Pregnant? Put Down the Licorice

An active ingredient in the tasty treat has been linked to lower IQs, higher ADHD risk, and other cognitive issues in children.

There are two types of people in this world: Those who love licorice, and those who can't stand it. To those of you who can't stand licorice, congratulations, you can go on living your licorice-free lives. (Although we would recommend giving licorice tea a chance — that stuff is all kinds of calming!) But to those of you who love licorice, we've got some bad news: You're going to want to take it easy on your fave flavor when you're pregnant. According to new research from the University of Helsinki, eating lots of licorice during pregnancy is linked to long-term issues in children, including having lower IQs and increased risk of ADHD.

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To conduct the February 2017 study, Finnish researchers compared the physical health and cognitive function of 378 teens whose mothers had either consumed "large amounts" or "little to no" licorice during pregnancy. The findings? The more glycyrrhizin — the active ingredient in licorice — the teens were exposed to while they were in utero, the poorer they performed on cognitive reasoning tests and memory-related tasks.

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In fact, their IQs were, on average, seven points lower than those who were exposed to low levels of glycyrrhizin in utero. They were also three times more likely to exhibit ADHD-related problems, and girls who were exposed to more glycyrrhizin in utero were more likely to start puberty earlier than their peers.

This isn't the first time licorice has been linked to health issues: High doses of glycyrrhizin have already been linked to high blood pressure, increased risk of stillbirth, and other side effects for people who take certain medications or have certain health conditions.

Of course, a lot of other factors (both dietary and otherwise) were at play during these mothers' pregnancies, and more research needs to be done to prove a causal link between licorice and negative health effects. But in Finland, where the study was conducted, a suggestion to lay off the licorice has already been added to the national food recommendations for moms-to-be. So while pregnant women may not need to keep licorice completely off-limits, they may want to be mindful of consuming it in moderation.

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