Licorice, or Glycyrrhiza glabra, is a legume and member of the Fabaceae, or pea family. It has been used for over 3,000 years to treat a variety of ailments. Currently, medical studies support the use of licorice for the treatment of inflamed intestinal tissues, but it does much more than just that. Not only is licorice an adaptogen and strong antiviral, but it can also be used specifically in the treatment of Barrett’s esophagus.
Licorice contains Gylcyrrhizin, which is very biologically active. It has strong hypertensive properties and can bring blood pressure to dangerous highs. It also can act as antidiuretic, a mineralcoriticoid, and can interact with drugs. When consumed, the body converts glycyrrhizin into glycyrrhetinic acid. The glycyrrhetinic acid has a pseudo-aldosterone effect in the body, causing the body to retain water and increase blood pressure. Because of this, most licorice used today is in the form of DGL or deglycyrrhizinated licorice, with the glycyrrhizin removed. This allows us to reap the benefits without the danger of raising blood pressure. Studies have shown that DGL may increase mucous production and accelerate the healing of duodenal and gastric ulcers. It has also been proven effective in the treatment of chronic stomach discomfort and in protecting the stomach from NSAIDs (such as aspirin). With Barrett’s esophagus, normal epithelial cells are replaced by cells similar to those lining the intestinal tract due to stress on the tissue. Since licorice targets these cells specifically, it has strong potential to help heal tissue damage related to Barrett’s esophagus.
How DGL helps heal Barrett’s esophagus
DGL can be used in chewable form to coat the esophagus and thereby have a direct effect on the mucosal tissue. The salivary enzymes release the healing properties, increase absorption, and stimulate healing to occur immediately as it is swallowed. DGL addresses Barrett’s esophagus in many ways. It can decrease inflammation, reduce discomfort, heal the gastric tissues, and even reduce the gastric spasms that often cause the acid and tissue irritation to leak in the first place.
There are many active constituents behind the vast healing powers of DGL. The root of the licorice plant contains 10 triterpenes and 22 flavonoids. Licorice’s flavonoids, including isoliquiritigen, help inhibit acid secretion and prevent the growth of harmful intestinal bacteria. Licorice magnifies the effect of the mucus by increasing blood flow and promoting secretion, growth, and activity of the protective mucosa cells. It provides both a protective mucus layer and deep anti-inflammatory effects. Licorice also reduces spasms in the visceral muscles, relaxing the tissue.
DGL can also increase the concentration of bilirubin in the bile. Bilirubin is a bile pigment created by the breakdown of heme in red blood cells. There is some debate on its healing or harmful effects. Although high concentrations of bilirubin often indicate disease, new studies show it can also act as a cellular antioxidant protecting tissues from free radical damage. Antioxidants are definitely desirable when preventing and repairing any tissue damage.
There is vast research on the overall medicinal benefits of Glycyrrhiza glabra, but there are not yet any clinical trials for the treatment of Barrett’s esophagus specifically. Licorice shows great promise as a treatment for Barrett’s esophagus and will hopefully soon have more research to back it up. Barrett’s esophagus is a largely due to lifestyle, and the causative factors, such as smoking, drinking, and poor diet, must be removed if you truly wish to restore health, balance and happiness.
Never take any licorice products if pregnant or nursing. Always consult a doctor before initiating or changing your treatment plan.
Sources for this article include:
(2004). “DGL for acid reflux.” Alive: Canadian Journal of Health & Nutrition. 258 (18).
Martin, H. (2010). “DGL Licorice and Acid Reflux.” livestrong.com.
Stormer F, Reistad R, & Alexander J. (1993). “Glycyrrhizic acid in licorice- evaluation of a health hazard.” Fd Chem Toxic 31:303-12.
Noe, J. (2010). Botanical Medicine I. Digestive Herbs Lecture. University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine.
Lindsay Chimileski grew up in Newtown, Connecticut. After graduating high school in 2005, she received her bachelor’s in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Connecticut in 2009. Then she found her true calling, naturopathic medicine.
Currently, Lindsay is attending University of Bridgeport’s College of Naturopathic Medicine with anticipated graduation in 2013. She is studying Chinese Medicine and becoming a licensed acupuncturist as well. Lindsay also studies bush medicine with shamans and Rastas in the Jamaican jungle each spring. The naturopathic and acupuncture clinic at UB serves the community with affordable health care. It also reaches out through several satellite sites, including one in the greater Danbury area.