Guy's Decision to Switch From Red Licorice to Black Was Fatal

Case study: Man's excessive licorice eating depleted his potassium levels
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 24, 2020 12:11 PM CDT
Updated Sep 27, 2020 1:55 PM CDT
He Collapsed in a Fast-Food Joint. Cause of Death: Licorice
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/ajcespedes)

A Massachusetts man's penchant for a polarizing candy apparently cost him his life. Per the New York Post and AP, the case study in the latest New England Journal of Medicine details what happened to the 54-year-old construction worker, who died after collapsing in a fast-food eatery last year. First responders who showed up at the restaurant to revive him via CPR were temporarily successful, but the patient died the next day. Doctors found his potassium levels were extremely low, which contributed to a heart rhythm problem and other issues. Once they delved into his recent dietary history, however, the pieces started to come together, with the blame squarely placed on one specific item: the bag and a half of black licorice he'd been scarfing down every day for several weeks.

Licorice and licorice-infused dietary supplements and food items—including jelly beans, teas, and even some beers—contain glycyrrhizic acid, which decreases potassium levels and messes around with the body's electrolytes. The FDA says just 2 ounces of black licorice every day for two weeks could lead to heart arrhythmias, especially for those older than 40. "Even a small amount of licorice you eat can increase your blood pressure a little bit," study co-author Neel Butala says. The patient had been snacking on red licorice for some time, but switched to the black version a few weeks before he died. A spokesman for Hershey Company, which makes Twizzler licorice sticks, says its candy is safe and in compliance with FDA regulations. The FDA allows for up to 3.1% of a food item to be glycyrrhizic acid, but many snacks don't list the content per ounce. (More strange stuff stories.)

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