Say goodbye to GERD and more! DGL Licorice to the rescue!
by Sue Hughes, MSEd, HHP CNC
I LOVE licorice! Problem is, the licorice that I’m talking about may very well not be the licorice that we all tend to think of when that word is mentioned! There’s no doubt that I am a big fan of the long, chewy red or black “licorice” candy. Mmm mmm. Who can’t resist that? But that’s not actually licorice. The black version of that candy uses a very small amount of licorice extract but is mostly flavored with anise, while the red can have a variety of flavoring, like cherry or strawberry. Unfortunately that kind of “licorice” doesn’t carry the health benefits of the real stuff – licorice root or Glycyrrhiza glabra meaning “sweet root.”
Our knowledge of licorice root began way back in the days of King Tut. Turns out that archeologists found bundles of this stuff inside his tomb. Apparently, in the afterlife he intended to brew “mai sus” – a sweet licorice drink loved by Egyptians of his time, but I guess he never got around to it!
History goes on to tell us that, as early as the 3rd century B.C., Greek physicians were using licorice to treat asthma, coughs, or any disease of the lungs, for that matter. This practice continued right up through modern times, and many other benefits of this amazing root have been discovered along the way (see below).
Perhaps the most amazing discovery was made a little over 50 years ago by a scientist named Revers. He found that licorice paste actually reduced abdominal discomfort and led to the healing of stomach ulcers – it didn’t just relieve symptoms. It HEALED! That was exciting news at the time, but unfortunately this treatment had shortcomings: many patients on this licorice paste developed edema, headache and other symptoms, possibly signs of overdose. This, in turn, led to the development of “Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice” or what’s commonly known as “DGL”, a form of licorice that has the compound responsible for these reactions, “glycrrhizin”, removed.
DGL licorice stimulates the body to increase the number of mucus-secreting cells in the digestive tract, improves the quality of mucus, lengthens intestinal cell life and enhances microcirculation in the gastrointestinal lining. That, in a nutshell, is how it ultimately helps prevent ulcers and literally cures you of heartburn or GERD! Sure, there are plenty of antacids on the market today that will help you cope with your symptoms, but they do this by blocking stomach acid. Unfortunately, this will ultimately make the problem worse, as you desperately need acid for proper digestion! If you take pharmaceutical antacids for a long time, once you stop, your stomach will overcompensate for what you have lost, making even more acid. No matter how much an antacid eases your discomfort, it certainly isn’t healing the problem like DGL will. Interestingly, one study found that 350 mg of chewable DGL taken along with aspirin reduced the occurrence of aspirin-induced gastrointestinal bleeding. Other studies have actually shown DGL to be as effective as the pharmaceuticals Tagamet and Zantac for the treatment of peptic ulcers. Yes, it’s good stuff!
Aside from the remarkable powers of DGL licorice in healing digestive issues, it also will fight inflammation, kill viruses, bacteria and parasites, cleanse the colon and promote healthy functioning of the adrenal gland. It will protect your tooth enamel, help with cough, chronic fatigue, depression, allergies, hypoglycemia, and upper respiratory infections. What may be even more amazing, like glutathione and bioflavonoids, licorice belongs to a class of substances known as “desmutagens”, which bind with toxic chemicals and cancer-causing agents, making them less effective in causing cell-altering damage. So, as you can see, adding DGL to your health regimen can result in a wide variety of benefits, not just those of a digestive nature!
You’re probably wondering if there is anyone who shouldn’t take DGL or licorice root. Well, regular licorice root still containing glycyrrhizin may increase blood pressure and cause water retention due to its tendency to deplete potassium. This form is for short-term use only and it is not recommended for those with high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma, heart disease, stroke or who are pregnant or nursing. The DGL form, on the other hand, has no known side effects and is considered safe. DGL licorice does not raise blood pressure and does not deplete potassium. DGL is the form that can be taken regularly.
There are some drug-related interactions that can occur with licorice root. If you are taking the drug Prednisone or other corticosteroids, test tube-based studies have found that licorice root extract does, in fact, decrease the elimination of these drugs. This means that the effects of Prednisone may be prolonged and therefore may increase the potential for drug-related side-effects. So, just to be on the safe side, avoid licorice root in any form while on these steroids. Also, avoid licorice root while taking Digoxin or loop diuretics because again, it may enhance their side effects.
Something that I didn’t realize until a friend inquired about it – licorice root contains phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are estrogens (hormones) that come from plants, such as those found in soy. They are used by many women to balance hormones during perimenopause and menopause or to ease symptoms of PMS. Licorice root has an estrogen-like effect, as it binds strongly to estrogen receptors throughout the body. The literature isn’t clear on how this affects women on hormone therapy, although generally speaking, whole herb phytoestrogens seem to have a helpful “balancing” effect on hormones.
Nutrients contained in licorice root: Calcium, choline, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, silicon, zinc, Vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C.
Dosage: For adults, two 380 mg tablets chewed slowly before or between meals. Children under 12 can take half of the adult dose. Keep in mind that, in order to be most effective, DGL must mix with saliva prior to swallowing. It is available in capsule form, however this may not produce the immediate results experienced with the chewable form. Also, some people don’t like the licorice flavor, especially that of the chewable tablet. There is a German Chocolate-flavored variety available that actually is very good!
Foster, Steven and Johnson, Rebecca. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs. (2009) Washington DC: National Geographic.
Balch, Phyllis and Balch, James. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. (2000) New York: Avery.
Gaby, Alan R. A-Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions. (2006) New York: Three Rivers Press.
Tillotson, Alan. The One Earth Herbal Sourcebook. (2001) New York: Kensington Publishing.