Massachusetts Man Dies from Eating Too Much Black Licorice

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A 54-year-old construction worker died after eating black licorice for weeks on end caused his heart to stop.

An unnamed Massachusetts construction worker has died, after a shift in his diet with deadly consequences. While he had typically consumed red licorice on the job, weeks prior to his death he had changed things up with a switch to black licorice. Unfortunately, that shift eventually stopped his heart.

Black licorice contains small amounts of glycyrrhizic acid. And while the acid is typically harmless, large amounts built up in the body can result in low potassium, and electrolyte imbalance. Some build-up of glycyrrhizic acid is unhealthy — too much can be lethal.

“Even a small amount of licorice you eat can increase your blood pressure a little bit,” Massachusetts General Hospital cardiologist Dr. Neel Butala said. Butala wrote the case for the New England Journal of Medicine.

“He had a poor diet, consisting primarily of several packages of candy daily; [three] weeks earlier, he had switched the type of candy he was eating,” according to the report.

But pure licorice is not the only danger, according to University of Colorado cardiologist and former American Heart Association president Dr. Robert Eckel. “It’s more than licorice sticks. It could be jelly beans, licorice teas, a lot of things over the counter. Even some beers, like Belgian beers, have this compound in it,” he said.

Hershey, who produces the popular “Twizzlers” variety of licorice, released a statement via spokesperson Jeff Beckman. “All of our products are safe to eat and formulated in full compliance with FDA regulations,” he said, but stressed that any food “should be enjoyed in moderation.”

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