Researchers in Finland say the culprit is glycyrrhizin, a naturally-occurring sweetener found in the licorice plant that increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol when ingested, which could affect a fetus’ nervous system in utero.
The study, which was published February 3 in the American Journal of Epidemiology, looked at a group of 1,049 pregnant women — nearly half of whom ate licorice during pregnancy — who gave birth in 1998.
The 11% who consumed the most (8.8 oz of pure licorice or 500+mg of glycyrrhizin per week) had children who scored an average of seven points lower on IQ tests and had three times the risk of ADHD by the age of 13 compared to the lowest exposure group.
Researchers also found that daughters of mothers who ate the most licorice reached puberty later, which they say could be associated with physical and mental disorders.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and World Health Organization (WHO) have no warnings against licorice or glycyrrhizin during pregnancy; however, Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare added it last year to its list of foods best avoided while expecting.
Like everything during pregnancy (and life in general, for that matter), moderation is key. Per the study’s findings, you would have to eat more than a half pound of licorice in a week’s time — which would qualify you as a certified licorice junkie — to put your baby at risk by eating it during pregnancy.
I don’t know anyone who likes licorice that much, but maybe you do, and maybe you’re pregnant or may become pregnant. In that case, you’ve been warned.
Source: USA Today