A man was recently hospitalised with dangerously high blood pressure and low potassium levels, but doctors couldn’t understand why.
After a bit of digging, medical staff discovered that the 51-year-old’s daily habit of eating a bag of liquorice jelly beans was most likely to blame.
Liquorice is particularly dangerous to people over 40 years old who have a history of heart disease and/or high blood pressure, according to Dr Nitin Shori, an online doctor with Pharmacy2U.
He added: “No matter how old you are, if you eat more than 57g (2oz) of black liquorice a day for more than two weeks, it can cause serious problems with your heart.”
According to a paper published in the journal Postgraduate Medicine, the man was hospitalised in Ontario, Canada, having suffered with abdominal pain for three days followed by a loss of appetite, vomiting and a dry mouth.
But doctors were baffled because he had no history of high blood pressure or of any underlying conditions that may cause it.
They later discovered that the man had something of a liquorice jelly bean addiction – eating a bag of 50 beans a day.
Black liquorice contains glycyrrhizin, a sweetening compound taken from liquorice root, which can cause potassium levels in the body to fall. However potassium is crucial for maintaining normal heart activity.
According to the NHS, decreased potassium levels can lead to some people experiencing abnormal heart rhythms, as well as high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy and, in very serious cases, heart failure.
The patient was advised to give up the jelly beans and, soon after, his health returned to normal.
Dr Tamara Spaic, an endocrinologist who helped with the case, told National Post that had they not discovered the root of his condition, the patient may have remained on blood pressure drugs to cope with the condition permanently.
While liquorice is safe to eat in moderation for most people, experts advise that no matter how old you are “you should avoid eating large amounts of black liquorice over a short space of time”.
The NHS adds that if you’ve been eating a lot of black liquorice and begin to have heart palpitations, muscle weakness or other health-related problems, stop eating it immediately and seek medical advice.
Experts from Maryland University advise anyone using liquorice-based medicine to not use it for longer than four to six weeks.
They add that people with the following conditions should avoid taking or eating liquorice full stop:
:: heart failure
:: heart disease
:: hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast, ovarian, uterine or prostate cancer
:: fluid retention
:: high blood pressure
:: kidney disease
:: liver disease
:: low potassium (hypokalemia)
:: erectile dysfunction.
Additionally, pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid eating liquorice, they said.