Menopausal women who experience hot flashes are often desperate to find relief by any means possible, including using home remedies and herbal cures. But researchers say that one popular way some women are cooling off may be dangerous.
Does Licorice Help Hot Flashes?
The trending treatment in question is the use of licorice root supplements. This bitter root became a popular choice for many women after studies in 2012 and 2014 connected the plant with a reduction in the frequency and intensity of hot flashes.
Licorice triggers the body to increase estrogen production, which counters the natural decrease in estrogen caused by menopause.
When estrogen levels dip, hot flashes can develop. Hot flashes are intense periods of heat that begin in the face and neck. These flashes can last from 30 seconds to a few minutes, and vary in intensity between individuals.
Licorice May Have Dangerous Consequences
New research into the safety of licorice for treating hot flashes has found that while the plant can reduce hot flashes, it has unintended negative consequences.
A study conducted by the University of Illinois Chicago National Institute of Health Center for Botanical Dietary Supplements Research found that licorice can affect the way the body metabolizes some prescription drugs.
The study found that different species of licorice affect the body’s ability to break down medications differently. Two North American species, Glycyrrhiza uralensis and G. inflata, cause the body to process drugs too quickly.
A European species of the plant, G. glabra, was found to slow down the body’s ability to metabolize drugs.
Licorice root also raises the level of sodium in the body and reduces potassium levels. This imbalance can increase blood pressure, cause swelling of the extremities and lead to cardiac arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythms.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also linked licorice root consumption to the development of congestive heart failure.
In a 2016 study, researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that one compound of the plant, isoliquiritigenin, actually inhibits the body’s ability to produce estrogen. This finding means that licorice could be contributing to the development of hot flashes, instead of stopping them.
Other Treatments for Hot Flashes
Around 70 percent of women experience hot flashes during menopause.
"Some women only experience just a few hot flashes during their menopausal transition, while others can experience upwards of 30 episodes a day," according to Dr. Mona Alqulali, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., Ph.D.
Alqulali is an OB-GYN in Clinton, Iowa, who counsels patients going through menopause about their options for treatment.
"One of the most effective treatments for reducing hot flashes is hormone replacement therapy," Alqulali said.
Hormone replacement therapy replaces the estrogen lost during menopause. Aside from reducing hot flashes, hormone replacement therapy can also decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis, a common side effect of menopause.
Not all women are candidates for hormone replacement therapy due to pre-existing medical conditions or family history of breast cancer.
Low-dose antidepressants that are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, have also been proven effective to decrease the occurrence of menopausal hot flashes. These medications may benefit patients who cannot take hormone replacements.
Alqulali recognizes that these conventional treatments may not appeal to every patient.
"Some patients want to avoid prescriptions and treat their menopause naturally, through diet and exercise," Alqulali said.
Foods high in plant estrogen - such as whole grains, vegetables and legumes like soy beans and lentils - have may help to reduce hot flashes in some menopausal women.
Some women also swear by alternative treatments like yoga, acupuncture and hypnosis to reduce their symptoms.
While many treatments make claims to reduce menopausal symptoms, Alqulali advises talking to a physician before beginning any treatment.
"Talking about treatment options can help rule out any life-threatening complications or dangerous interactions," Alqulali said.
American Chemical Society. "Licorice is a hot trend in hot flashes, but could interact with medications." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 August 2017.