Compounds isolated from licorice root may help prevent cavities, according to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. In test tube studies, the scientists showed that an extract from a plant root that is used to make licorice candy and other products contains at least two compounds that appear to be potent inhibitors of Streptococcus mutans, a major cause of dental caries.
Their study is scheduled to appear in the Feb. 24 print version of the Journal of Natural Products, a monthly peer-reviewed joint publication of the American Chemical Society and the American Society of Pharmacognosy.
More studies are needed before it is proven that the compounds effectively fight cavities in humans, caution Qing-Yi Lu, Ph.D., a chemist at UCLA’s School of Medicine, and Wenyuan Shi, Ph.D, a microbiologist at UCLA’s School of Dentistry. If further studies show promise, the licorice compounds could eventually be used as cavity-fighting components in mouthwash or toothpaste, they say.
Licorice has been an important herb in Chinese medicine for many years and is now being rediscovered by Western medicine as a rich source of potentially beneficial compounds. In addition to being used as flavoring and sweetening agents in candy, tobaccos and beverages, compounds derived from licorice root have been shown to help fight inflammation, viruses, ulcers and even cancer, according to the researchers.