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Licorice Tea and Potassium Loss

Question:
A tea called Throat Coat made me lethargic and I was found to have low potassium. Is this a known problem? I was drinking 5 cups a day.
Throat Coat Tea and Potassium Loss -- box of Throat Coat tea
Answer:
Throat Coat contains a very large amount of licorice root (760 mg per tea bag) plus another 60 mg of a 6:1 licorice root extract and these ingredients are likely to be the cause of your issues. Licorice root provides great flavor, but you need to exercise caution and moderation with it because it contains a compound that can, through an effect on the kidneys to cause loss of potassium, fluid retention, increased blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, and lethargy. Throat Coat has a warning on its box regarding these issues, although the warning does not identify the causative agent — licorice root. See our article about licorice root for more details about its side effects, as well as the findings of clinical studies of its proposed uses.

Be aware that the FDA has warned that eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks can cause similar problems.

Homemade licorice tea has been reported to cause similar problems. An 84-year-old man (with hypertension controlled by medication) developed extremely high blood pressure, headache, photophobia, chest pain (due to pulmonary edema) and fatigue, as well as low potassium after two weeks of drinking 1 to 2 glasses daily of homemade licorice root extract called "erk sous" (Falet, CMAJ 2019). A 57-year old man in Turkey with no prior history of cardiovascular disease experienced atrial fibrillation (a rapid, irregular heartbeat) likely caused by low potassium levels after consuming four glasses of "licorice root syrup" daily for one month (Erkus, Turk Kardiyol Dern Ars 2016).

Dietary supplements containing licorice root can also be problematic. A 68-year-old Chinese-American woman developed dangerously high blood pressure (219/123 mm Hg) resulting in a stroke (with symptoms including difficulty speaking and paralysis on one side of the body) after taking Chinese herbal supplement pills providing 800 mg of licorice root daily for two weeks to treat indigestion. The supplement contained several other ingredients, such as ginger root and cinnamon bark, but the reporting physicians noted the woman could have been consuming 8 times the maximum dose recommended by the European Commission Scientific Committee on Food of glycyrrhizin, the compound in licorice known to increase blood pressure (Shin, Neurohospitalist 2019).

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COMMENTS

Peggy18097   July 4, 2019
For digestive and hormonal issues, you can take DGL - Deglycyrrhizinated licorice. It usually comes in chewable tablets. It is the glycyrrhizin that causes problems and the tablets are made from licorice from which the glycyrrhizin has been removed. Research the correct dosage for your particular problem and take care that you understand the amount you're getting in the tablets because some contain DGL that is more concentrated.

ConsumerLab.com   July 5, 2019
Hi Peggy - You are correct, although deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is not applicable for every use. Please see more about this in the Encyclopedia article about licorice: https://www.consumerlab.com/tnp.asp?chunkiid=21674.

John18096   July 3, 2019
Beware. Glycrrhizic acid presents a significant risk in triggering A-fib. The benefits of licorice root are nowhere near as great as the risks. It should not even be an over the counter supplement.

Patricia17892   June 2, 2019
A lot of female hormone support supplements also include licorice. Now menopause formula is one. I did get high blood pressure while taking it and chalked it up to the licorice. I discontinued it and within a few day my pressure was back to normal. It's a good thing I keep a tight watch over it because otherwise I may have ended up like the guy mentioned in the study.
The problem is that licorice that is full spectrum is SO effective at relieving hormonal issues such as insomnia and hot flashes, at least for me. I take the supplement very cautiously nowadays.

ConsumerLab.com   June 3, 2019
Hi Patricia - Thank you for sharing your experience with this. More information about licorice and its potential hormonal effects can be found in the Encyclopedia article about licorice (https://www.consumerlab.com/tnp.asp?chunkiid=21674).

Mark17578   February 27, 2019
I also use throat coat tea, but for leaky gut, as it has the same ingredients recommended to heal that condition, Licorice, Marshmallow Root and Slippery Elm. Glycyrrhizic acid is the component of licorice that causes the potassium loss and high blood pressure. I contacted the manufacturer, Traditional Medicinals to ask how much glycyrrhizic acid a tea bag contains, and here is their answer:

"Our organic Throat Coat tea contains 760 mg of organic licorice root (non-extract) and 60 mg of organic licorice root dry aqueous extract 6:1. We use pharmacopeial grade licorice root, which stipulates at least 4% concentration of glycyrrhizic acid. This would equate to approximately 40 mg per tea bag."

A single tea bag with 40 mg is far below the amount required to cause these symptoms(assuming Traditional Medicinals 40 mg figure is true). But drinking many cups a day might. I have reduced my intake to one cup per day and am instead using DGL, which is Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice, it does not contain glycyrrhizic acid, yet retains some of the beneficial properties.

ConsumerLab.com   February 27, 2019
Thanks for adding that information, Mark. Please note, however, that even 40 mg of glycyrrhizin per tea bag of Throat Coat is a substantial amount and if taken daily, can cause adverse effects, as noted in the Safety Concerns section of our article about licorice at https://www.consumerlab.com/tnp.asp?chunkiid=21674.


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This CL Answer initially posted on 2/26/2019. Last updated 7/9/2019.
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