If your heart skips a beat every time you think about treating yourself to black licorice — it may know something you don’t.
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If you eat too much of it, your heart actually may skip a beat or two, or even more.
Though it happens rarely, black licorice can cause an irregular heartbeat in some people, says the Food and Drug Administration, and an excess may even cause serious harm.
The troublemaking stuff in black licorice
“Black licorice contains a compound that comes from licorice root that can lower your potassium levels. Lower potassium levels can cause those abnormal heart arrhythmias,” says registered dietitian Kate Patton from Cleveland Clinic’s Section of Preventive Cardiology.
FDA experts say black licorice contains the compound glycyrrhizin, which is the sweetening compound derived from the licorice root.
The compound can cause potassium levels in the body to decrease. When this happens, some people experience abnormal heart rhythms.
Decreased potassium can be dangerous
Others, especially those over 40 who have a history of heart disease and/or high blood pressure, may experience other potentially serious problems including a rise in blood pressure, lethargy and even congestive heart failure.
“If you already have heart disease or high blood pressure, then be a little more aware of how you’re feeling if you eat this kind of licorice,” says Ms. Patton. “Stop eating it if you think you notice any type of irregular heartbeats.”
Ms. Patton adds, however, that foods that advertise themselves as “licorice” or “licorice flavor” use anise oil, not true black licorice. Those foods will not put you at risk for arrhythmias.
How much is too much?
So how much is too much? The FDA says eating multiple 2-ounce bags of black licorice a day for at least two weeks is overdoing it. (That’s a lot of licorice.)
Ms. Patton says the phenomenon is rare, but if you do feel funny after eating black licorice and you’ve had heart trouble in the past, don’t hesitate to call your doctor.
“If you have any concern I would definitely call your doctor’s office right away and let them know. If it’s really severe then definitely I would go to the emergency room. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
The good news is if you do happen to eat too much and begin to feel sick, Ms. Patton says potassium levels are usually restored with no permanent health problems.