Licorice Reduces Bad Breath? Umm…

It seems like a new study comes out every month or so touting the miraculous, bad breath-fighting power of some herb, oil, fruit or even candy. It’s hard to take these too seriously, even though many appear in the industry’s leading publication, the Journal of Breath Research. The most recent oddity to grace the pages of that storied journal is a study alleging that two compounds in licorice eliminate halitosis.

While this may technically be correct, in real-world practice it probably won’t amount to much. Here’s why.

The study itself

Researchers from Quebec’s Laval University conducted an investigation to determine whether concentrated Chinese licorice extracts can be used to fight bad breath. Specifically, the team tried to find out whether (a) the extract’s compounds ward off bacterial growth, and (b) if this stuff can also neutralize volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs), the molecules that make your mouth funky.

The findings weren’t wholly baseless. For starters, the group found that two compounds in the extract – called licoricidin and licorisoflavan A – did in fact slow the growth of certain bacteria in test tubes. They also noted that these two compounds reduced the amount of VSCs in the solution by half.

However, this does not mean that chewing licorice will cure your bad breath.

The caveats

First of all, in order for licorice to eliminate halitosis, you’d have to use only the two compounds listed in the study – licoricidin and licorisoflavan A, say, mixed into a specialty breath freshening mouthwash, toothpaste formula or ZOX mint. Merely chewing licorice won’t cut it.

Both the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) agree that there is virtually no evidence that licorice can treat any health condition, much less oral odor.

According to the UMMC, one small study suggested that using licorice root four times a day helped participants reduce their canker sores. But those findings have not been repeated elsewhere.

The NCCAM is more blunt: “There are not enough reliable data to determine whether licorice is effective for any condition.” In fact, it warns that large doses of the stuff could raise blood pressure, cause water retention and lower potassium levels in the blood.

Then there’s the fact that half of the new study’s authors work for a well-known maker of natural personal health products, one that manufactures – wouldn’t you know it – a licorice root toothpaste.

Aha.

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