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Glycyrrhizin sources, health risks

Tuesday, October 03, 2017 by

Glycyrrhizin (pronounced as gli-se-rye-sin) is a natural sweetener extracted from the licorice root. From its introduction, it has been used as an alternative sweetener, not only for its low glycemic index (GI) but because it is 50 times sweeter than traditional sugar. Having said that, medical professionals are noting a disturbing abuse of the substance among diabetic patients who develop an easy and fast tolerance to it. Excessive and prolonged consumption of glycyrrhizin can impact the sodium and potassium balance in the body. Ironically, taking too much of the substance can raise the risk of developing cardiovascular conditions — symptoms typical of a diabetic patient.

Glycyrrhizin is hardly taken on its own, owing to its strong flavor. However, it is used in many candies, chewing gum, lozenges, and medicine where the flavor of licorice is expected.

In the United States, it is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

Harmful effects that can be caused by glycyrrhizin

Diabetic and pre-diabetic patients may turn to glycyrrhizin as a substitute for sugar. However, it must be extremely emphasized that people develop a high tolerance to this sweetener — at a rate far quicker than conventional sugar. As such, abusing this licorice extract is, perhaps not inevitable, but highly probable.

Consuming too much of this sweetener can lead to otherwise unexplained hypokalemia (low potassium levels in the blood) and muscle weakness. Consequently, people who ingest excessive amounts of glycyrrhizin often have an impaired immune system. This makes them more susceptible to disease.

There is also a risk of developing pseudo-hyperaldosteronism (having too much aldosterone in the adrenal glands which can prompt a potassium deficiency). Moreover, licorice-induced hypertension typically accompanies the reduction of potassium in the body.

Body systems harmed by glycyrrhizin

There is not one body system that is directly affected by the sweetener. Where it is harmful is in its influence towards the pH levels of the body. For us to be well, our bodies need to maintain the proper balance between sodium and potassium. Having too much of one decidedly disrupts our immune function.

Excessive glycyrrhizin in the body — while keeping blood sugar levels stable — inhibits potassium reuptake. This, in turn, leads to conditions associated with poor potassium levels in the blood.

Where to learn more


Glycyrrhizin is a natural sweetener that is 50 times sweeter than sugar. It does have its uses for diabetic patients, but excessive consumption of the compound can lead to a severe potassium deficiency.

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