QUESTION

I’ve heard that licorice root can relieve hot flashes. Is this true, and if yes, how should it be taken?

ANSWER

Probably the most well-known use of licorice root is as a sweetener in candies (it’s also often used as a sweetener in herbal tea formulas). But you might not know that this herb has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries—including for the relief of hot flashes.

As women go through the transition of menopause, estrogen levels fall, which is thought to trigger hot flashes. Up to 80% of women experience hot flashes during menopause, and a study found that the uncomfortable symptoms can last for up to 14 years. Licorice root can help reduce both the frequency and severity of hot flashes because it’s a phytoestrogen, which means that it contains very weak estrogens.

Recent finding: In one small study, women who took a 330-milligram licorice root capsule three times a day reported a decrease in the frequency and severity of hot flashes over eight weeks. And no significant side effects were reported.

If you would like to try licorice root for hot flashes, be sure to consult a naturopathic doctor to get the dosage that’s right for you.

Caution: Licorice root can cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and low potassium levels in some people. A chemical called glycyrrhizic acid is responsible for these effects, so choose a deglycyrrhizinated licorice supplement, which has this chemical removed.

Drinking a daily cup of licorice root tea is another way to help mitigate hot flashes, but this also can increase blood pressure in some people, due to the glycyrrhizic acid. If you’re prone to high blood pressure, choose other teas rich in phytoestrogens such as red clover or evening primrose.

Additional alerts on licorice: Besides the blood pressure caution above, if you have a hormone-sensitive condition, such as breast, uterine or ovarian cancer, endometriosis or uterine fibroids, you should avoid phytoestrogens such as licorice. And a recent study found that several compounds in licorice supplements can potentially interfere with the way the liver processes both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, so if you take medication, check first with your doctor before taking a licorice supplement or drinking licorice root tea.

Other uses for licorice: Licorice root is soothing to mucous membranes and can help heal inflammation of the esophagus, stomach and digestive system. Licorice can also support adrenal health, so it’s a good choice when you're exhausted or going through a stressful period.