Too much candy: Man dies from eating bags of black licorice

Killed by LICORICE: Construction worker, 54, died after eating a bag and a half of the black candy every day for weeks causing his heart to stop, report reveals

  • The Massachusetts man died aged 54 after eating a bag and a half of licorice every day for several weeks 
  • Even a small amount of licorice you eat can increase your blood pressure, a cardiologist who described the case warned 
  • Problem is caused by glycyrrhizic acid, found in black licorice and other foods  

A construction worker died after eating too much licorice which caused his heart to stop, doctors say. 

The Massachusetts man died aged 54 after eating a bag and a half of licorice every day for several weeks, throwing his nutrients out of balance. 

‘Even a small amount of licorice you eat can increase your blood pressure a little bit,’ said Dr Neel Butala, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who described the case in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Eating as little as two ounces of black licorice a day for two weeks could cause a heart rhythm problem, especially for people over 40, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns. 

A Massachusetts man died aged 54 after eating a bag and a half of licorice every day for several weeks, throwing his nutrients out of balance (stock photo)  

Black licorice is made with extract from root of the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant that gives the candy its sweetness.

The root contains a compound called glycyrrhizin.

Glycyrrhizic acid keeps the body from properly absorbing potassium, so when you consume too much glycyrrhizin, potassium levels may drop below normal levels.

The balance between potassium and sodium levels is key to healthy heart functioning.

When potassium levels are too low, sodium levels are correspondingly too high.

The imbalance can result in high blood pressure and upset the heart’s rhythm.

Abnormal heart rhythms greatly increase the risk of heart attack.

The problem is glycyrrhizic acid, found in black licorice and in many other foods and dietary supplements containing licorice root extract. 

The chemical substance can cause dangerously low potassium and imbalances in other minerals called electrolytes.

‘It´s more than licorice sticks. It could be jelly beans, licorice teas, a lot of things over the counter,’ said cardiologist Dr Robert Eckel of the University of Colorado. 

‘Even some beers, like Belgian beers, have this compound in it,’ as do some chewing tobaccos, said Dr Eckel, a former American Heart Association president. 

The death was clearly an extreme case. The man had switched from red, fruit-flavored twists to the black licorice version of the candy a few weeks before his death last year. 

He collapsed while having lunch at a fast-food restaurant. Emergency responders revived him with CPR but he died the next day. 

Doctors found he had dangerously low potassium, which led to heart rhythm and other problems.  

The FDA permits up to 3.1 per cent of a food’s content to have glycyrrhizic acid, but many candies and other licorice products don’t reveal how much of it is contained per ounce, Butala said. 

Doctors have reported the case to the FDA in hope of raising attention to the risk.

In a similar case reported last year, an elderly man spent two weeks in hospital after drinking liquorice tea caused his blood pressure to spike to dangerous levels (stock photo) 

Jeff Beckman, a spokesman for the Hershey Company, which makes the popular Twizzlers licorice twists, said that ‘all of our products are safe to eat and formulated in full compliance with FDA regulations.’ 

Beckman’s statement added that all foods, including candy, ‘should be enjoyed in moderation.’

In a similar case reported last year, an 84-year-old man spent two weeks in hospital after drinking home-made licorice tea twice a day for the previous fortnight.    

He went to the emergency department at McGill University in Montreal because of his concerns his blood pressure readings were so high.

The man also complained of headaches, light sensitivity, chest pain and fatigue – all of which can be symptoms of a hypertensive crisis. 

But he did not realise that his favourite brew was to blame, according to medics who wrote up the case in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. 

His initial symptoms resolved after just 24 hours in hospital. However, his shortness of breath stayed with him for several days. 

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