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How Gan Cao Can Boost Your Health (According to Chinese Medicine)

The licorice plant is a distinctly sweet-tasting herb that’s used worldwide in both food and drink. The licorice root, or Gan Cao, however, holds a special power that has made it an important part of Eastern medicine for thousands of years.

Licorice root is most commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a ‘harmonizing herb’, because it strengthens the effects of other medicinal plants that are mixed with it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s without its own incredible health benefits.

Gan Cao Benefits and Properties

The licorice root is most commonly used to make licorice tea, also called Gan Cao tea, but can also be made into a powdered supplement, a soup, a tablet, or even a gel for topical application. The scientific name for licorice root is Glycyrrhiza glabra, and the root is said to be fifty times sweeter than sucrose.

The sweet taste and harmonizing properties of Gan Cao make it a popular addition to other herbal mixes. As a potent medicine on its own, it has earned its place as one of the most powerful herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Perhaps one of the most impressive benefits of Gan Cao is its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This aids various illnesses, and makes the root especially good for the heart, for digestion, for pain and for skin conditions such as eczema. It may be a very potent treatment for digestive issues such as Crohn’s Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, licorice root is used to tonify the spleen, to elevate Qi or ‘life force energy’, and to clear heat and toxicity from the body. The licorice root is also used to treat coughing and to expel phlegm from the throat, as well as to calm muscle spasms and to alleviate pain.

The plethora of health benefits that this herb offers has been recognized in various medical studies, and is even used in Western Medicine as a “moderator”, because of its anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antiviral and antacid effects.

Studies on Gan Cao and its protective effects against certain types of cancer have been performed on animals, and researchers have linked the root extract to slowing or preventing cell growth in skin, breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.

Furthermore, licorice root has been found to alleviate symptoms of oral mucositis, which is a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. A study done of 60 adults with neck and head cancer showed a significant improvement after applying a topical licorice root treatment.

In addition to all the above, Gan Cao may also be an effective weight-loss aid, and may be beneficial to people with diabetes. A 60-day study done with rats found that daily intake of licorice root extract reduced blood sugar levels and improved kidney function.

Interactions and Side Effects

Gan Cao is a popular herbal supplement used to treat a wide range of health problems, such as respiratory and digestive problems. But there are also possible interactions and side effects that you should take into consideration.


Some medicines, like diuretics, corticosteroids, laxatives, anti-arrhythmics, and others, can interact with licorice root. When taken with medicines that thin the blood, like warfarin, it can also make bleeding more likely. When taking licorice root, people with high blood pressure, heart disease, or a history of hormonal imbalances should be careful because it can affect these conditions.

Licorice root can also make some medications, like birth control pills, less effective. If you are taking any herbal supplements, you should let your doctor know.

Side effects

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has declared licorice root as generally safe for human consumption, but excessive use may lead to some side effects. Large doses or prolonged use of Gan Cao may lead to an increase in cortisol levels, high blood pressure, arrhythmia, muscle weakness or low potassium levels.

Overconsumption of licorice root can lead to high levels of sodium and low levels of potassium in the body, which can result in fatigue, muscle weakness, and heart palpitations.

Long-term use of licorice root can also cause a condition called "licorice toxicity," which can cause hormonal imbalances and symptoms like weight gain, high blood pressure, and low potassium levels.It may also cause stomach problems like bloating, gas, and pain in the abdomen.

It is advised to take licorice root extract with caution, and to speak to your doctor before taking supplements for a prolonged amount of time.

The consumption of Gan Cao is not advised while pregnant or breastfeeding, and extra caution should be taken when ingested in tandem with the following medications:

  • blood pressure medications

  • blood thinners

  • cholesterol lowering medications, including statins

  • diuretics

  • estrogen-based contraceptives

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)


The benefits of Gan Cao in various ailments have been studied for thousands of years, and it is clear that this herb is one of the most powerful and healing in all of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Its popularity in Eastern Medicine has caused its properties to be recognized and explored by practitioners of Western Medicine, and many studies on its effects on various illnesses have been performed in the past few decades.

Book your Tradional Chinese Medicine Consultation with our Natural Health Specialist, Yair Danon, to learn how you can use licorice root to benefit your health and wellbeing.

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