Can Eating Liquorice Help Treat and Prevent Cancer?
Feb 11, 2022
Love it or hate it, liquorice root is an ancient herb used widely across Eastern cultures and Chinese medicine with many benefits to our health when consumed in moderation. It is widely used as a sweetening agent in many food products and in cooking. Liquorice as it's commonly known today typically comes in the form of black, sticky and chewy sweets, typically made using blackstrap molasses, and in some cases star anise oil to replicate the aromatic flavour of liquorice. Liquorice can also be consumed in its natural form, the liquorice root, by directly chewing it, and it can also be found in many herbal teas and infusions.
Health benefits of liquorice root
Ingesting natural liquorice in the form of chewing on the actual root, steeping it in tea, or eating it in its commonly known form of the sweet (as long as it contains natural ingredients and actual liquorice extract) can bring many benefits to our health, when consumed in moderation.
Liquorice is known to be a wonderful digestive aid, to help with canker sores, eczema, and is antiviral and anti-inflammatory (Wang and Nixon, 2001), which is great when you’re feeling under the weather.
Preventing cancer: glycyrrhizic and glycyrrhetic acid
The effects of liquorice have been studied extensively over the decades to support its use as an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anticancer substance. Because cancer has become such a deadly, global health threat with severe physical, economic and social effects, the prevention of cancer has become an enormous area of study, as big, or even bigger, than the treatment of cancer itself.
It has been shown that ingesting liquorice can help prevent cancer (Bode and Dong, 2015), but how?
“The major component of liquorice is glycyrrhizin or glycyrrhizic acid that is hydrolysed in the intestine to the active glycyrrhetic acid” (Bode and Dong, 2015) which is shown to be effective against chronic viral hepatitis and a number of other viruses including severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (SARS), as well as provide protection against liver damage induced by oxidative stress. Moreover, glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhizic acid have been shown to completely inhibit the formation of skin cancer cells in mice, reduce the proliferation of melanoma cells, and increase the sensitivity of cancer cells in patients with "prostate cancer, stomach cancer and leukemia, gastric cancer, endometrial carcinogenesis, pituitary adenomas, and breast cancer” (Bode and Dong, 2015).
Treating cancer with a natural anti-tumour substance:
In the case of helping treat cancer however, we are not talking about the candy, but a substance extracted from the root called Licochalcone-A. According to Oncology (2020), the controlled use of this liquorice substance have been shown to reduce the amount of cancer-causing protein bcl-2 found in patients with acute leukaemia, breast and prostate cancer. Additionally to the effects of glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhizic acid found in liquorice, this powerful substance has repeatedly proven in studies its powerful effects to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells in colon cancer and prostate cancer patients (Liu et al, 2021 and Xiao et al, 2011).
Why is it important to reduce the amount of Bcl-2?
This protein is typically found in high numbers in cancer patients, and is a drug-resistant protein. The more present this protein is, the less likely a patient is to get positive effects from anticancer drugs. Reducing the amount of bcl-2 is like weakening a gate, making it easier for the anticancer treatment to treat tumours directly. In other words, the use of Licochalcone-A increases the sensitivity of tumours in cancer patients, increasing the chances of eliminating the malignant tumours.
Can eating liquorice products help me prevent cancer?
Although the antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties of liquorice components and extracts, and their role in preventing or treating deceases like cancer, have been studied extensively, these studies were observational in nature, which means that the potential benefits of liquorice on cancer were not directly or exclusively studied at an extensive or satisfactory amount to clearly say whether or not it has a direct effect.
Yes, consuming liquorice in as close to its natural form as possible can bring lots of benefits to our diet, as we saw earlier in this article, but it’s important to not go overboard with it! Too much or too little of anything can be harmful or damaging to our health.
As with everything else in life, it is important to consumer products in moderation, anything in excess can lead to negative side effects. To prevent cancer, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle by consuming a variety of fresh and organic fruits and vegetables, reduce the amount of processed meats and cheeses consumed, drink lots of water, get some good exercise, keeping that vitamin D in check and stopping unhealthy habits that lead to cancer like smoking, being exposed to toxic air, or sitting out in the sun
for too long.