According to a report by AP, the 54-year-old man’s heart stopped working while he was having lunch at a fast food restaurant. Although emergency responders did CPR on the man, he died the following day.
Although the man died last year, the case was outlined this month in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).
Black licorice contains glycyrrhizic acid, which can cause extremely low potassium as well as imbalances in electrolytes, minerals that have an electric charge and affect the blood’s pH level and the amount of water in the body. In this particular case, researchers found that the man had extremely low levels of potassium, a condition which is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
“Even a small amount of licorice you eat can increase your blood pressure a little bit,” said Dr. Neel Butala, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who was one of the authors of the NEJM report.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could cause irregular heart rhythm, also known as arrhythmia, in people 40 and older.
“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,” Dr. Robert Eckel, a University of Colorado cardiologist and former American Heart Association president, told AP.
Currently, the FDA allows up to 3.1% of a food’s content to contain glycyrrhizic acid; however, many licorice and candy products don’t outline how much glycyrrhizic acid is contained per ounce.
In a statement to AP, Jeff Beckman, a spokesperson for the Hershey Company, which makes Twizzlers licorice twists, said that “all of our products are safe to eat and formulated in full compliance with FDA regulation.” Beckman also noted in his email that all foods, including candy, “should be enjoyed in moderation.”