If you’re pregnant, it is probably best if you don’t indulge in your licorice cravings. A Finnish study found that high black licorice consumption during pregnancy could cause earlier puberty, behavioral issues and lower IQ in children.
Researchers discovered that children who were exposed to large amounts of glycyrrhizin—a chemical found in black licorice—in the womb scored an average of seven points lower on IQ tests and were three times as likely to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
In addition, girls who experienced high rates of glycyrrhizin in the womb experienced more advanced pubertal maturation at 12 years old when compared to girls whose mothers consumed no or low amounts licorice. On average, these girls were more than an inch taller and had BMIs that were 2.2 times higher.
According to the research, eating an occasional piece of the candy while pregnant might not be dangerous, but more than eight ounces per week could be harmful. Black licorice, made from the root of an herb plant named Glycyrrhiza glabra, contains the chemical called glycyrrhizin that can interfere with barriers that protect the fetus from stress hormones.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have not warned against licorice or glycyrrhizin consumption, other organizations such as the National Institutes of Health recommend pregnant women avoid eating food and supplements containing licorice root. Authors of the study compare the effects of consuming large amounts of licorice to binge drinking during pregnancy.
Luckily, if you can’t get rid of that black licorice craving, there are some alternatives. Some licorice-style candies use different herbs, such as anise, in place of glycyrrhizin—just be sure to check the label.
Photo: Franklin Hunting, CC-BY
Jane Snyder is a health intern with Paste and a freelance writer and photojournalist based out of Athens, Georgia.