My mother craved cherry pie and Chinese food when she was pregnant with me, but some women can crave the weirdest things like cheese and ketchup or brownies dipped in mustard. Most of these cravings are perfectly normal and aren’t dangerous for women to indulge in as long as they don’t go overboard. However, if you find yourself craving licorice during your pregnancy, you might want to find a substitute for this sweat snack.

A study has shown that mothers who eat large quantities of licorice while pregnant could negatively affect their child's intelligence and behavior. The study used a selection of eight-year-olds whose mothers had eaten an excessive amount of licorice during pregnancy. The children consistently did not perform as well as their peers on cognitive tests that vocabulary, memory, and spatial awareness. The children were also more likely to have a short attention span and show symptoms of ADHD. The children’s behavior was also assessed using a comprehensive questionnaire that was completed by the mother. The questionnaire used is also used by doctors to assess children's behavior.

Researchers believe that a component of licorice called glycyrrhizin may be the cause of the issues. The component is thought to impair the placenta. This allows stress hormones to cross over from the mother to her baby. High levels of these hormones, which are also known as glucocorticoids, are thought to affect fetal brain development and they have been linked to behavioral disorders in children.

The study revealed that consuming small amounts of licorice is harmless. However, women who ate more than 100g of pure licorice every week, which is more than 500mg of glycyrrhizin, were much more likely to have children with behavioral issues and lower IQs. In the study, 64 children were exposed to high levels of glycyrrhizin in licorice, 46 children were exposed to moderate levels, and 211 children had exposure to low levels. In addition to lower IQs and behavioral problems, there was also some evidence that a high level of licorice consumption also caused shorter pregnancies.

Despite these finding, cravings during pregnancy don’t typically come with these types of health risks. Remember though, that any unhealthy foods or any food in general can cause trouble if it’s eaten in excess amounts. Make sure that your pregnancy diet is as balanced as possible and contains foods your body needs to experience a healthy pregnancy and birth. That being said, indulging in a bowl of pickles and ice cream or a hot dog with just a bit too much sauerkraut might be just what you need every once in a while.   

Source: University of Edinburgh (2009, October 7). Eating Licorice In Pregnancy May Affect A Child's IQ And Behavior. Science Daily.