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Am J Epidemiol. 2001 Jun 1;153(11):1085-8.

Birth outcome in relation to licorice consumption during pregnancy.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.


A role for glucocorticoids is suspected in the etiology of low birth weight. The authors tested whether maternal consumption of glycyrrhizin (an inhibitor of cortisol metabolism) in licorice affects birth weight in humans. A sample of 1,049 Finnish women and their healthy singleton infants was studied in 1998. Glycyrrhizin intake was calculated from detailed questionnaires on licorice consumption. Glycyrrhizin exposure was grouped into three levels: low (<250 mg/week; n = 751), moderate (250-499 mg/week; n = 145), and heavy (> or =500 mg/week; n = 110). Birth weight and gestational age (from ultrasound measurements) were obtained from hospital records. Babies with heavy exposure to glycyrrhizin were not significantly lighter at birth, but they were significantly more likely to be born earlier: The odds ratio for being born before 38 weeks' gestation was 2.5 (95% confidence interval: 1.1, 5.5; p = 0.03). Although the effect of heavy glycyrrhizin intake on mean duration of gestation was small (2.52 days) when expressed as an effect on the mean, this shift to the left of the distribution of duration of gestation was sufficient to double the risk of being born before 38 weeks. The association remained in multivariate analyses. In conclusion, heavy glycyrrhizin exposure during pregnancy did not significantly affect birth weight or maternal blood pressure, but it was significantly associated with lower gestational age.

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