A 10-year-old boy from Bologna, Italy, recently suffered four seizures and had doctors confused about the cause until he told them he had been eating 20 pieces of licorice every day for four months. He had high blood pressure, high levels of cortisol and brain swelling.
Before he told the doctors about his eating habits the boy had an MRI that revealed posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome. This brain swelling was unusual for an otherwise healthy child.
Still uncertain of the cause, doctors asked him about his diet after they noticed that his teeth were stained brown.
He described his licorice eating habits over the past few months.
Doctors decided that the symptoms were caused by glycyrrhizic acid, an ingredient found in licorice. According to the journal, the boy was consuming 50 percent more of the acid than the World Health Organization’s recommended quantity.
Glycyrrhizic acid prevents the breakdown of cortisol and increases blood pressure.
The boy stopped eating licorice and two weeks later the brain swelling had subsided.
Licorice packages do not have a strict recommended daily value, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does say that licorice can decrease potassium levels.
The case was published in the Pediatric Neurology journal.