NEW YORK, N.Y. , April 17, 1997 -- Technion Researchers have discovered an ingredient in the root of the licorice plant that prevents the build-up of cholesterol in arteries. The ingredient, glabridin, delays the oxidation of low density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, a main contributing factor to increased cholesterol on arterial walls that leads to arteriosclerosis or narrowing of the arteries.
"The licorice or anise plant grows primarily in East Asian countries, including Mongolia and Vietnam, where chewing licorice root is a common practice and arteriosclerosis is less prevalent," said Michael Aviram, professor of biochemistry and medicine, and head of the Lipid Research Laboratory in the Faculty of Medicine at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, who heads the research team. As the licorice is chewed, the digestive system releases enzymes that break down the glabridin, enabling the body to absorb it.
For the study, 20 Technion medical students took licorice extract tablets in daily doses of 100 mg. After two weeks, the researchers found that the LDL in their blood became 80 per cent more resistant to oxidation as compared to a control group where no effect was observed. The licorice works as an antioxidant by trapping the free radicals that cause oxidation, resulting in a reduction of the build-up, explains Prof. Aviram.
But Prof. Aviram warns against eating large amounts of licorice candy. He described the licorice used in the candy industry as a watery extract from the licorice root that does not contain glabridin. "The active ingredient is found in the parts of the root that are thrown away after industrial production of candy," he said.
Earlier, Prof. Aviram proved that red wine reduces cholesterol oxidation with human subjects. Previous studies on the protective properties of red wine were based on anecdotal evidence or laboratory in vitro (test tube) studies.
The Technion team is continuing to examine the use of antioxidants derived from other natural sources, especially those found in fruits and vegetables, especially in tomatoes, which may contain antioxidants similar to those in red wine.
The Technion is Israel's premier scientific and technological center for applied research and education. It is ranked among the leading science and technology universities in the world. The majority of Israel's engineers are Technion graduates, as are most of the founders and directors of its high-tech industries. The Technion commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in communications, electronics, computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine, among others. The university's 11,000 students and 700 faculty study and work in the Technion's 19 faculties and 30 research centers and institutes in Haifa. The American Technion Society (ATS) is the university's support organization in the United States. Based in New York City, it is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel.