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Veterinarian Reviewed on January 9, 2012 by Paulina Nelega, RH
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Glycerol is a natural polyol compound. It is composed of three hydroxyl combinations that make it both absorbent and soluble in water. It tastes sweet and is less toxic. The American Dietetic Association has categorized this odorless and colorless glutinous liquid as a carbohydrate. Its caloric density is likened to the table sugar, although it has a lower glycemic index, and is accepted as a compatible sweetener for low carbohydrate diets.

History and Origin

In 1889, it was only through the commercial candle making process that Glycerol was actually obtainable. During that time, the candles that were produced using animal fat became the early source of Glycerol. The actual process of extraction is quite complicated, although there are a few ways in which to make it possible, the easiest is by mixing fat with lye. This process of mixing these two ingredients form the soap and glycerol is then extracted, although small amounts may remain in the soap.

Ancient Uses

Pure glycerol was effectively used to treat a variety of burns, cuts, bites, calluses, bedsores, rashes, and psoriasis. When used orally it can remove halitosis due to its capabilities as a contact bacterial desiccant. Such property is also helpful in treating periodontal disease because it can penetrate through the biofilm and can remove bacterial colonies.

Modern Uses

Glycerol is used as a food additive and sweetener; as well as a solvent in food and beverages. It also helps as a food preservative. It can serve as a food filler for commercially prepared food, and as a viscous agent for liqueurs. In manufacturing of mono and di-glycerides, Glycerol is used as an emulsifier, and as polyglycerol esters for margarine and shortenings.

Glycerol is essential for pharmaceutical, medical, and personal care product preparations. It is used to improve texture, serves as a lubricant, and helps in preserving moisture. It is commonly found in cough syrups, expectorants, mouthwashes, shaving creams, soaps, skin care products, hair care products, and personal lubricants. In rectal application, glycerol is a laxative. An eye solution containing glycerol is placed in the eye before an examination in order to lessen the fluid in the cornea.

Glycerol is a basic ingredient of glycerin soap. The other components are denatured alcohol, sodium castorate, saponified cocoa butter, sucrose, suponified tallow, sodium laureth sulfate, and Distilled Water. The resulting soap product is for people that have very sensitive and easy-irritated skin due to its capability in preventing skin dryness from occuring.

In using Glycerol in the tincture method of extraction, it prevents the tannins from expediting in the plant’s ethanol extracts. It is also useful as a replacement for ethanol, acting like a solvent in the preparation of herbal extractions.

Earlier, Glycerol was used for anti-freezing in automotive applications before it was replaced by ethylene glycol that has a much lower freezing point. Although at minimum, the glycerol-water mixture’s freezing point is much higher than the ethylene-glycol mixture, it is not toxic, which gave scientists the idea to re-examine glycerol in using it again for automotive applications.

Side Effects

Glycerol may cause several side effects such as bloating, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, thirst, vomiting, bloating, and nausea. Injecting it intravenously is certainly not safe and may cause red blood cell damage. Although there is no immediate concern, it is not recommended to be used by pregnant women or during breastfeeding.

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Read also: Isopropyl Alcohol

Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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