Should Licorice Consumption During Pregnancy Be Avoided?

Licorice consumption during pregnancy has been linked to lower IQ, poorer memory, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-type problems in offspring.

Consuming large amounts of licorice during pregnancy has been linked to lower IQ, poorer memory, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-type problems in offspring. These findings are from a study conducted in Finland, where the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare has already placed licorice on the not recommended list for pregnant women.

Researchers from the University of Helsinki examined 378 youths (mean age: 12.5 years) whose mothers had consumed ‘large amounts’ or ‘little/no’ licorice during pregnancy. A “large amount” was defined as ≥500mg/week of glycyrrhizin (equivalent to 250g of licorice) and “little/no” was defined as ≤250mg/week of glycyrrhizin; glycyrrhizin is the chief constituent of the licorice root.

Compared with children whose mothers consumed little/no glycyrrhizin, girls and boys exposed to high maternal glycyrrhizin consumption scored 7 (95% CI: 3.1, 11.2) points lower on IQ tests, had worse memory (P < 0.04), and had 3.3-fold (95% CI: 1.4, 7.7) higher odds of  ADHD-related problems. 

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The authors did stress how glycyrrhizin is one of many factors that can affect the development of the fetus, and that their findings need to be investigated further

Lab studies have shown that glycyrrhizin is a potent inhibitor of placental 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2, By inhibiting this enzyme, glycyrrhizin intensifies the activating stress hormone cortisol; large amounts of cortisol can be detrimental to the fetus.

The full findings from the study are published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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