It seems that in popular health media certain terms and “ailments” are continually in the spotlight. Of course, the most widely discussed (and profitable) is weight loss and stress management. With there are proven medical connections between the two, one of the most prominent chemicals linked within these two health categories is the naturally occurring compound known as cortisol.
Popular media has dubbed cortisol as the “stress hormone,” and it is touted as being the sole cause for weight gain due to stress as well as causing other adverse side effects. While scientific evidence does suggest that excess cortisol production can have a direct influence on your waistline and overall health, cortisol is an essential hormone responsible for metabolizing stored fat and regulating your overall energy levels.
Like most other hormones in your body, cortisol can be affected based on the type of foods you consume, and many health-related articles and professionals have hinted at a link between licorice consumption and cortisol levels.
Given that I thoroughly enjoy licorice, I began to delve into scientific journals and fact sheets to determine if indeed licorice affects cortisol levels. And what I found is quite interesting.
Instead of making you read through a 400-word piece to find the answer to the aforementioned question, I’m going to give it to you straight: Licorice does not directly increase or decrease cortisol production, but rather it affects how cortisol is regulated by your body.
To begin this section, let’s discuss the active compounds within licorice. The primary active compound in licorice is glycyrrhizin, and according to various scientific studies, this compound has a high risk of adverse side effects even though it is the most biological active compound in licorice. Due to the safety risks of glycyrrhizin, the majority of licorice found in public retail spaces is deglycyrrhiziniated licorice, or DGL. This form of licorice has not been proven to alter how cortisol is regulated. Thus, if you’re eating DGL licorice, then you have nothing to worry about.
Although DLG licorice is considered safe, non-treated licorice can affect cortisol by inhibiting the conversion of cortisol to cortisone. By stopping this naturally occurring conversion process, cortisol levels in your body will rise not due to an increase in production but because the already circulating cortisol is unable to complete the cortisol-to-cortisone conversion process. Thus, while licorice does not affect the production of cortisol within your adrenal glands, it can increase circulating cortisol levels resulting in a drop of potassium in your bloodstream and an increase in blood pressure.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center – Licorice
New England Journal of Medicine – Licorice-Induced Hypermineralocorticoidism