Is Glycyrrhizin an Ideal Therapy for Ulcerative Colitis?

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Glycyrrhizin (GL), a bioactive triterpenoid saponin, provides anti-inflammatory benefits for those with ulcerative colitis (UC), according to a new study from the Journal of Functional Foods. The herbal extract was also shown to help ease side effects from prescription medications for UC (e.g., sulfasalazine, mesalazine). The authors caution, however, that more research is needed, as GL can lead to edema.

GL is the active component of Gan-Car (licorice), a Chinese herbal medicine that has been shown to alleviate hepatotoxicity, eczema, urticaria, and other conditions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists GL as a safe substance. The researchers also mention that GL can be used as a dietary supplement in soybean paste, soy sauce, and pickles.

“Accumulating evidence suggested that Compound GL has beneficial influence on UC. Several clinical trials showed that Compound GL can alleviate clinical symptoms, such as abdominal pain and diarrhea, through a decrease in the levels of TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-8. Moreover, Compound GL may benefit UC by upregulating the expression of IL-10. Results of these relevant clinical trials revealed a protective role of Compound GL in UC patients and suggested that the anti-inflammatory activity was involved in the underlying mechanisms.”


Search Criteria

For the meta-analysis, the Chinese scientists used a wide range of electronic databases, including PubMed, Embase, Cochrane Library, Web of Science, China National Knowledge Infrastructure, Chinese Biomedical Literature, Wanfang Database, and CQVIP. Search parameters were from January 2000 to July 2021.


Side Effects of GL

All medical interventions come with risk, the researchers note. In this meta-analysis, the major interventions were Compound GL plus conventional drugs (e.g. sulfasalazine, mesalazine) in the treatment group and conventional drug treatment in the control group. Side effects were reported in both groups, including nausea, emesis, abdominal distension, abdominal pain, and dizziness. Interestingly, edema only occurred in the treatment group, not among those in the control group.



In this meta-analysis, Compound GL can significantly decrease the levels of TNF-α, IL-6, IL-8 and IL-17 and enhance the expression of IL-10. These findings supported the anti-inflammatory activity of Compound GL when used in the treatment of UC. In addition, Compound GL can alleviate the adverse effects of conventional drugs (e.g. sulfasalazine, mesalazine), but it can also lead to edema. Further studies are required on the safety of Compound GL and its mitigative effects on the adverse effects of conventional drugs.