Close-up of black licorice

Black licorice can cause an irregular heart rhythm known as "arrhythmia," the Food and Drug Administration reported in a press release Monday.

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Black licorice on Halloween? A problem the federal government wants you to know about.

On the eve of Halloween, as most were spicing up their pumpkins and stashing a few pieces of favorite candy for themselves, the Food and Drug Administration sent out a raft of holiday-related warnings against things like colored contact lenses, adding reflective tape to dark vampire and witch costumes and, of course, the omnipresent danger of black licorice.

It appears as if overeating some candy can cause more than a tummy ache. Some candy — black licorice — can cause a heartache, too. Or, more specifically, irregular heart rhythm known as "arrhythmia."

The FDA "encourages moderation if you enjoy snacking on the old-fashioned favorite."

The candy culprit is a compound galled "glycyrrhizin," a sweetener made from the licorice root. 

Though it may seem like black licorice, along with its cheapskate companions Bit O'Honey and candy corn, would be a recipe for getting your house egged or toilet-papered, it could — in extreme cases — also mean a trip to the emergency room.

Glycyrrhizin causes potassium levels in the body to fall, which in turn, causes a host of frightening symptoms, including "abnormal heart rhythms, as well as high blood pressure, edema, lethargy and congestive heart failure," according to the FDA. 

Dr. Linda Katz of the FDA said the agency last year received a report of a "black licorice aficionado" who had a problem after eating the candy. The FDA also cited several unnamed medical journals which have linked black licorice to health problems in people older than 40.

When asked for more information about how widespread the FDA believed the problem was, it declined answering questions beyond the press release, including follow-up questions on licorice, other candy or the popular licorice-flavored liquor, ouzo. 

Black licorice lovers may not have to worry about that extra handful of Nibs or Twizzlers, though. 

"Many 'licorice' or 'licorice flavor' products manufactured in the United States do not contain any licorice," the FDA reported. "Instead, they contain anise oil, which has the same smell and taste. Licorice root that is sold as a dietary supplement can be found with the glycyrrhizin removed," which results in a scary-sounding-but-perfectly-harmless deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In Billings, problems with licorice appear to be about as common as ghosts or Bigfoot sightings.

"Nobody is aware of this coming through our emergency department," said an official from Billings Clinic.

Several blocks away, St. Vincent Healthcare asked to see a copy of the press release from the FDA, and said they would get back with an answer if the folks in the emergency department had ever had an overdose of black licorice. 

If a person must indulge a sweet tooth during or after Halloween and cannot possibly find any other candy, including between couch cushions or stealing from your kids' candy bucket, the FDA offers this advice for consuming black licorice: "No matter what your age, don't eat large amounts of black licorice at one time."

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