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Herbal Therapies Used by People Living With HIV: Licorice

Part of A Practical Guide to Herbal Therapies for People Living With HIV

2004

Licorice
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root has been used medicinally throughout Europe and Asia for hundreds of years. The primary component of licorice root is glycyrrhizin, and the product may be sold under this name. People with HIV may have many uses for licorice. The herb has antiviral properties and may be active against HIV. It's also thought to slow the activation of dormant immune cells, preventing the production of more virus. It's not fully understood how licorice might accomplish this. But several small studies done in the early 1990s on an injectable form of glycyrrhizin seemed to show slower disease development and improved T-cell counts in subjects who were HIV-positive but showed no symptoms. In addition to its immune and antiviral effects, licorice is used to detoxify the liver. It may also counteract the effects of the long-term use of many of the current antiretroviral drugs, which can do significant damage to the cells of the liver and interfere with the liver's function. However, it is not known if licorice interacts with antiretroviral drugs (see the section in this guide called Herb-Drug Interactions).

Licorice raises sodium levels and lowers potassium levels; it may elevate the blood pressure of those who use it regularly. Sodium, potassium, and chloride are known collectively as electrolytes. Electrolytes should be monitored carefully in people who intend to take licorice root regularly, because electrolyte imbalances can cause heart problems, fluid retention and other serious side effects. People who use licorice may also be wise to eat a low-salt diet with plenty of foods that contain potassium, such as bananas. The regular use of large amounts of licorice (i.e., seven grams per day) may also cause impotence by blocking the production of testosterone and estrogen. Further, it might increase other HIV- related problems tied to low testosterone, such as wasting.

Licorice root is available in a capsule form, which the body seems to absorb well. An injectable form may be ordered by prescription through some American buyers' clubs.

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This article was provided by Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange. Visit CATIE's Web site to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 

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