Eat your licorice!
Thanks to compounds from the Chinese herb Glycyrrhiza uralensis, which is commonly referred to as licorice root or Chinese licorice, this favorite candy appears to be effective in fighting the bacteria that cause tooth decay, according to researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles.
Lead study author Dr. Wenyuan Shi told Reuters Health, "Chewing licorice has been a practice in different cultures. Our findings provide some scientific basis for that." The magic ingredients are active antimicrobial compounds, which are also contained in many other Chinese medicinal herbs. It was from a study on 2,000 of these common herbs that the researchers realized the power of licorice.
Shi's team painstakingly evaluated each of those 2,000 herbs to determine their potential antimicrobial properties, and some of the strongest activity was in experiments involving licorice root, reports Reuters. In test tubes, at least two of the compounds in licorice inhibited the growth of Streptococcus mutans, the primary bacteria responsible for causing cavities.
What does that mean? Licorice has a possible benefit "for promoting oral health with licorice extracts," Shi told Reuters. Still he warned that more research is needed before anyone should take up chewing licorice as a way to prevent cavities.
But just because we should wait, it doesn't mean Shi has to. He and his team are currently developing sugar-free lollipops that contain the active component in licorice which could be used to promote oral health in kids and seniors. Preventing cavities never tasted so sweet!
The study findings were published in the Journal of Natural Products.