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Killer candy: Man dies from eating too much licorice

Doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Mass. General report on the death of a local construction worker who spent three weeks eating pretty much just black licorice.

The worker, 54, had not previously reported heart problems, despite being a pack-a-day smoker. He went into ventricular fibrillation and collapsed in a fast-food restaurant and was brought into the emergency room unconscious, according to their report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Doctors immediately noted his blood potassium level was dangerously low. They tried increasing it and gave him other medicines to help him, but nothing worked, he had suffered "multiorgan failure," remained completely unresponsive and died 32 hours after admission.

Doctors began to suspect licorice after ruling out other possible causes of his potassium deficiency, such as the use of digitalis, a drug used for certain heart conditions, which the man hadn't been taking, various sorts of tumors or even excessive vomiting, which he had not been doing. A talk with his family confirmed the suspicion:

He had a poor diet, consisting primarily of several packages of candy daily; 3 weeks earlier, he had switched the type of candy he was eating ... from eating fruit-flavored soft candy to eating licorice-flavored soft candy that contained glycyrrhizic acid, which is converted to glycyrrhetinic acid after it is consumed.

The acid, found in licorice root, makes the stuff taste slightly less awful than it otherwise would, but can cause heart-rhythm problems and disrupt a person's body chemistry if consumed to excess, in part by interrupting the body's regulation of potassium levels.

The doctors wrote that the effects of excessive licorice consumption are not permanent - assuming it doesn't kill you first - although it can take a week or two for the body to eliminate harmful amounts of it.

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Comments

Wow. This is kind of an amazing and sad story. Why was this guy only eating candy, and why did he change it up? Poor bastard

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Very sad diet and very sad outcome. Condolences to the family.

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You would think we'd have a warning label on these. With all the obvious warnings we have on products, like peanut M&Ms having may contain nuts on the label, this one would actually be useful. I personally had no idea this sort of thing was possible. It also seems like it doesn't like it takes all that much to cause problems, 2oz a day I read. Granted that's a lot of licorice, but when your compulsive eating, like while on the job it's attainable fairly easily. Its not like one of those fun facts like banana seeds are toxic but you have to eat 600 bananas for it to kill you.

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This belongs up there with "drinking too much water can kill you" and other tales of how people consumed diet sodas in extreme case-per-day quantities because nutrisweet was "safe".

Very sad for his family and friends and coworkers. Certainly unexpected.

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...that episode of 1000 Ways to Die where the woman who only drank water and exercized daily's brain burst from too much water, too?! I guess that's why they say everything should be done in moderation.

Prayers and condolences to this man and his loved ones.

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But when I volunteered for the Boston Marathon, water intoxication was something we were told to be alert to.

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... that they have never seen anyone seriously sick from not drinking enough water, but that they often see people who are at death’s door from over hydration.

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A coworker had this years ago, pretty ugly stuff. The bad thing is that it was misdiagnosed, went on for awhile, and he ended up in the hospital where hyponatremia was found to be the issue. Like swirrl says, it's not uncommon in marathons, one needs to drink more than water.

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That can be just as dangerous as not drinking enough water, if not more so.

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...that no one sitting in a chair is going to die of drinking too much water.

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Why sad? He lived the life he wanted.

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... craving black jelly bird eggs.

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I usually supply myself for 6 months buying the black jelly bird eggs after Easter at a 75% discount. They are usually the last candy standing.

Of course, they're not like real licorice, but for value, they're a sweet deal to keep the candy budget in the black.

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I enjoy licorice, but yeah, most people don't know that it's licorice is also a pretty potent herbal medicine. A pack-a-day habit of licorice candy is not safe (even if you're otherwise eating a healthy diet.)

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He was a pack a day smoker with a several pack a day candy eater.

It's too bad it came to this. Sympathy to his family and loved ones.

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Some real licorice does have a warning label. I am very fond of licorice, but only the good stuff. A warning label is like a certificate of quality.

I don’t eat it often anymore because I am too old and fat now. It’s not just because Bassets sold out to Maynards and changed the recipe, though that merger was the death knell for English confectionery.

I do think the warning label on Dutch salt licorice should be clarified. That should say “Caution: this licorice might kill you if you eat too much, and you will likely believe you are already dying after the first bite.” I think the original “Mr. Yuck” was developed from a picture of someone eating Dutch salt licorice.

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Voting closed 35

In that case you've got both the licorice root *and* the ammonium chloride. :-D I think it's pretty tasty but yeah, it's... potent.

Cool to know that some licorice have the warning label. The kind I tend to get has both licorice root and anise, and I've heard that part of the reason for the anise is so they can reduce the amount of true licorice root -- not just for cost, but also for health. (I'm sure some people prefer the anise variant as well.) I'll keep an eye out for the Good Stuff next time.

We also drink mint and licorice tea at home sometimes, using dried mint leaves and licorice root fragments, but we're careful not to have it too much or too often.

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If I send a case of licorice to the White House, will I get a call from the Secret Service?

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a bunch of Filet-O-Fish sandwiches and you're golden

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More like a 4am no knock raid.

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It’s Scandinavian, not from some shithole country.

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There's a youtuber named Chubbyemu who does medical rare case videos with full layperson explanations of how the person dies and all of the medical terms involved. They're quite good.

He picked up on this too when the AP wrote about it:
https://twitter.com/chubbyemu/status/1308912594128908288

I found a reply he made to someone else which is what reminded me to look and see if he'd seen this news story yet. He actually commented on this same type of situation in this video:

A Boy Ate 25 Laxative Brownies In 1 Hour. This Is What Happened To His Kidneys
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMy0vJfKvzI

Basically, if you cause a lot of cortisol to go through your system, you're going to slow your heart until it is so "relaxed" it won't beat any more.

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