Leave it to the federal government to sound an alarm when one is not really needed. Often such tactics are really a smokescreen to take the public’s focus off issues that are more crucial. Could this be such a ruse, to distract us from the real problems such as genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)? Since the Food and Drug Administration recently issued a statement (see http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm231078.htm) that consuming black licorice can, for those over the age of forty, cause heart arrhythmia, suddenly there has been a swirl of controversy over this age-old candy. Before there is general hysteria over this subject, it should be examined more closely.
The ingredient responsible for the health risk is glycyrrhizin, a natural substance found in real licorice, as opposed to the artificially flavored kind most commonly sold. Glycyrrhizin is what gives this candy its taste and sweetness even before the sugar is dumped in. It causes the kidneys to excrete potassium, which can then lead to the aforementioned heart rhythm trouble. In cases where such is likely, though, the victim normally has already suffered heart disease and hypertension. As well, the FDA says that a person would need to consume a heck of a lot of black licorice, in the neighborhood of several two-ounce bags daily for a couple weeks. Even someone on a real binge (perhaps after using their medical marijuana?) is highly unlikely to chomp down that much unless they need the UPC symbols to send in for some offer.
Now, here’s a good question to pose in light of this warning: considering that few licorice candies on the market today contain real licorice flavor, but instead are flavored with anise or artificial flavors altogether, why is the government even bringing this up now? Should they not have gone further and explained that part of the whole matter? As for other flavors of this popular confection—usually red, but also green or even purple—these varieties rarely contain any real licorice root essence so would not contribute to any health difficulties.
It’s certainly odd that the FDA, which has been notorious in past years for quickly rubber-stamping their approval of all sorts of drugs which later proved to cause serious health dangers (such as the infamous Thalidomide) has suddenly decided to raise a red flag on black licorice, even tying it in to the soon-to-come Hallowe’en. Most of those who will be eating this candy, indeed, most of those eating any treats for that holiday, will be young children. This does not fit the government’s profile of those likely to encounter dangers from eating a huge overdose of black licorice.
No matter what their reason, there is definitely a simple and non-expensive solution: take potassium supplements. Even if you do decide to binge on black licorice, you can take potassium-laden foods such as sweet potatoes, other orange or yellow vegetables or fruit, or just in pill form. Then again, in the spirit of Hallowe’en, just eat your pumpkin.