Licorice root is a plant that has been used for centuries as a traditional remedy for a variety of health conditions. It is native to Western Asia and Southern Europe, and the root of the licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra)  is used to make licorice extract.
This plant contains several compounds in addition to glycyrrhizin, such as isoliquiritigenin, and glabridin. These compounds have anti-inflammatory antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-allergic properties.
Despite this, intake of licorice extract also carries several health risks and can make or mare fertility. This article explores the various scientific research and studies on the impact of licorice on fertility to answer the question, “Is licorice a friend or foe for fertility?”.
Effects of licorice extract on fertility
The impact of licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) roots on fertility in both men and women may be dose-dependent as discussed below.
- Licorice may help treat PCOS.
- Fight infections detrimental to fertility.
- Lower the risk of preterm birth
- May improve the rate of IVF
- May increase cortisol levels
- May reduce ovulation and testosterone levels.
Licorice may help treat PCOS
An animal study noted that a moderate intake of licorice extract of 100 mg or 150 mg could decrease ovarian cysts and improve the fertilization rate of oocyte and embryo development in PCOS mice .
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Therefore, moderate intake of licorice extract may help treat PCOS patients as studies have suggested it could potentially decrease ovarian cysts and improve the fertilization rate of oocyte and embryo development in PCOS .
The study further revealed that those mice exposed to licorice, both in doses of 100 mg/kg/day and 150 mg/kg/day, experienced a significant decrease in testosterone and estrogen.
This may also be bad for people with normal or low testosterone and estrogen as excessive intake of licorice extract may further reduce their testosterone and estrogen levels, which can affect their reproductive metabolism [9, 10].
Licorice extract may be a potential treatment for PCOS. It has the potential to improve ovarian morphology, oocyte maturation, and embryo development in PCOS mice. But may lower testosterone levels due to the presence of glycyrrhizic acid [11, 12, 13].
Fight infections detrimental to fertility
The Glycyrrhizin extract of licorice may be potential against viral infections, bacterial infections, and inflammatory disorders of the lung [14, 15, 12, 13]. Research has also shown that bacterial infections and inflammation are detrimental to fertility [16, 17, 18, 19].
Lower the risk of preterm birth
May prevent preterm birth due to the presence of Liquiritin a flavonoid that is found in licorice root which can inhibit AKR1C1— an enzyme that reduces the biological effect of progesterone. Research shows that low progesterone can increase the risk of pre-term birth .
May improve the rate of IVF
Licorice extract may be a potential treatment for infertility. Licorice extract can improve the rate of IVF in mice by increasing the number of sperm that successfully fertilize the eggs.
This is attributed to the active compounds in licorice that contribute to this effect of isoliquiritigenin . However further research is needed to determine whether licorice extract is safe and effective for IVF in humans.
May increase cortisol levels
Excessive intake of licorice extract may increase cortisol levels. There is evidence that the root extract of the plant contains a compound called glycyrrhizic acid, which can inhibit the activity of an enzyme called 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11β-HSD2) [22, 23, 24].
This enzyme normally converts cortisol into a less active form called cortisone . When 11β-HSD2 is inhibited, cortisol levels can build up in the body [26, 27].
Cortisol is a stress hormone that helps the body cope with physical and emotional stressors .
For these reasons, it is important to limit your intake of licorice if you are concerned about your cortisol levels or other hormone levels. If you are taking medications, talk to your doctor before taking licorice, as it can interact with certain medications.
May reduce ovulation
Inhibiting the activity of 11β-HSD2 by glycyrrhizic acid can affect ovulation. One of the main concerns about licorice is that it can raise levels of the hormone cortisol [31, 32].
Cortisol is a stress hormone that can interfere with ovulation and implantation. There are also claims that excessive intake of cortisol can lower levels of progesterone, a hormone that is essential for maintaining pregnancy .
Licorice can also affect the balance of other hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. This can lead to irregular menstrual cycles and make it more difficult to get pregnant.
However, a recent study suggests that the relationship between infertility and cortisol is still unclear but intensive human-centered research is needed for validity .
Here are some of the forms of licorice root that are available:
When choosing a licorice root product, it is important to choose one that is high-quality and has been tested for purity. It is also important to avoid products that contain added sugar or artificial flavors.
Indigestion and heartburn:
Can help relieve Sore throat
Licorice root can help to soothe a sore throat and reduce inflammation .
Treats Upper respiratory infections
Promotes bowel movements
Licorice root may cause constipation, which can help to soften the stool and promote bowel movements.
Licorice root has anti-inflammatory properties that may help to improve symptoms of eczema .
licorice extract side effects
Licorice root can also have side effects, especially when taken in high doses. These side effects can include:
- High blood pressure
- Low potassium levels
- Fluid retention
- Stomach upset
- Weight gain
JC is passionate about finding the impact of foods (feeding habits) on human fertility and reproductive health and a way to improve fertility.