Licorice consumption during pregnancy may be harmful for offspring

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Girls whose mothers consumed high amounts of licorice during pregnancy have more advanced pubertal maturation at age 12 years.
Girls whose mothers consumed high amounts of licorice during pregnancy have more advanced pubertal maturation at age 12 years.

Consumption of licorice and other food products that contain glycyrrhizin in pregnant women may be harmful for the developing offspring, according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Katri Räikkönen, PhD, from the Department of Psychology and Logopedics at the University of Helsinki in Finland, and colleagues, examined the offspring of pregnant women in which nearly 50% of mothers reported licorice consumption during pregnancy. The participants were from an urban community-based cohort of 1,049 women and their healthy, singleton infants born in 1998. Children were examined from 2009 to 2011 to explore associations with pubertal maturation and to learn whether cognitive, behavioral, and neuroendocrine changes persisted from the effects of glycyrrhizin consumption.

A total of 451 women (65.2%) participated. Of the follow-up participants, 327 children were prenatally exposed to zero–low maternal consumption of glycyrrhizin (<249mg/week) and 51 to high maternal consumption (>500 mg/week). The mean age of the children was 12.5 years. Estimations of pubertal maturation included height, weight, and body mass index for age, difference between current and expected adult height, Tanner staging, and score on the Pubertal Development Scale.

Covariates included the adolescent's age, highest educational level of each parent reported at follow-up, gestational length confirmed by ultrasonography, birth weight of the adolescent as derived from birth records, maternal age and BMI calculated from maternal records, maternal smoking status, maternal weekly alcohol, cacao, salt, and chocolate consumption, and stress. They also included the adolescent's own licorice consumption (never, less than once a week, once a week, 2 to 4 days a week, daily, no answer). 

Girls exposed to high maternal glycyrrhizin were taller, heavier, and had higher body mass index for age. They were also closer to adult height and reported more advanced pubertal development. Girls and boys exposed to high maternal glycyrrhizin consumption scored 7 points lower on tests of intelligence quotient, had poorer memory, and had 3.3-fold higher odds of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) problems, compared with children whose mothers consumed little to no glycyrrhizin. There were no differences in cortisol levels for neuroendocrine function. 

“Girls whose mothers consumed high amounts of licorice during pregnancy showed more advanced pubertal maturation at age 12 years than did girls whose mothers consumed none or low amounts,” said the authors. “The present findings indicate that pregnant women should be informed that consumption of licorice and other food products containing glycyrrhizin may be associated with harm for their developing offspring.”

Reference

  1. Räikkönen K, Martikainen S, Pesonen AK, et al. Maternal licorice consumption during pregnancy and pubertal, cognitive, and psychiatric outcomes in children. Am J Epidemiol. 3 February 2017. doi: 10.1093/aje/kww172
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