You’ve probably heard of licorice root being used for the relief of menopausal symptoms (such as hot flashes) and to possibly fight cancer, but you’ve probably never heard that it may pose negative implications for women’s fertility as found in a new study that licorice may reduce fertility.
Not A Sweet News About Licorice
In a study published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, researchers shared that exposure to the compound isoliquiritigenin in licorice is related to a decreased production of female sex hormones. They found out that isoliquiritigenin reduce the expression of genes associated with female sex hormone production thereby reducing the production of estrogen.
University of Illinois researcher Jodi Flaws and her colleagues did not go into the effect of reduced sex hormones in reproductive health in the study; however, they stated that said reduction in sex hormones may have serious implications in human fertility.
A Backgrounder on Licorice
Commonly known as a form of chewy candy, licorice has been used as part of traditional and alternative medicine for centuries. The licorice root used in sweet concoctions and medicine is from a perennial plant that is native to many parts of Asia and Europe. It is often used as a sweeter because the root contains a compound that is about 50X sweeter than sugar.
Numerous studies have been conducted on the medicinal properties of licorice in the past. It has been scientifically proven to help prevent peptic ulcers, reduce hot flashes, relieve indigestion, treat coughs and colds, and even minimize the risk of some cancers. At present time, the compound isoliquiritigenin in licorice is being used as a tobacco flavoring agent and is often added to teas and herbal supplements.
According to the research team, previous studies using animal models have shown that botanicals such as isoliquiritigenin may interfere with sex hormones, particularly estrogen. This piqued their interest and they wanted to find out whether isoliquiritigenin will have the same effect.
The team found out that aromatase gene expression was halved after exposure to isoliquiritigenin in the antral follicles of female mice that were exposed to the compound for periods of 48 to 96 hours. The test subjects’ antral follicles (a part of the ovary that expresses genes associated in the production of various hormones particularly estrogen) were exposed to either the isoliquiritigenin compound or a control compound during the study.
The study gathered that a reduced expression of genes associated with sex hormone production was observed when the mice’s antral follicles were bared to high levels of isoliquiritigenin. The most significant finding is that they identified a 50% reduction in gene expression for aromatase, an enzyme that turns testosterone to estrogen.
Why This Deserves Scientific Attention
With the above findings making its way to the scientific community, the research team stresses that their findings are only preliminary and that studies in live subjects are warranted. With this said, they also state that their early findings strongly suggest that exposure to the licorice compound isoliquiritigenin has a real potential to cause health issues and reproductive problems.
It is to be noted that lower sex hormones can pose a threat to general health because hormones are tied up with so many other processes in the body. In the case of estrogen, it is important for healthy bones, healthy brains, and healthy cardiovascular system. A 50% reduction in aromatase means a 50% reduction in estrogen production that can pose fertility issues and other health problems.