When we hear the word licorice, candy, not fertility comes to mind. Did you know that the same plant made to flavor black licorice candy in the old days, is also an excellent herb for a variety of fertility problems? Well it is! In fact it positively supports key body systems that directly affect the quality of our fertility health. Licorice rt. (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been shown to be powerful in healing and protecting body systems vital to maintaining healthy fertility. Licorice is potent plant medicine!
The compound glycyrrhizic acid, found in root of the licorice plant has been shown to be hepatoprotective. This simply means it protects the liver from damaging substances, including damage from pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceutical medications, alcohol and more.
Why is liver health important for fertility? Well we need the liver to function at its best to maintain hormonal balance. The liver is our chemical processing plant. So you can imagine what must go on in there. The liver removes hormones, drugs, and other biologically active molecules from the blood. If there are too many excess toxins and hormones overwhelming the liver, they may be stored up, not only in the liver, but other parts of our body. This may disrupt our hormonal balance. Maintaining liver health is vital for proper hormonal balance.
Glycyrrhizic acid is so powerful studies have shown to inhibit liver damage and protect the body from three main toxic chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors.
- Carbon tetrachloride: known to be damaging to the entire reproductive system, central nervous system, liver and kidneys
- Benzene hexachloride: know to damage and affect thyroid health
- Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB): know to affect estrogen, androgens, and Thyroid hormones
Licorice has been researched in Japan and has been found extremely useful in healing cirrhosis and hepatitis liver damage as well. Licorice is potent plant medicine for the liver.
Immune and Endocrine System Function
Licorice is an adaptogen. For an herb to be classified as an adaptogen it must support endocrine system function. This herb is also an immunomodulator, which means it supports proper immune system function. Licorice has been shown to stimulate the immune system in people with with chronic illness or it can reduce excessive immune response in those people with autoimmune disorders.
It is often used to treat autoimmune disorders. It has the ability to reduce excessive immune response. In people with immunological fertility problems their body identifies part of reproductive function as an enemy and sends Natural Killer (NK) cells to attack. A healthy immune response would only identify an enemy correctly and attack only foreign invaders such as a virus, parasite, bacteria, ect.
Fertility Issues associated with autoimmune disorders:
- Premature Ovarian Failure
- Antisperm antibodies, both in men and women
- Recurrent miscarriage
- Thrombophilia, a blood clotting disorder
It provides excellent hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA axis, part of the endocrine system) support. This makes it an excellent choice for stress related infertility or hormonal imbalance issues of any kind. Including absent periods due to stress, poor egg health, poor sperm health, and any type of hormonal imbalance.
Licorice is a known phytoestrogen because it contains isoflavones. Phytoestrogens are not true estrogen, but they may have a similar action to our own endogenous estrogens. Phytoestrogens exert weaker estrogenic effects on cells, compared to our own endogenous estrogens, or xenoestrogens. Phytoestrogens compete for hormone receptor sites. If they bind to the estrogen receptor sites first, they actively block xenohormones from binding. Xenhormones are endocrine system disruptors and cause hormonal imbalance and may cause infertility.
Will Licorice rt. increase my estrogen levels? Will it make me become estrogen dominant? Will it make my estrogen dominance worse? Probably not. You would have to consume very large doses of this plant for it to increase your estrogen levels through it’s isoflavone content. Taking licorice at very high doses can be toxic, so avoid taking large amounts of this herb.
Licorice rt. packs a double whammy of positive hormone balancing benefits.
1. It is a phytoestrogen which protects our estrogen receptor sites from xenohormones. This helps to protect our body from endocrine disruptors, which are known to cause fertility problems.
2. It is an adaptogen that supports liver health, endocrine and immune system function, which supports hormonal balance overall!
When the body metabolizes the glycyrrhizic acid the result is a molecule similar to that of adrenal cortex hormones known as Glucocorticoids. In this case the Glucocorticoid is cortisol. Cortisol has an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. This is thought to the same reason for licorice’s anti-inflammatory action. Reduction in inflammation reduces painful fertility issues.
Fertility issues where inflammation is present:
- Ovarian cysts
- Uterine Fibroids
- Dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation)
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) often uses equal parts of Licorice rt. with White Peony (Paeonia lactiflora) for the treatment of dysmenorrhea. Several studies showed that peony, when combined with licorice rt. in equal parts, greatly reduced painful menstruation by preventing prostaglandin production. The conclusion of this finding shows that this blend’s action plays a key role in reducing primary dysmenorrhea, but also is very helpful in treating the underlying causes of secondary dysmenorrhea. This blend has also been shown to lower serum and free testosterone levels in women with PCOS.
Balance Blood Sugar Levels
This cortisol-like effect that licorice root has, has also been shown to support healthy blood sugar levels, especially when taken first thing in the morning. This may be helpful for women with insulin resistant PCOS.
Digestion and Cervical Mucous Production
Licorice is emollient, demulcent and nutritive. These actions support healthy mucous membranes and enhance their function, including those that secrete cervical mucous. Cervical mucous is necessary for the sperm to reach the egg.
These actions that licorice rt. has, also supports healthy digestion by lubricating and the digestive tract and enhancing digestion overall. We know digestion is the foundation for health, licorice rt. helps to support that. Licorice rt. has been used traditionally for hundreds of years and is the considered to be the most prescribed herb of all time. It has been extremely effective in healing ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, gastritis and colic.
This root is extremely effective at treating the STD’s genital herpes and warts. Studies have shown that licorice rt. can irreversibly inactivate herpes simplex virus. It has also been shown to inhibit the growth of several DNA and RNA viruses. This herb has been used for millennia to treat and prevent a variety of viruses, including the common cold and flu.
Licorice rt. and Hypertension: What’s All the Hype?
I guarantee if you do search on the internet for this herb you are going to get a barrage of warnings of how it is dangerous or may be toxic. Well, let us be realistic here. Licorice is possibly the most commonly used traditional herbal medicine on the planet. It has been used safely for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. So why all the scary information? Licorice rt. in excess can cause hyperaldosteremia. What? This is a condition in which a person retains sodium, loses potassium, and develops high blood pressure. This can only happen when it is used excessively.
How much is too much? Well licorice induced hyperaldosteremia has been reported after people have eaten excessive amounts of candies made with real licorice extract, or chewing tobacco with licorice extract, or have drank 4+ cups of licorice decoction (strong tea made by boiling the roots) per day, over a few days. An herbalist or naturopath would never suggest a person take Licorice rt. this way.
Traditional Suggested Usage
Tincture: 10-20 drops, 3 times a day
Decoction: 1/2 tsp of dried root to 8oz. of water. Steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain. Drink times per day.
We feel Licorice rt. is best used in combination with other herbs, rather than by itself alone. It blends well with a variety of herbs.
Please do not use Licorice therapeutically if you are taking any of the following medications:
- Potassium-depleting diuretics
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Cardiac glycosides
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2. Hoffman, David FNIMH, AHG. Medical Herbalism The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.
3. Romm, Aviva. Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone, 2010.
4. Widespread Pollutants with Endocrine-disrupting Effects. Our Stolen Future: Book Basics: Chemicals implicated. http://www.ourstolenfuture.org/basics/chemlist.htm