Licorice May Be Bad For Your Unborn Child

Posted Mon, 11/09/2009 - 6:27pm by Fred Lee

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New research suggests that eating excessive amounts of black licorice may have adverse consequences on the mental health and behavior of your unborn child. The findings, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that when mothers consumed large quantities of black licorice while they were pregnant, the children performed at a lower level on cognitive tests and were more prone to behavior issues like hyperactivity and ADHD.

The study focused on mothers in Finland, where licorice consumption among young women is common. Their children were subsequently tested on a series of cognitive functions, including vocabulary, memory, and spatial awareness. What they found was that children whose mothers ate more than 100g of pure licorice, per week were more prone to behavioral problems and more likely to have lower intelligence levels, prompting the authors to go so far as to recommend that expectant mothers avoid large quantities of the confection.

Researcher believe the reason that black licorice might have its negative impact is because it has high levels of the compound glycyrrhizin, which is the odorless, sweet tasting component of licorice root that is 30-50 times sweeter than sugar. It is believed to influence hypertension and edema (water retention), as well as lower testosterone levels in males. Glycyrrhizin is also thought to compromise the protective quality of the placenta and allow for the transfer of stress hormones between mother and child.

Stress hormones, or glucocorticoids, are blamed for a vast array of problems during pregnancy. In fact, it has been postulated that high levels of these hormones can reduce the chances that a woman will conceive, and increases the likelihood of a miscarriage. They are also linked to higher rates of premature births as well as low birth rates. And finally, they are believed to negatively impact fetal brain development. This effect can in turn lead to behavioral problems as the child grows.

In the United States, glycyrrhizin is considered safe as a flavoring agent, though the European Union encourages people to limit their daily consumption to no more than 100mg (or 50g of licorice) per day. In Japan, glycyrrhizin is a common sweetener, but the government recommends that its citizens consume no more than 200mg per day.

Just a little food for thought if you are expecting a child and enjoy eating licorice. While the actual connection between licorice and developmental issues in your child may not be completely definitive, the evidence is striking enough to make one stop and think about it. If you have any questions or concerns, speak with your physician.

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