Licorice: An Essential Herb for Adrenal Fatigue
Posted Apr 10, 2018
Licorice deserves much more love. Whether derided for its taste (though some love it) or misunderstood side effects, this herb has gotten a bad rap. The simple truth is, licorice has many great clinical uses. Among other benefits, this herb has been shown to promote and help sustain healthy normal adrenal hormone activity, optimize cortisol, help balance sex hormones, reduce negative effects of stress on immune function, enhance sugar metabolism for energy production, and help balance mood. In this blog we’re focusing on licorice’s role in supporting the HPA axis, primarily the adrenal glands.
Licorice and the HPA Axis
The herb best known for supporting adrenal function is licorice. Yes, the ingredient that gives that common black twist of candy its flavor is beneficial to the adrenal glands. Licorice is an anti-stress herb known to increase energy, endurance and vitality, and act as a mild tonic. It has been used to stimulate the hormones for anti-inflammatory action, as well as naturally fortify cortisone levels–arguably the most important hormone in stress and adrenal fatigue. Here are some specific ways licorice supports adrenal function:
Optimizes HPA axis functions to enhance stress management capacity and cognition
• Enhanced salivary DHEA and testosterone in humans and promoted cortisol synthesis in incubates of adrenocortical cells
• Prolonged the half-life of glucocorticoids
• Favorably influenced ACTH response to corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) and induced upregulation of pituitary CRF receptors
Supports healthy hormone balance and healthy normal cortisol and glucose levels
• Helped maintain healthy hormone levels by inhibiting inactivation of cortisol to cortisone, and enhancing DHEA
• Promoted healthy steroidogenesis as well as balanced estrogen metabolism to help foster normal androgenesis and support healthy levels of free testosterone and estradiol
• Favorably influenced serum glucose and lipid levels while enhancing insulin sensitivity
Promotes balanced energy, stable moods, healthy sleep cycles, fitness and sexual function
• Enhanced serotonin levels by moderating serotonin reuptake
• Fostered maintenance of cortisol levels by inhibiting 11-betahydroxysteroid dehydrogenase conversion of cortisol into cortisone
Other Benefits of Licorice
Licorice has also been used to help decrease symptoms of hypoglycemia, a common side effect of decreased adrenal function. Wound healing, which can be slowed down by stress, has been improved by using licorice. Both blood circulation in the heart and arteries and production of interferon-like substances by the immune system are stimulated by licorice. Here are some other health benefits of licorice:
Licorice root is often used to soothe gastrointestinal problems. In cases of food poisoning, stomach ulcers, and heartburn, licorice root extract can speed the repair of stomach lining and restore balance. This is due to the anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties of glycyrrhizic acid, an active compound found in licorice.
Respiratory system support
Taking licorice as an oral supplement can help the body produce healthy mucus. The production of clean, healthy phlegm keeps the respiratory system functioning without old, sticky mucus clogging up the pipes.
Skin and teeth health
Licorice can be a successful dermatological treatment due to its antibacterial properties. For that reason, holistic health practitioners often suggest applying licorice to tooth decay to kill bacteria. Topical gels containing licorice are also recommended for treating eczema.
Licorice and Blood Pressure
There has been some concern that licorice increases blood pressure. This is because licorice partially blocks the conversion of cortisol into cortisone, which can produce higher amounts of circulating cortisol. Cortisol slightly increases contraction of the medial arteries and heart muscle, causing blood pressure to rise. However, you would have to consume approximately 1/4 pound of licorice candy per day in order to produce any elevation in your blood pressure. In any case, people who suffer from hypoadrenia typically have low blood pressure, so this is not usually a concern. If you’re concerned, simply monitor your blood pressure after licorice use, and start off with small doses.
What if I Can’t Take Licorice?
For those who are sensitive or allergic to licorice, there are alternatives. Maca, ashwagandha, and eleuthero are all great herbs to take for HPA axis support. Eleuthero has been shown to boost mental and physical endurance, heighten attention, increase tolerance, and enhance sleep under stressful conditions. Ashwagandha has been shown to counteract biological changes accompanying extreme stress that adversely affect short-term memory, blood sugar, cortisol levels, mood, sexual function, and sleep. Maca has been shown to support and help sustain homeostasis, balance cortisol, and enhance mood and sexual function in both men and women.
Al-Dujaili EA, Kenyon CJ, Nicol MR, Mason JI. Liquorice and glycyrrhetinic acid increase DHEA and deoxycorticosterone levels in vivo and in vitro by inhibiting adrenal SULT2A1 activity. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2010 Dec 22.
Ghosh D, Erman M, Pangborn W, et al. Inhibition of Streptomyces hydrogenans 3α,20α-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase by licorice-derived compounds and crystallization of an enzymecofactor-
inhibitor complex. J Steroid Biochem Molec Biol. 1992;42:849–853.
Hanafusa, J et al. Altered corticosteroid metabolism differentially affects pituitary corticotropin response. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2002; 282:466-473.
“Health Benefits of Licorice Root.” Healthline, 10 July 2017, https://www.healthline.com/health/licorice-the-sweet-root#1.
“Licorice Root.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Sept. 2016, https://nccih.nih.gov/health/licoriceroot.
Ofir R, Tamir S, Khatib S. Inhibition of serotonin re-uptake by licorice constituents. J Mol Neurosci. 2003 Apr;20(2):135-140.
Somjen D, Knoll E, Vaya J et al. Estrogen – like activity of licorice root constituents: glabridin and glabrene, in vascular tissues in vitro and in vivo. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 14.
Zamansoltani F, Nassiri-Asl M, Sarookhani MR, Jahani-Hashemi H, Zangivand AA. Antiandrogenic activities of Glycyrrhiza glabra in male rats. Int J Androl. 2009 Aug;32(4):417-22.