Expectant mothers who eat liquorice could be increasing their unborn child’s risk of disease in adulthood.
Experts have found eight-year-olds who were exposed to liquorice in the womb had levels of the hormone cortisol up to a third higher than those whose mothers never ate it. Cortisol helps the body deal with stress, but it is also linked to diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
In the study by London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital and the University of Helsinki, mothers were asked how much liquorice they ate in pregnancy. Their children were tested aged eight for cortisol levels. The study found that those whose mothers ate half a gram a week of liquorice – less than one Liquorice Allsorts sweet – or more in pregnancy had cortisol levels a third higher than those whose mothers did not eat it.
Experts believe the presence of the naturally occurring, very sweet ingredient glycyrrhizin in liquorice ultimately affects the mechanism which regulates hormone levels. Clinical scientist Alexander Jones of Great Ormond Street, one of the study’s authors, said: ‘For those who eat a lot of liquorice, it may be a good idea to cut down when pregnant.’