Licorice Root and Stress: What’s the Connection?
By Molly Knudsen, MS, RDN
Licorice is one of the most classic confections. Whether you love or despise the flavoring, it’s a staple in candy aisles across the globe.
But licorice is good for more than just a flavoring agent. Licorice, specifically licorice root, has also been a prominent ingredient in herbal and traditional medicine for thousands of years.1,2 And it’s still being recommended by healthcare practitioners today for its role in supporting the stress response.
A brief history of licorice root
Licorice, scientifically known as Glycyrrhiza glabra, is a flowering legume plant.1 And licorice root is the root of that plant. Licorice root is one of the oldest documented herbal remedies, with its use dating back to 4,000 BCE.1 Ancient Chinese, Roman, Egyptian, Greek, Indian, and Assyrian people utilized the herb for everything from gastrointestinal issues to lung, heart, and liver health.1,2 Licorice root has a naturally sweet flavor thanks to a compound called glycyrrhizin.1 Glycyrrhizin is estimated to be 50 times sweeter than table sugar, which make it a great ingredient for candies.1
Licorice root is also a great source of beneficial plant compounds like phenolic acids, flavonoids, flavans, and isoflavins.1 When licorice root is consumed, these compounds may help the cortisol-regulated stress response.1
Cortisol and stress
Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands. It plays a role in regulating metabolism, the immune response, blood pressure, blood sugar, and the sleep-wake cycle, but it’s most known for mediating the stress response.3,4 Cortisol controls what’s commonly known as the “fight-or-flight” response. During a time of physical or mental stress (running into a bear in the woods or worrying about a personal relationship), cortisol levels increase to provide you with a surge of energy and alertness to overcome that immediate stress.3
Licorice and the stress response
Licorice root contains compounds designed to support healthy cortisol metabolism to help the body manage stress more effectively.5 Melissa Blake, ND, who has over 10 years of clinical experience, specializing in the integrative and functional management of chronic health issues, recommends licorice root for two types of patients: those who experience an inadequate stress response and those experiencing hormonal stress.
Inadequate stress response: According to Dr. Blake, “This is the person who is running on empty, probably chronically stressed and is verging on burnout. They can’t get out of their own way and are super tired mentally and physically.” Dr. Blake says that these patients also typically experience lightheadedness or dizziness. In this type of situation, Dr. Blake says that adding licorice root helps “fill their cup back up by balancing the cortisol stress response.”
Hormonal stress: This is referring to a person who has both poor stress tolerance and heat symptoms like flushing or night sweats or even general irritability and gastrointestinal issues. Dr. Blake also has found success using licorice root for her patients experiencing this type of stress.
What’s the bottom line?
Licorice root is an ancient herbal remedy that is still relevant in health today due to its effect on the stress response. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone and controls the body’s physiologic response to stress.4
And sometimes your body may need a little extra support managing that internal stress. Talk to your healthcare practitioner today to see if you could benefit from licorice root or other natural remedies that help address stress.
- Deutch MR et al. Foods. 2019;8(10):495.
- Licorice root. nccih.nih.gov. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/licorice-root. Updated August 2020. Accessed February 22, 2021.
- Hannibal KE et al. Phys Ther. 2014;94(12):1816-1825.
- Stress management. Mayoclinic.org. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037. Published March 19, 2020. Accessed February 22, 2021.
- Head KA et al. Altern Med Rev. 2009;14(2):114-140.