A Massachusetts construction worker who really enjoyed black licorice, and ate a bag and a half every day for a few weeks, ended up dying from eating too much of the candy.
Doctors said Wednesday he died because the glycyrrhizic acid in the black licorice candy threw his nutrients out of balance, and caused the 54-year-old man's heart to stop.
Dr. Neel Butala, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, described the case in the New England Journal of Medicine: "Even a small amount of licorice you eat can increase your blood pressure a little bit."
From the Associated Press:
Eating as little as 2 ounces of black licorice a day for two weeks could cause a heart rhythm problem, especially for folks over 40, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.
"It's more than licorice sticks. It could be jelly beans, licorice teas, a lot of things over the counter. Even some beers, like Belgian beers, have this compound in it," as do some chewing tobaccos, said Dr. Robert Eckel, a University of Colorado cardiologist and former American Heart Association president. He had no role in the Massachusetts man's care.
The death was clearly an extreme case. The man had switched from red, fruit-flavored twists to the black licorice version of the candy a few weeks before his death last year. He collapsed while having lunch at a fast-food restaurant. Doctors found he had dangerously low potassium, which led to heart rhythm and other problems. Emergency responders did CPR and he revived but died the next day.
The FDA permits up to 3.1% of a food's content to have glycyrrhizic acid, but many candies and other licorice products don't reveal how much of it is contained per ounce, Butala said. Doctors have reported the case to the FDA in hope of raising attention to the risk.
PHOTO: "Liquorice (British English) or licorice (American English) (/ˈlɪkərɪʃ, -ɪs/ LIK-ər-is(h)) is the common name of Glycyrrhiza glabra, a flowering plant of the bean family Fabaceae, from the root of which a sweet, aromatic flavouring can be extracted." [public domain image, via Wikipedia]