Study: Avoid Licorice While Pregnant

The American Pregnancy Association has a long list of foods that pregnant women should not eat.   These include fish with mercury, raw shellfish, raw eggs, alcohol and unwashed vegetables.  Those all make lots of sense.  But what about licorice?  According to recent findings, foods made from the licorice root extract – and that includes licorice candy – should be added to the do-not-eat list for pregnant women.

While licorice, which has long been thought to have health benefits, may seem like an odd thing to avoid while pregnant, researchers at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital and the University of Helsinki say that consuming it can increase an unborn child’s risk of disease later in life.  This is due to the fact that licorce contains glycyrrhizin, an ingredient which not only makes the licorice sweet, but effects the mechanism that regulates hormone levels and can increase the cortisol levels in the mother’s body.

Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” is usually secreted into the bloodstream as part of the body’s “fight or flight” response, providing a quick burst of energy and a lower sensitivity to pain.  But prolonged high levels of cortisol in the body have been linked to diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

In the study of eight-year-old children, researchers found that those whose mothers consumed just half a gram a week of licorice while pregnant had cortisol levels one third higher than those whose mothers didn’t eat any at all.

While the researchers didn’t identify any particular diseases that these children may have been experiencing by the age of eight, a previous analysis did reveal an impact on intelligence and behavior.  The same ingredient, glycyrrhizin, is believed to impair the placenta and allow stress hormones to reach the baby.  These hormones are thought to impact fetal brain development and have been linked to behavioral disorders including ADHD.

Image: eek the cat/Flickr

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