'Excessive licorice consumption' contributed to man's death

September 24, 2020

A Massachusetts man passed away after he went into cardiac arrest at a fast-food restaurant — and a team of doctors determined that “excessive licorice consumption” contributed to his death.

Emergency responders performed CPR on the 54-year-old man and transported him to Massachusetts General Hospital after he started shaking and lost consciousness at the restaurant, a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday said. 

The man’s family told doctors at the hospital he had been eating “one or two large packages of soft candy daily,” the report said. 

Three weeks before he died, he “switched from eating fruit-flavored soft candy to eating licorice-flavored soft candy that contained glycyrrhizic acid, which is converted to glycyrrhetinic acid after it is consumed,” according to the report. It wasn't immediately clear what type of licorice candy the man had been eating.

Doctors determined he died of “pseudohyperaldosteronism suggestive of excessive licorice consumption, complicated by cardiac arrest associated with ventricular fibrillation.” 

Glycyrrhizic acid can “deplete potassium levels and contribute to heart rhythm problems,” the New York Post reported

“Even a small amount of licorice you eat can increase your blood pressure,” Dr. Neel Butala, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who co-authored the case record in the Journal, told the Post. 

The man’s medical history “included previous heroin use disorder and untreated hepatitis C virus infection,” the New England Journal of Medicine report noted.

He didn’t drink alcohol, and had no family history of cardiac, respiratory, renal, neurological or endocrine disease, but had smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 36 years, according to the report.

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