As anyone with a sweet tooth knows, it can be difficult to control your cravings around candy. And even though the occasional overindulgence might get you a scolding from your dentist or doctor, overdoing it with some sweets can actually have a more serious side effect. Black licorice fans beware: According to a new study, consuming too much of the popular candy can actually be fatal over time for some people.
The case report, which was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, focused on the recent case of a 54-year-old man who collapsed in a restaurant and went into sudden cardiac arrest. Researchers found that besides having a heroin use disorder, being a pack-a-day smoker of 36 years, and having untreated hepatitis C infection, the man’s “poor” diet was also based heavily on sweets, “consisting primarily of several packages of candy daily.” The study’s authors also discovered that he had “switched the type of candy he was eating” to black licorice three weeks before his fatal cardiac incident.
Researchers concluded that glycyrrhizic acid, an ingredient found in black licorice, most likely created an “unimpeded presence of cortisol” that “can cause hypertension, hypokalemia, metabolic alkalosis, fatal arrhythmias, and renal failure—the constellation of signs and symptoms seen in this patient.”
While this may come as a shock to candy fans, this lurking danger is not a recent discovery. The Food and Drug Administration guidelines warn that eating even just 2 ounces of black licorice a day for two weeks could cause irregular heart rhythm in people—especially if they’re 40 or older—due to its high levels of glycyrrhizic acid. Still, they warn that people of any age shouldn’t consume too much of the candy at once, and anyone who experiences muscle weakness or abnormal heart rhythm after bingeing on it should contact their doctor immediately.
Other medical experts echoed cautions on the candy. “Eating some black licorice does raise blood pressure when consumed chronically,” Neel Butala, MD, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Yahoo Life. “You’re not going to drop dead from it, but if you eat it every day for a long period of time, you might have a higher blood pressure than those who don’t.”
Still, doctors stress that the anise-flavored treat is still safe in moderation. Just make sure you consider any underlying conditions you may have first. “People with high blood pressure or heart or kidney disease should be particularly careful and not consume it in large amounts,” Diane Calello, MD, medical and executive director of New Jersey Poison Information and Education System and an associate professor of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told Yahoo Life.