Doc, can I use this natural supplement?

A little while back, I saw a patient in my reflux practice who had recently stopped her PPI and substituted licorice root to help keep her acid reflux symptoms under control. She told me that her symptoms were still under good control with the licorice root, and asked me if I was all right with her staying on it instead.  Since she did not have any mucosal injury (esophagitis) or other complications from GERD, my main question that I had to answer was about the safety of licorice root .

So I looked it up, just to be sure I was doing my due diligence.  If you aren’t aware of the possible side effects of licorice root, the major ones to be aware of are:

  • Edema/fluid retention
  • High blood pressure
  • Potassium loss
  • Headache

Fortunately, these only tend to occur at large doses (> 3 grams per day for several weeks) when the licorice root contains glycyrrhizin. In short, I thought it was fine for her since she was otherwise in good health, and the dose was not that large.

Nonetheless, there is an important reminder here: just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it is completely without side effects.  Even natural substances are still chemicals.

If you are a patient, please discuss all of your supplements with your physicians.  In this case in particular, extreme use can actually cause rare life threatening problems.  If you are a doctor or other healthcare professional, be sure to ask your patients about any herbs and supplements they might be taking.

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About Ryan Madanick, MD

I am a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Vice-Chief for education in the Division of GI & Hepatology . I specialize in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD. I can be followed on Twitter: @RyanMadanickMD (he/him)
This entry was posted in CAM, GERD and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Doc, can I use this natural supplement?

  1. Clearly you are an open-minded doctor – I wish more were like that. I have heard from many readers of my blog who say that their doctors completely roll their eyes when they mention they are using a herb recommended by a naturopath. But, putting yourself in the patient’s shoes: what are you supposed to do when your medical doctor isn’t able to satisfactorily resolve your GI problem with the tools available to him/her? Or if symptoms are in remission, what are you supposed to do when you live in fear of the condition coming back? Answer: you seek other solutions in the form of particular herbs and foods.

    I hope more doctors will take the opportunity to read up on the supplements that their patients are taking, rather than dismissing them wholesale. Patients are unlikely to stop using herbs: the practice is millions of years older than the medical profession itself.

  2. Ronnie says:

    Ryan. You are doing a great job.with these blogs. Keep up the great work

  3. Baillie says:

    Can’t stand licorice. Bleah!

  4. Kyoko Radtke says:

    Acid reflux can also damage the teeth so be careful with it and seek prompt treatment. .

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  5. Pingback: In The Absence of Evidence… | Gut Check

  6. Audrey Bryce says:

    Thanks for the great information. Here’s how I totally reversed my heartburn and acid reflux:

    1. Take a half teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water. Helps neutralize stomach acid.
    2. Drink 1/2 cup aloe vera juice before a meal. Reduces inflammation.
    3. Watch this video on http://www.journalofnaturalhealth.com/heartburn
    and follow the steps. Your heartburn or acid reflux symptoms should be gone in about a week.
    4. Take it easy once you are reflux-free. Watch what you eat (don’t go crazy with this, of course!)

    I struggled for many years with acid reflux and it’s not easy to overcome it, but if you really want to, you can do it.

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