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As a result of 2020 hasn’t supplied sufficient extraordinary methods to die, the universe gives a grim reminder that consuming an excessive amount of licorice sweet might be lethal.

A 54-year-old development employee died in Massachusetts just lately after consuming an extreme quantity of black licorice—which naturally incorporates a toxin referred to as glycyrrhizin, aka glycyrrhizic acid. Medical doctors printed a case research of his poisoning within the New England Journal of Medication this week.

In keeping with the research, the poor fellow was at a fast-food restaurant when he abruptly went into cardiac arrest. He “gasped instantly, with full-body shaking and lack of consciousness,” the docs report. Paramedics arrived inside minutes and revived him with 4 shocks and CPR. However when he was admitted to the hospital about half-hour later, docs discovered he had multi-organ failure, “profound metabolic derangements,” dangerously low ranges of potassium in his blood, and cardiac arrest related to ventricular fibrillation, which is when the decrease chambers of the center twitch erratically with out pumping blood. All of those circumstances are in keeping with licorice poisoning.

An intensive medical investigation famous he appeared to don’t have any earlier historical past of coronary heart issues and docs pinned his circumstances to the sweet. Discussions together with his household revealed he had been consuming one to 2 “giant” luggage of black licorice every single day for about three weeks earlier than his coronary heart stopped. By the point he arrived on the hospital, an excessive amount of injury had already been accomplished. He died about 32 hours later, together with his household at his bedside.

Twisted historical past

Medical researchers have lengthy recognized in regards to the licorice plant’s advanced and poisonous results on the human physique.  Licorice has a storied and twisting historical past in Jap and Western cultures, stretching again to the Babylonian and Egyptian empires. Hippocrates prescribed it within the therapy of bronchial asthma and dry coughs. Chinese language conventional drugs has used licorice to deal with circumstances from tuberculosis to peptic ulcers.

However these makes use of weren’t with out unintended effects. Within the Nineteen Fifties, Dutch-physician scientist, F. E. Revers performed one of many first systematic research of licorice extract’s anti-ulcer results and famous that sufferers suffered swelling, “violent headache,” hypertension, and chest ache and strain.

In subsequent a long time, researchers labored out that the glycyrrhizin in licorice is taken up by microbes within the intestines and transformed to glycyrrhetinic acid (aka glycyrrhetic acid). This metabolized model is then absorbed by the physique. Within the kidneys, glycyrrhetinic acid derivatives hamper a important enzyme referred to as 11β‐hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase kind 2, or 11βHSD2, which converts the steroid hormone cortisol to cortisone. Cortisol has many essential features, together with being a important regulator of ion, salt, and water steadiness. This in flip, considerably impacts blood quantity, blood strain, and general functioning of the cardiovascular system.

With 11βHSD2 blocked by glycyrrhetinic acid, cortisol ranges construct up inside the kidney. This results in larger ranges of sodium, water retention, a plunge in potassium ranges, and a subsequent cascade of life-threatening issues within the physique, together with kidney failure. The rise in sodium and water retention results in swelling and hypertension. The intense drop in potassium ranges (hypokalemia) throws off the ionic steadiness important to the cardiac conduction system—which is a specialised group of coronary heart muscle cells that use electrical indicators to make the center muscle groups contract and pump blood round. As such, drops in potassium ranges can result in deadly irregular coronary heart rhythms, comparable to ventricular fibrillation.

Scary, however uncommon

To make issues worse, glycyrrhetinic acid additionally interferes with enzymes within the liver that affect aldosterone ranges, one other important steroid hormone—which exacerbates all the opposite well being results of the toxin. The liver additionally recirculates glycyrrhetinic acid, that means excessive ranges can accumulate after frequent licorice consumption and stay excessive for lengthy intervals. It will probably take weeks for signs of licorice poisoning to go away.

For these causes, medical researchers and well being businesses warn towards consuming lots of black licorice—directly or and/or each day. In truth, the US Meals and Drug Administration usually likes to remind shoppers of the life-threatening danger round Halloween every year (though that’s, sadly, pointless this 12 months).

In previous warnings, the FDA notes: “In the event you’re 40 or older, consuming 2 ounces of black licorice a day for a minimum of two weeks might land you within the hospital with an irregular coronary heart rhythm or arrhythmia.”

Nonetheless, as a result of black licorice is just not a very common sweet and few folks take pleasure in sufficiently poisonous quantities, the gummy sweets aren’t a menace to public well being. (Additionally not all “licorice” candies truly comprise licorice plant extract, together with many purple licorice candies, like purple Twizzlers.) Experiences of sicknesses are uncommon, not to mention deaths. A few of the few examples of harms embody a reference from the FDA of a “black licorice aficionado” who “had an issue” after consuming the sweet in 2016. In 1977, researchers reported the case of a 58-year-old lady who was consuming  a whopping 1.8 kilograms (about 63.5 ounces) of black licorice per week and went into cardiac arrest. However, she survived the cardiac arrest and recovered fully after she stopped consuming licorice.

The poor fellow in Massachusetts was not so fortunate. Although docs have been in a position to get his potassium ranges up with giant, intravenous doses of potassium chloride, his situation worsened. His blood strain grew to become unstable, his neurological prognosis was poor, and his kidneys have been failing. He was moved to consolation measures earlier than he died peacefully together with his household.


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