Construction worker dies after eating too much black licorice
A Massachusetts man overdosed on black licorice and died after eating a bag and a half of candy every day for several weeks, causing his potassium levels to drop.
The case was detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine, where doctors reported that the 54-year-old construction worker essentially had an ODd on black licorice, which contains glycyrrhizic acid. Dangerously low levels of potassium can lead to abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure and even congestive heart failure.
“Even a small amount of licorice that you eat can raise your blood pressure a bit,” said Dr. Neel Butala, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who described the case in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Glycyrrhizic acid is found in many foods and food supplements containing licorice root extract. It can cause dangerously low potassium and electrolyte imbalances.
One of the oldest herbal remedies in the world, licorice root comes from the licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra), which is native to western Asia and southern Europe.
It was used for flavoring and medicine in ancient Egypt, where the root was made into a sweet drink for the pharaohs, Health Line reported. It has also been used in traditional Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Greek medicine to soothe upset stomach, reduce inflammation, and treat upper respiratory tract problems.
Eating as little as 2 ounces of black licorice a day for two weeks can cause a problem with the heart rhythm, especially in people over 40, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.
“It’s more than licorice sticks. It could be jelly beans, licorice teas, a lot of over-the-counter things. Even some beers, like Belgian beers, contain this compound, “as do some chewing tobacco, said Dr. Robert Eckel, cardiologist at the University of Colorado and former president of the American Heart Association, NBC reported.
The construction worker collapsed while eating lunch at a fast food restaurant weeks after switching from red licorice to black licorice, Fox News reported. Emergency services performed CPR and he was resuscitated, only to die 32 hours later, the newspaper reported.
Doctors reported the case to the FDA in hopes of drawing attention to the risk. Although the FDA allows up to 3.1% of a food’s content to contain glycyrrhizic acid, many candies and licorice products do not disclose the amount contained per ounce, Butala said.
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Hershey Company makes the popular Twizzlers licorice twists. Company spokesperson Jeff Beckman said in an email that “all of our products are safe and formulated in full compliance with FDA regulations,” and all foods, including candy, “should be consumed in moderation”.
Licorice isn’t the only herb whose delicious products can have toxic side effects. The pits of cherries, apricots, plums and peaches can produce cyanide. Rice contains arsenic, especially rice grown in Texas, according to Enjoy your meal. And potatoes can produce solanine, a natural pesticide toxic to humans and concentrated in potatoes that have started to green and sprout.
It would take about 50 grams of arsenic to kill an average 150-pound adult and one would need to eat 1,800 cups of rice in one sitting to achieve death from rice, according to Bon Appétit’s article, “8 Foods That Could kill yourself (If you eat enough).