Glycyrrhizin has recently garnered attention for its potential to fight viruses. According to research published by Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China, it might be effective against the novel coronavirus. We examine the antiviral properties of glycyrrhizin and its potential to treat various ailments.
In this article:
What Is Glycyrrhizin?
Licorice root is a herb native to Western Asia and Southern Europe. It’s one of the world’s oldest herbal remedies, and people have used it to treat ailments for hundreds of years.
It’s use dates back to ancient Egypt. But traditional Chinese, Greek, and Middle Eastern medicines also used licorice to reduce inflammation, soothe an upset stomach, and treat upper respiratory problems.
Glycyrrhizin is the active compound in licorice root. It’s what gives licorice a sweet taste. Additionally, it’s responsible for the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties of licorice root.
COVID-19 and Glycyrrhizin
The novel coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, spread worldwide within a few weeks. Researchers chose glycyrrhizin as a promising treatment for the virus because SARS-CoV-2 shares 79.5% of the genetic sequence SARS-CoV. Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 infections share clinical similarities with SARS-Cov infections and use the same cell entry receptor, ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme II ).
SARS-CoV-2 interacts with ACE2 receptors, the protein on the surface of many cells. In other words, the virus enters cells through the ACE2 receptors. And by targeting it, we can potentially prevent infection.
Glycyrrhizin has the potential to bind to ACE2. Furthermore, it has an antiviral effect on SARS-Cov. Thus, researchers believe it may help fight COVID-19.
A large number of critically ill COVID-19 patients experience cytokine storm. In some cases, those who suffered from cytokine storm advanced rapidly to acute respiratory distress syndrome and septic shock, and eventually multiple organ failure.
What is a cytokine storm? The immune system sends small proteins called cytokines to fight infection. It causes local inflammation, but it’s usually not dangerous. In some cases, the immune system overreacts, causing uncontrolled levels of cytokines. The result is a cytokine storm that leads to hyperinflammation and possibly death.
With the 2003 SARS outbreak, patients were treated with glucocorticoids to prevent a cytokine storm. On the other hand, glucocorticoids inhibit the immune system from getting rid of the virus, and it has long-term side effects.
Glycyrrhizin may prevent cytokine storms in patients with COVID-19 because it modulates the immune activity and doesn’t suppress the immune system. It may even improve the immune response. Moreover, researchers believe glycyrrhizin can be used in the early stages of the disease and for a longer time, with fewer side effects.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) play a crucial role in an inflammatory response. Glycyrrhizin may prevent ROS accumulation caused by viral infections and suppress virus replication. So, the antioxidant properties of licorice may also be effective at controlling cytokine production.
In short, glycyrrhizin has potential therapeutic benefits on multiple levels. First, it may inhibit the virus from spreading out of the infected cell and attaching to and entering other cells. At the same time, it may prevent the virus from replicating and ROS accumulation. As a result, the immune system won’t overreact and cause a cytokine storm.
Other Uses and Benefits
Besides its potential as antiviral, licorice extract has many other uses and benefits.
Stomach Discomfort, Indigestion, and Acid Reflux
In one study, patients significantly improved symptoms relating to indigestion, such as an upset stomach, acid reflux, and heartburn.
Another study concluded licorice root was more effective at treating gastroesophageal reflux disease than antacids.
Upper Respiratory Conditions
The licorice root extract has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that may alleviate upper respiratory conditions. Limited human studies suggest that licorice root tea and extract may soothe a sore throat and protect against strep throat.
Glycyrrhizin may also treat some skin conditions, for instance, eczema and acne.
In a 2-week study, licorice root extract ointment improved eczema. And according to a study in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, licorice extract may be effective against bacteria that infect the skin.
Licorice root has antiviral, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory effects that may treat many more conditions. But, other potential benefits are not well researched or have conflicting results. These include:
- Hepatitis C treatment
- Weight loss aid
- Reducing menopause symptoms
- Improving blood sugar levels
Risks and Side Effects
Licorice root extract is generally safe to use. But glycyrrhizin can build up in the body, and large doses or chronic use may have adverse effects.
Product with licorice extract may trigger harmful symptoms, including:
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Low potassium levels
- Muscle weakness
- High blood pressure
Another possible risk, albeit rare, is licorice poisoning, which can lead to heart and kidney failure or fluid build-up in the lungs.
In conclusion, licorice root has potential use as COVID-19 treatment because of its antiviral properties. The antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects may treat a variety of ailments, from digestive problems to skin conditions. Though it may relieve many symptoms, more comprehensive human studies are needed. Lastly, using large amounts of licorice extract may cause adverse effects. Always talk to your doctor before trying licorice root extract.