The proportion of people who carry Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)—bacteria that can infect the human stomach lining—ranges from around 7% in industrialized, Western countries to as high as 95% in developing countries, and much remains to be learned about how this human hitchhiker affects health. One thing is known for sure: For some people, H. pylori increases the risk of ulcers and stomach cancer.
This has led to efforts to eliminate the infection in people with symptoms by prescribing multiple antibiotics and medications to inhibit stomach acid production. These efforts have met with mixed success, and now researchers are turning to an ancient remedy—licorice root—to confront the wily H. pylori.
GutGard put to the test
Researchers used a urea breath test and a stool test for H. pylori presence, and identified 107 adults who were infected with the bacteria. Participants were randomly selected to receive a GutGard supplement or a placebo pill (no active ingredient) once per day, for 60 days. Each GutGard capsule contained 150 mg of licorice root extract (Glycyrrhiza glabra), standardized to provide precise quantities, by weight, of specific components, including glabridin, glabrol, eicosanyl caffeate, docosyl caffeate, glycyrrhizin, and total flavonoids.
After 60 days, people in the GutGard group were significantly less likely to test positive for H. pylori compared with those taking placebo.
56% of the GutGard group had no evidence of H. pylori in the stool test vs. 4% of the placebo group.
48% of the GutGard group had no evidence of H. pylori in the urea breath test vs. 2% of the placebo group.
GutGard was 73.2%, or 1.73, times more effective than placebo for managing H. pylori infection.
The pros and cons of licorice root
This was a placebo-controlled, double-blinded trial, the gold standard of research, but consider some caveats before deciding if GutGard is right for you:
Know your supplement. GutGard is a proprietary, licorice root formulation, and is standardized to ensure each pill delivers the same amount of active components. Other products may not be comparable, and may not provide the same benefits, or the same level of safety and purity.
Consult a pro. Before taking any supplement with licorice root, talk to a knowledgeable healthcare provider who has access to your medical history, including a complete listing of all of the medications you’re taking.
Consider contraindications. The contraindication list for licorice root is long; this product may not be right for you if you have kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart failure, diabetes, thyroid problems, or electrolyte imbalances. Do not use GutGard or any other licorice root supplement without first talking to your doctor or pharmacist, if you have any of these conditions.
Assess need. Even if you test positive for H. pylori, if you don’t have symptoms, you may not need treatment. Some research suggests the bacteria can provide important health benefits, so talk with your doctor before deciding to rid yourself of H. pylori.
Manage medicines. Licorice root can interact negatively with many medications, causing serious side effects. Do not mix licorice root with high blood pressure medications, laxatives, diuretics, hormone therapies, blood thinners, or corticosteroids.
Sort the specifics. Specific medications that may not mix well with licorice root include clarithromycin, cyclosporine, diltiazem, estrogen, indinivr, ketamine, lovastatin, phenobarbital, orphenadrine, secobarbital, celecoxib, dexamethasone, diclofenac, fluvastatin, glipizide, ibuprofen, irbesartan, losartan, phenytoin, piroxicam, tamoxifen, tolbutamide, torsemide, triazolam, and warfarin.
As a final note, GutGard was well tolerated by the study participants; those taking it did not report more side effects than people taking placebo. This suggests the product may be safe for many people, but if you have chronic health conditions or regularly take medications, talk to your doctor before using it.
(Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013. doi: dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/263805)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.