Liquorice [main ingredient, glycyrrhizin (GL)] is widely used as a food sweetener and herbal medicine. Occasionally, liquorice consumption causes pseudoaldosteronism as a side effect which causes oedema, hypokalaemia, and hypertension due to hyperactivity of mineral corticoid receptor. We aimed to detect GL metabolites in human blood and urine samples and to determine the pathological relationship between GL metabolites and pseudoaldosteronism. For this multi-centre, retrospective, cross-sectional study, we recruited patients who had visited Center for Kampo Medicine in Keio University Hospital, Department of Japanese Oriental (Kampo) Medicine in Chiba University Hospital, Clinic of Japanese Oriental (Kampo) Medicine in Kanazawa University Hospital, and Department of Oriental Medicine in Kameda Medical Center from November 2011 to July 2018. We collected laboratory data including concentration of serum potassium, plasma activity of renin and aldosterone, and residual blood and/or urine samples of participants who had experienced symptoms/signs of pseudoaldosteronism in the form of increase in blood pressure and occurrence or aggregation of oedema while taking liquorice-containing herbal preparations, and measured GL metabolites using a highly selective liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometer system. We registered 97 participants (mean age 60 ± 15 years; male:female 14:83). 18β-glycyrrhetinic acid (GA) was detected in 67 serum samples (median 122 nM, range 5 nM–1.8 µM) and 18β-glycyrrhetyl-3-O-sulfate (compound 3) in 68 samples (median 239 nM, range 2 nM–4.2 µM). 3-Monoglucuronyl 18β-glycyrrhetinic acid, 22α-hydroxy-18β-glycyrrhetyl-3-O-sulfate-30-glucuronide, 22α-hydroxy-18β-glycyrrhetyl-3-O-sulfate, and GL itself were not or rarely detected. We could not find any correlation between blood pressure or peripheral oedema and serum concentration of GL metabolites. Sulfotransferase 2A1 catalysed the metabolic reaction of GA to compound 3, a major GL metabolite in human blood. High serum concentration of compound 3 was related to lower renin, aldosterone, and potassium levels, suggesting a pathological relationship between compound 3 and liquorice-induced pseudoaldosteronism. This is the first study to identify the association between a novel metabolite, compound 3, and the incidence of pseudoaldosteronism, highlighting it as a promising biomarker.
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