Why Black Licorice Can Make Your Heart Jump

Popular candy contains potassium-lowering compound

How Black Licorice Can Make Your Heart Jump

You may be fond of black licorice. But if your heart skips a beat every time you treat yourself to it, then it may know something you don’t.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Eating too much black licorice can make your heart skip a beat or two — or even more. Though it happens rarely, black licorice can cause an irregular heartbeat in some people — and an excess may 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, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration experts blame glycyrrhizin, the sweetening compound derived from the licorice root. This compound can cause potassium levels in the body to decrease. When this happens, some people can experience abnormal heart rhythms.

The dangers of decreased potassium

Advertising Policy

Others, especially those over 40 with 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.”

However, she notes that some 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.)

Advertising Policy

Ms. Patton says that while the phenomenon is rare, if you 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,” she says. “If it’s really severe, then I would go to the emergency room. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

 

 

Advertising Policy
Advertising Policy