Licorice Extract Can Support Morning Cortisol
“Under normal circumstances, the production of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) fluctuate in a predictable circadian cycle under the influence of melatonin and are inhibited by high levels of serum cortisol via a negative feedback loop, causing the return to homeostasis,” explains Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO. “Frequent or ongoing stress can disrupt this normal stress response.” This can lead to HPA axis dysregulation, which can be problematic for many patients.
When the HPA axis is balanced and functioning properly, patients experience a sense of calm, sound sleep, and can better cope with stress. Adaptogenic herbs have been shown to help keep the HPA axis in balance. Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) in particular has been shown to help support HPA axis balance by impacting morning cortisol levels. This is important because chronically low cortisol levels can put stress on adrenal function.
Licorice influences cortisol production by inhibiting the enzyme 11-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase. This process metabolizes the cortisol into cortisone, which can support optimal immunity and healthy inflammation. Glycyrrhizic acid in licorice stops the body from breaking down cortisol to help ensure cortisol levels stay in a balanced range.
In a small 2011 study featured in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, licorice extract supplementation for one week increased DHEA in all 20 participants and in some cases, salivary cortisol levels also increased.
In addition to influencing cortisol levels, because licorice supports healthy immunity and inflammation, there are a number of different uses for this adaptogenic and antioxidant herb. An interesting new 2018 paper published in Pharmacognosy Review found that licorice can also help support neurological function.
Regarding safety, it is well known that the overuse of licorice extract can cause some issues with blood pressure, potassium, and the hormone aldosterone. At recommended doses under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional, however, licorice is considered safe for most patients.
Most healthcare professionals agree with Alschuler who emphasizes that licorice and other nutrients used to balance HPA axis function must be combined with “healthy lifestyle changes that include diet, exercise, and relaxation.”
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