In recent weeks several news reports have reported on how a compound commonly found in liquorice has been linked to lower survival rates in cancer cells and improved effectiveness of other cancer drugs, suggesting the potential for the compound to be part of cancer treatments in the future.
Whilst a lot of the research surrounding isoliquiritigenin (ISL) is promising with regard to its potential use in chemotherapy treatment, it is important to understand the context and avoid any reports that directly connect liquorice to better pancreatic cancer outcomes.
One of the complications of pancreatic cancer is that its symptoms can be hard to spot until a later stage, when jaundice, fatigue, unintentional weight loss and stomach pains become impossible to confuse with other conditions.
As a result, it is often diagnosed at a later stage than other conditions, and therefore ways to improve the efficacy of treatment are exceptionally welcome.
The study found that the compound reduced tumours in laboratory mice at a rate comparable to gemcitabine, a chemotherapy drug used to treat pancreatic and bladder cancer, with fewer side effects such as weight loss and lower red and white blood cell count.
More studies and tests are needed to determine its safety and efficacy as a cancer drug in humans, but initial reports are promising.
Where people need to be wary, however, is conflating the effects of ISL in controlled concentrations with the consumption of liquorice, which can exacerbate the effects of kidney disease and high blood pressure, as well as lower potassium levels.
It is perfectly safe in small amounts, but if consumed to excess it can have particularly unpleasant side effects, especially when consumed over a long time.
As well as this, most products sold as liquorice are typically flavoured with aniseed oil, which tastes very similar. Neither aniseed oil nor liquorice will provide any meaningful effect in preventing cancer.