice in small amounts.
It was suggested by the European Union and confirmed by the United States Scientific Committee on Food that you can have 100 mg of glycyrrhizin per day, which is about 2 mg per kilogram, or roughly 1 mg per pound of body weight per day would be unlikely to cause adverse effects in the majority of adults.
This is approximately the amount found in 60–70 grams or two ounces of black licorice.
However, the Committee is not convinced this amount is accurate because human toxicity studies are too small. The Dutch Nutrition Information Bureau advised against daily glycyrrhizin consumption of more than 200 mg, assumed to correspond to 150 g of licorice candy per day (7).
If you want to eat black licorice candy as a natural remedy for heartburn, you should consult your health professional about how much you should be consuming, as some products don’t tell you how much glycyrrhizin is in the product.
Other heartburn home remedies
- Avoid your heartburn trigger foods
- Eat small healthy meals
- Allow at least 2-3 hours after eating and drinking before lying down
- If you get heartburn at night, sleep position is important
- Good lifestyle choices such as maintaining a healthy weight, regular gentle exercise and reducing stress by doing yoga or meditation for heartburn
- Avoid alcohol, or at least choose drinks least likely to cause heartburn
- Quit smoking
If natural remedies don’t work, you may need to try conventional medicine. First, it’s a good idea to start with over-the-counter medications such as antacids, which neutralize your stomach acid.
You can get H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors (PPI) over the counter and via prescription. They both limit the amount of acid your stomach produces.
You can have serious side effects from taking proton pump inhibitors, even over-the-counter, so it’s a good idea to consult your doctor before taking them.
LEARN MORE: What You Need To Know About PPI Drugs For Heartburn
The last word on licorice for heartburn
Licorice is an effective treatment for heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease, but there are many factors you need to consider before deciding if licorice is suitable for you.
There are different ways to take licorice for heartburn, but it’s a good idea to use DGL licorice due to the absence of the compound glycyrrhizin because too much glycyrrhizin can be life-threatening.
If you want to try licorice for heartburn, you should do so in consultation with your health professional as they can check to make sure licorice is a suitable natural heartburn remedy.