Licorice is an herbal anti-inflammatory agent often used to achieve the same effects as corticosteroid medications. Pets with a variety of allergic problems may benefit from therapy using licorice.
Licorice is a fast acting anti-inflammatory agent. It is also known for its antimicrobial and immune-stimulating properties. Many herbalists regard it as "nature's cortisone" due to it glycyrrhizin content, and it is often recommended for pets with arthritis, allergies, asthma, and other inflammatory disorders. Licorice root inhibit inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes (similar in activity to corticosteroids).
Because licorice also exhibits mineralocorticoid as well as glucocorticoid activity, it has been suggested for use in Addison's disease.
The use of licorice may allow pet owners to use decreased doses of more potent corticosteroids.
Licorice is beneficial for the treatment of liver diseases due to its ability to prevent free radical damage and inhibit formation of free radicals. Licorice also has a protectant effect and enhances interferon and T-cell production to boost the immune system.
Licorice reduces inflammation in pets with bronchitis and may act as an expectorant. Licorice has also shown antibacterial activity.
In the intestinal tract, licorice helps heal ulcers and may decrease hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is a special extract made by removing the glycyrrhizin molecule, leaving the flavonoid components. In people, DGL is used for treating ulcers of the mouth and small intestine and in inflammatory bowel disease. The anti-ulcer effects in people have been shown to be as effective as antacid medications such as Tagamet. DGL is also recommended as an herbal ulcer-preventive (similar to drugs such as misoprostol) for people taking nonsteroidal medications and corticosteroids. However, it is not clear that DGL provides all the same benefits as whole licorice for other problems.
Several double-blind studies in people show benefit to patients with HIV infection and AIDS; similar results might occur in cats with leukemia or immunodeficiency infections.
Tinctures appear to be the preferred form in pets.
When used in large doses and for extended periods of time, licorice can produce similar cortisone-like effects as steroid medications, including high blood pressure and increased serum potassium. Do not use in pregnant animals.
If used for more than two weeks at a time, side effects can include decreased potassium (supplementing with potassium is recommended), fluid retention, high blood pressure, and increased sodium; increased sodium excretion may be needed. These effects can be especially dangerous if you take digitalis, or if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or kidney disease. Licorice may also increase both the positive and negative effects of treatment with corticosteroids, such as prednisone. Dandelion leaf can be added to the regimen to help increase potassium and decrease sodium. In people, side effects occur commonly at levels above 400 mg per day.
DGL is believed to be safe, although extensive safety studies have not been preformed. Side effects are rare.
Safety for either form of licorice in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established. Similar precautions are probably warranted in pets. If the pet is taking: digitalis, long-term use of licorice can be dangerous; thiazide or loop diuretics, use of licorice might lead to excessive potassium loss; corticosteroid treatment, licorice could increase both its effects and its side effects.
Do not use in animals with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or kidney disease; in pets taking digitalis medications; or in pets with diabetes. Licorice could increase blood-clotting time.
Licorice induces cytochrome P-450 enzymes in the liver; this may alter the metabolism of other drugs, decreasing their serum levels.
If licorice root is used for more than two weeks at a time, the diet should be supplemented with potassium and the sodium should be decreased. Caution should be used in animals with heart disease or hypertension. In large amounts, steroid over dosage (Cushing's disease) could theoretically occur. It should not be used in pregnant animals and care must be exercised in diabetic pets.
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Shawn Messonnier, DVM
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Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!
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