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"At least eight licorice compounds are monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)," according to Dr. James A. Duke in his book The Green Pharmacy. MAOIs are compounds capable of potent antidepressant action.

From a prescription medication perspective, "MAOIs were the first type of antidepressant developed. They are effective, but they have generally been replaced by antidepressants that are safer and cause fewer side effects. Use of MAOIs typically require diet restrictions because they can cause dangerously high blood pressure when taken with certain foods or medications. Despite the side effects, these medications are still a good option for some people. In certain cases, they relieve depression when other treatments have failed" (Mayo Clinic).

Licorice is an herb-- Glycyrrhiza glabra, used for thousands of years and a variety of purposes. Licorice is a member of the legume family, and while there are species that grow in the United States, Glycyrrhiza glabra is primarily native to Europe and Asia. Another form of the herb is Glycyrrhiza uralensis, usually called “Chinese licorice” listed on products. 

As it pertains to mental health, the herb produces hormone like activity. It increases the half-life of cortisol (the adrenal stress hormone), inhibiting the breakdown of adrenal hormones by the liver. Due to this, licorice is useful in reversing low cortisol conditions and helping the adrenal glands rest and restore function. Licorice also contains estrogen-like chemicals, and estrogen has been shown to have mood elevating effects. Therefore, licorice has antidepressant properties. Monoamine oxidase is involved in removing the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine from the brain. MAOIs prevent this from happening, which makes more of these brain chemicals available to effect changes in both cells and circuits that have been impacted by depression.

Licorice is available in capsule, liquid extract, as a tea, various candy forms and as cough drops. Some of its other benefits include helping leaky gut, PMS/menopause, heartburn, coughs/sore throat and strengthening the immune system.

While licorice and its extracts are safe for normal use in moderate amounts, long term use or ingestion of large amounts can produce headache, sodium and water retention, loss of potassium and high blood pressure. Taking prescription or herbal based MAOIs regularly may interact negatively with certain foods or be contraindicated. Foods noted to avoid are: alcoholic beverages, smoked or pickled food, cold and allergy remedies, amphetamines, narcotics, tryptophan and tyrosine. 

Reach out to your healthcare provider and do your own research to determine if you may benefit from using this herb.


*Information in this blog is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure your condition(s), but for educational purposes.

*Image credit: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

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