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A man dies after eating too much licorice

A study published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine says a 54-year-old man died as a result of eating too much licorice.

The man, a Massachusetts construction worker, lost consciousness at a fast food restaurant and was taken to hospital, where he died the next day.

Doctors write that he had a “poor diet, consisting mainly of several packs of sweets a day,” and that three weeks earlier he had switched from eating soft, fruit-flavored candies to licorice candies that contained glycyrrhizinic acid.

CNN contacted Dr. Elazer Edelman, one of the study’s authors, and is awaiting a response.

Glycyrrhizic acid, or glycyrrhizin, a sweetening compound derived from licorice root, can cause a drop in potassium levels in the body, which in turn can cause high blood pressure, bloating, abnormal heart rhythms and even heart failure, according to the FDA.
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People 40 and older should be especially vigilant about consuming licorice: even 2 ounces a day for two weeks can cause an irregular heartbeat and may require hospitalization, the FDA warns.

The negative effects of eating too much licorice are reversible and weaken when consumption is interrupted. It may take 1 to 2 weeks for normal potassium levels to return, according to the study.

Fortunately, there are safe alternatives. According to the NIH, many licorice products available in the United States do not actually contain licorice, but rather anise oil, which is comparable in taste.

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