Sometimes I wonder if I’m a licorice addict. I seriously LOVE the stuff. No, I don’t have a problem, I swear. I can stop any time. It’s just a little candy …
Licorice has a mellow sweetness to it that doesn’t disappear in my mouth after eating, unlike all caloric-dense sweeteners, which always end up leaving a sour taste in my mouth not long afterwards, as the bacteria and enzymes in my mouth process whatever residual sugars get left behind in the mastication process. (I mostly just wrote that so I could use the word mastication… Yes, I’m a vocab junkie too. I admit I have that problem. No, I cannot stop using big words at any time — didn’t you know that’s why they put people like me in grad school??!)
I first started taking licorice regularly when I was battling my GERD issues. (Yeah, I know, I still need to write that up…) Licorice leaves a gentle mucus-like coating on the digestive tract, making it less sensitive to irritations. It helped me better tolerate the amounts of Hydrochloric Acid that I found necessary to take in order to teach my esophageal sphincter to re-close over the contents of my stomach, and in order to efficiently process the increased protein I was ingesting on GAPS. And licorice also helped on those occasions when I realized too late that I hadn’t taken enough HCl with a meal, when half an hour afterwards, the GERD resurfaced with a vengeance — it’s a bad idea to take HCl without immediately accompanying food (and yes, I did learn this the hard way!), but licorice is A-OK for any time.
And even now, sometimes I’ll still have burping issues while trying to go to sleep, and licorice is the only thing that will calm my stomach down. I often try activated charcoal first, but sometimes even then, licorice will be the only solution. (Hey, but at least I’ve got a solution, right?)
Now that I’ve managed to get my body’s natural production of Hydrochloric Acid back up to levels that prevent GERD, I still love my licorice. (I do still take it on occasion when a tiny bit of heartburn creeps up, although if this happens on a regular basis, I take mini-HCl capsules with a few meals until things normalize.) But I also just enjoy the flavor so much — it’s a treat to have “legal” candy when you don’t eat hardly any sweets whatsoever!
And I have to admit, licorice may not be totally “legal” when it comes to GAPS, or Paleo … In the GAPS online community, I have read that licorice is not legal because of how it coats the digestive tract — the idea being that this coating action might interfere with the recolonization of the tract by beneficial bacteria. And even though the licorice I use is fully made of plant material, it is processed in a way that certainly would have been utterly foreign to pre-industrialized, not to mention pre-agricultural, humans.
So I do try to take breaks from it; I’ll have a week or two where I really crave it, and then a week or more where I hardly take any. I figure that if my body doesn’t remind me to take it, it probably doesn’t have a need for it.
Licorice has a substance in it, glycyrrhizic acid, which has been shown to have significant medicinal properties. One of these is the ability to substantially raise blood pressure. This is the reason that deglycyrrhized licorice (DGL) is recommended to take with stomach problems — because the idea is that there is no imminent danger for anyone to take this, even if they have high blood pressure (also apparently high estrogen can be a problem with glychyrrhizic acid).
So when I first started taking licorice for the GERD, I took the DGL, since that’s what seemed to be the general consensus amongst the stomach health books that I read. But I thought to myself, I don’t have blood pressure figures that always fall in the low end of the normal range (and although I didn’t learn about the estrogen factor until later, I’m pretty sure that excess estrogen is not a part of my hormonal issues); since I try to eat things as close to their whole-food version as possible, wouldn’t it be better just to take pure licorice?
I found some adorable little tins of 100% pure licorice candies when we visited Eataly in NYC last winter, and the minute I tried it, I was hooked!
Turns out, the only company in the world, as far as I can tell, that still makes old-fashioned sugar-free licorice is this one Italian company, Amarelli. And oh my is it wonderful stuff!
I also happily discovered that one can buy Amarelli licorice in bulk online (from a store in Lincoln, Nebraska, of all places!) — which meant that with the amount of pieces I was regularly eating, it was a much more affordable habit than buying lots of little tins of it! (Although the tins are cute — they are a big part of the price!)
And lastly, I also discovered that licorice can be useful in rebalancing adrenal function — Julia Ross in The Mood Cure explains that “It slows down the conversion of cortisol into other hormones, allowing levels to build up.” By this line of thinking, it might be useful to take licorice first thing in the morning, when cortisol levels are ideally peaking. She also recommends not taking it after about 3 PM so as not to interfere with sleep, since cortisol levels should ideally decline towards evening in preparation for sleep — unfortunately I do often take it right at bedtime, which I might want to try curtailing.
Altho if it’s what allows me to go to sleep in the first place, and I don’t fall asleep without its soothing effect on the digestive tract, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. And perhaps I should try more often to take the DGL, which does not have the same effect on cortisol, at night. (
Hey, now that’s a great idea!! Or not … I just looked at the ingredients on my DGL and there’s cellulose, guar gum, and a bunch of other stuff that I try to avoid … so much for that idea!) And hopefully as my digestive tract continues to heal, I will be able to use the licorice more effectively for adrenal balancing and less as a temporary coating for irritation.
Whether that’s going to have any interventionary effect upon my “habit” remains to be seen tho — I’m not going to give up my licorice without a good hard fight! It’s too soothingly delicious!
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Healthy2Day Wednesday, Gluten Free Wednesdays, Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise Platter Thursday, Turning the Table Thursday, and Full Plate Thursday.
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