If you’re pregnant, you might want to think twice before you chow down on that next piece of licorice.
According to new research from the University of Helsinki published in American Journal of Epidemiology, eating a lot of licorice during pregnancy is linked to long-term issues in children, including lower IQs and an increased risk of ADHD.
In the study, Finnish researchers compared the physical health and cognitive function of 378 teens whose mothers had consumed "large amounts" of licorice during pregnancy with those whose mothers claimed to have ingested "little to no” licorice while expecting. Scientists found that the more glycyrrhizin (the active ingredient in licorice) the teens were exposed to in utero, the poorer they performed on cognitive reasoning tests and memory-related tasks. In fact, teens exposed to high maternal glycyrrhizin had IQs that were, on average, seven points lower than those whose mothers didn’t eat licorice while pregnant. They were also three times as likely to show signs of ADHD.
This isn’t the first time the candy has been found to have dangerous side effects in pregnant women. Some studies have shown that consuming licorice increases the odds of a premature birth. It’s also suggested that mothers avoid licorice while breastfeeding.
More research still needs to be done to prove a definitive link between licorice and cognitive development, but in the meantime, it’s probably smart to hold off and resist temptation. Some peace of mind: red licorice (like Twizzlers and Red Vines) don’t include glycyrrhizin—it’s the black licorice you want to look out for while that bun is in the oven.