FDA Warns of Heart Risks Tied to Black Licorice

There might be one too many tricks in this treat

Photograph by George Doyle

While you’re watching out for zombies, vampires and witches, keep your eyes peeled for a new villain on Halloween: black licorice.

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning earlier this week that consuming large quantities of black licorice can lead to heart arrhythmias along with other health problems, especially if you’re 40 or older. Adults eating two ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks can wind up with an abnormal heart rhythm.

The culprit? Black licorice contains a compound called glycyrrhizin, which can lower the body’s potassium levels and cause the heart beat to race or become out of sync. Glycrrhizin is also the very ingredient that gives licorice its sweet flavor.

More bad news: Black licorice can also lead to high blood pressure and edema. And according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, pregnant women need to be wary of black licorice as it can increase the risk of pre-term labor.

If you do overdo it, don’t rush to the hospital just yet. The FDA’s Linda Katz said when you cut out the consumption of black licorice, potassium levels are usually restored with no permanent health problems.

Plus, many licorice candy products or food with licorice flavoring do not actually contain any real licorice but instead use anise oil, which has a similar smell and taste but none of the linked health problems. I never thought I’d say this, but God bless artificial foods.