Q. I was alarmed to read that eating licorice can lead to high blood pressure, weakness, fatigue, loss of libido and mineral imbalance. Is this only true of black licorice? I eat a good deal of strawberry licorice. Besides the obvious excess sugar, are there any problems with this product?
A. You have nothing to worry about (except for the calories). The ingredient that can cause so many serious side effects is glycyrrhizin. This is the natural flavor found in black licorice, but it is absent from red "licorice."
An occasional treat rarely causes people any trouble, but those who eat black licorice regularly can experience hormone imbalance and potassium loss. This is especially dangerous for those taking diuretics, prednisone or Lanoxin (digoxin).
Q. Can you suggest an herb that can help circulation in the legs?
A. Ginkgo has been used for centuries to improve circulation. Studies have shown that blood flow to legs and arms increases up to 40 percent when people take ginkgo.
Horse chestnut extract is used in Europe to combat varicose veins. It improves the flexibility and tone of these blood vessels and also increases blood flow.
You might also want to look for graduated compression medical hosiery. These stockings can also be helpful for those with circulation problems or varicose veins.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail them via their Web site, www.peoplespharmacy.org.
King Features Syndicate