They say too much of a good thing can be harmful, as was the case for one Massachusetts man whose love of black licorice ultimately cost him his life.
In a case report recently detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors revealed that a 54-year-old Massachusetts construction worker essentially “overdosed” on black licorice. The candy contains glycyrrhizic acid, which caused the man’s potassium levels to plummet.
Dangerously low levels of potassium can lead to abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, and, in some cases, congestive heart failure.
“Even a small amount of licorice you eat can increase your blood pressure a little bit,” Dr. Neel Butala, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and one of the authors of the case report in the NEJM, told the Associated Press.
The man, who was not identified in the case report, collapsed while eating lunch at a fast-food restaurant; the incident occurred a few weeks after he had switched from red licorice to black licorice. He reportedly ate a bag or more of the candy per day.
For perspective: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that if you’re 40 years of age or older, eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could “land you in the hospital with an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia” due to the presence of the compound glycyrrhizin in the candy.
After the man collapsed, emergency services were called and CPR was performed. The man was revived but “died comfortably with his family at his bedside, 32 hours after presentation,” the authors wrote.
The amount of black licorice the man consumed, as well as how often he consumed it, threw his nutrients out of whack, ultimately causing his heart to stop.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.