Liquorice and soy sauce, a life-saving concoction in a patient with Addison's disease

Ann Clin Biochem. 2007 Jul;44(Pt 4):397-9. doi: 10.1258/000456307780945624.


Addison's disease is a relatively common disorder to endocrinologists, but is rare and potentially fatal when presenting acutely. Treatment now involves replacement of glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids with synthetic compounds, although historically patients took common salt and plant-based preparations. We describe the case of a 42-year-old woman who self-treated undiagnosed Addison's disease for several years with soy sauce and liquorice sticks. She presented with a four-week history of decreased energy, malaise and postural dizziness. Our patient described an unusual diet of liquorice sticks and soy sauce, consuming around 46 g of salt per week. There was a family history of Type 1 diabetes mellitus. Physical examination was unremarkable, although subsequent investigation confirmed Addison's disease. Liquorice provided glycyrrhizic acid and glycyrrhetinic acid, which act on 11-beta hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase enzymes. In this case, the net effect was potentiation of glucocorticoid action on renal mineralocorticoid receptors in the context of failing adrenocortical steroid production. The case highlights the importance of taking a dietary history to aid diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • 11-beta-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Addison Disease / drug therapy*
  • Addison Disease / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Glycyrrhetinic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Glycyrrhiza / chemistry*
  • Glycyrrhizic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Sodium Chloride / administration & dosage
  • Soy Foods*


  • Sodium Chloride
  • Glycyrrhizic Acid
  • 11-beta-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases
  • Glycyrrhetinic Acid