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Man dies after eating bags of black licorice everyday, for weeks

Last Updated Sep 24, 2020 at 11:17 pm EST

This Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020 photo shows an arrangement of licorice candy pieces in New York. A Massachusetts construction worker’s love of black licorice wound up costing him his life. Eating a bag and a half every day for a few weeks threw his essential nutrients out of whack and caused the 54-year-old man’s heart to stop, doctors reported Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. AP PHOTO/ Patrick Sison

A Massachusetts construction worker’s love of black licorice wound up costing him his life.

Eating a bag and a half every day for a few weeks threw his nutrients out of whack and caused the 54-year-old man’s heart to stop, doctors reported Wednesday.

“Even a small amount of licorice you eat can increase your blood pressure a little bit,” said Dr. Neel Butala, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who described the case in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The problem is glycyrrhizic acid, found in black licorice and in many other foods and dietary supplements containing licorice root extract. It can cause dangerously low potassium and imbalances in other minerals called electrolytes.

The death was clearly an extreme case. The man had switched from red, fruit-flavored twists to the black licorice version of the candy a few weeks before his death last year. He collapsed while having lunch at a fast-food restaurant.

Doctors found he had dangerously low potassium, which led to heart rhythm and other problems. Emergency responders did CPR and he revived but died the next day.

The FDA permits up to 3.1% of a food’s content to have glycyrrhizic acid, but many candies and other licorice products don’t reveal how much of it is contained per ounce, Butala said.

Doctors have reported the case to the FDA in hope of raising attention to the risk.

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