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Beware a black licorice overdose, FDA warns

Beware of black licorice this Halloween if you’re over 40, the FDA warns.

The Administration issued a warning yesterday that too much of the sweet treat may lead to abnormal heart rhythms and high blood pressure.

The FDA’s warning, however, is very specific to those over 40, eating two ounces of black licorice a day for two or more weeks. 

Black licorice-lovers can still enjoy the candy in moderation, but if you’re mid-bite and notice your heart is beating irregularly or you’re feeling week, you should ‘stop eating it immediately and call your healthcare provider,’ the FDA advises.

Eating too much black licorice for too long after this Halloween’s trick-or-treating could land people over 40 in the hospital for irregular heart beats, the FDA warns

Black licorice is made with extract from root of the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant that gives the candy its sweetness. The root contains a compound called glycyrrhizin.

Glycyrrhizic acid keeps the body from properly absorbing potassium, so when you consume too much glycyrrhizin, potassium levels may drop below normal levels.

The balance between potassium and sodium levels is key to healthy heart functioning. When potassium levels are too low, sodium levels are correspondingly too high. The imbalance can result in high blood pressure and upset the heart’s rhythm.

Abnormal heart rhythms greatly increase the risk of heart attack.

If you really, really love your black licorice, the FDA says: 

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 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.

The FDA’s report – a reiteration of one it issued in 2011 – says that black licorice would have to be eaten habitually, every day, for an extended period of time in order to cause any real problems.

It cites reports, submitted by a ‘licorice aficionado,’ of people – particularly those over 40, some of whom had preexisting heart conditions or high blood pressure’ – developing heart arrhythmias and related problems after eating too much of the candy. 

Incidents of black licorice overdose are extremely rare. A case was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1991, when doctors treated a 70-year-old man who had been eating between 60 and 100 pieces of black licorice every day, for the past four years or so.

Another man, age 66, was admitted to the hospital with high blood pressure and low potassium. It turned out that he was eating about 160 ‘Fisherman’s Friend Extra Strong’ lozenges, which contain licorice, each day.

Both patients were sent home with instructions to give up the habit.

After a black licorice binge ends, potassium levels typically return to normal, as was the case for both men (though the latter’s potassium levels remained high at his first follow-up visit, which, he later admitted was probably because he hadn’t actually quit on his Fisherman’s Friends.’

The root’s extract has long been used as a traditional treatment for everything from heartburn to hepatitis, though proof of its curative properties is shaky at best.

Though it matches the traditional black and orange color scheme of Halloween, black licorice is – perhaps fortunately – the eighth most hated candy for trick-or-treaters of all ages, according to a survey from

Red ‘licorice’ on the other hand, is completely safe. Though the candy is made by a similar process and share its shape with black licorice, it does not actually include its namesake ingredient.

Instead, red licorice usually gets its taste from a fruity sweetener. Without licorice extract, it has no glycyrrhizin, and without glycyrrhizin, it doesn’t pose any health risks (beyond a sugar overdose).  


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