Black licorice warnings and tips for safe Halloween celebrations

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black licorice candy

Q: Can eating too much black licorice really cause heart problems?

A: In some cases, for some people, yes.

With Halloween this week and candy sales expected to top $3.1 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation, it’s a good time to revisit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s warning regarding black licorice.

The FDA warns that people over 40 who eat 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could experience an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia that could land them in the hospital. Black licorice can also interact with some medications, herbs, and dietary supplements, FDA says.

This is significant, considering that two-thirds of parents report that they do eat some of their children’s Halloween candy haul, according to the National Confectioners Association, with black licorice sales expected at $232 million globally this year, according to research from Future Market Insights.

As mentioned in a previous Chow Line, black licorice contains glycyrrhizin, which is the sweetening compound derived from licorice root. The problem is that glycyrrhizin can cause potassium levels in the body to fall, causing some people to experience abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy, and congestive heart failure, the FDA said in its advisory.

The issue is primarily a concern for people over 40, some of whom have had a history of heart disease and/or high blood pressure, according to the FDA. The agency said that potassium levels are usually restored in people with no permanent health problems once the person stops eating black licorice.

So, if you like eating black licorice, it’s best that you don’t eat large amounts of it at one time—regardless of how old you are, the FDA says.

The FDA also advises that people who experience irregular heart rhythms or muscle weakness should stop eating black licorice immediately and contact their doctor. Lastly, it’s important to know that black licorice can interact with some medications and dietary supplements, so talk to your pharmacist or doctor to be sure none of the medications you take could be impacted.

Trick-or-treat safety

It’s also important to note that with Halloween right around the corner, there are measures to take to help you safely celebrate the fall holiday.

A poll by the National Confectioners Association found that 93% of people plan to celebrate the Halloween season this year, including trick-or-treating. Here are some tips for parents to consider if you plan to have your children participate in trick-or-treating:

  • Wear light-colored clothing that’s short enough to prevent tripping and add reflective tape to the sides, front and back of costume.
  • Make sure children can see well while wearing their masks and securely fasten the mask so it does not fall off.
  • Adults should accompany young children and ensure they are respecting appropriate distancing rules.
  • Go out in daylight and carry a flashlight for when it gets dark. Everyone will be celebrating differently according to their comfort level, so expect some doors may not be open to trick-or-treaters.
  • Stay within the neighborhood and only visit homes you know.
  • Watch for traffic.
  • Only give and accept wrapped or packaged candy.

And lastly, most importantly, carefully examine all candy before allowing your kiddos to eat it.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

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