Q: I have mild heartburn, especially at night. My friend told me to take DGL. What is that? Would you recommend it for heartburn? A: DGL is an...

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Q: I have mild heartburn, especially at night. My friend told me to take DGL. What is that? Would you recommend it for heartburn?

A: DGL is an abbreviation for “deglycyrrhizinated licorice.” (Bless the child who ever gets strapped with that one at a spelling bee.) It’s licorice minus glycyrrhizin, a compound that can cause high blood pressure and low levels of potassium in the blood if you eat too much of it.

In herbal medicine, the root of the licorice plant is used to help soothe and release spasms from the digestive tract, among other things.

DGL is pretty interesting, because in the lab it seems to increase mucous production and grow the cells lining the stomach. These are the natural protective mechanisms the body uses to protect itself against stomach acid. So the idea is that DGL may enhance the body’s own natural defense mechanisms, which could prevent or reduce problems related to acid such as heartburn.

In terms of relevant studies, the two that I know of were published in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They were small, and didn’t meet the ideal criteria we now use for research studies. These scientists didn’t study heartburn specifically, but found that DGL helped to accelerate healing in people with ulcers.

While the data on DGL for heartburn is fairly skimpy, licorice has been safely eaten as a food, in reasonable amounts, for hundreds of years. Without the glycyrrhizin, the risk is even lower. Given that, it may be worth a try — as long as your doctor agrees.

Dr. Astrid Pujari is a Seattle M.D. with an additional degree as a medical herbalist; she practices at the Pujari Center and teaches as part of the residency programs at Virginia Mason and Swedish/Cherry Hill hospitals. Send questions to apujari@seattletimes.com for possible use in future columns. All information is intended for education and not a substitute for medical advice. Consult your doctor before following any suggestions given here.