You might not recognize the name glycerin, but it is found in many of the foods we eat and medicines we rely on; it has a number of impressive health benefits, including the ability to moisturize the skin, cleanse the gut, speed healing, retain water, protect the immune system and contribute to anti-aging efforts.
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What is Glycerin?
By definition, glycerin is a simple polyol (an alcohol with multiple hydroxyl groups) that is found in the atomic structure of all triglycerides. It is also known as glycerol and glycerin. On its own, glycerin is a colorless, odorless liquid with high viscosity. In recent years, it has become very important in the composition of many different pharmaceuticals and the food industry. In terms of food, glycerin is used as a sweetener and a humectant, a hygroscopic substance that is used to keep things moist. For many baked goods and dairy products to processed vegetables and fruits, as well as grain products, sauces, and condiments. In the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, glycerin is used in order to provide smoothness and lubrication, while also retaining moisture. You will commonly find glycerin as an ingredient in toothpastes, mouthwashes, tonics, soaps, shampoos and shaving creams. It is also used as an alcohol-free solvent when preparing certain herbal medications.
In terms of production, glycerol is primarily derived from animal and plant sources, where it is removed from triglycerides. Due to the flavorless and odorless nature of glycerin, it is easy to overlook, but it does have a number of effects on the body, some good and others bad. When it comes to negative side effects, some people can have stronger reactions to foods that contain glycerol than others. Nausea, vomiting, and headaches are the most common, although some people also experience the laxative effect of glycerin. Excess urination and dehydration can be secondary side effects as a result of diarrhea. The rarest side effects include cognitive confusion and irregular heartbeat or palpitations. However, as a simple sugar alcohol, experiencing side effects from glycerol is highly unusual, particularly from the small amount usually contained in food. However, using glycerin by itself, in certain therapeutic settings, can be extremely beneficial!
Health Benefits of Glycerin
Some amazing health benefits of glycerin include its ability to speed up healing, soothe irritation, prevent dehydration and many more. Let’s have a look at them in detail.
The most notable effect of glycerin and the primary reason people use this simple substance is its moisturizing power. The skin requires moisture to function normally and retain its appearance. If your skin isn’t regularly moisturized, it can increase the appearance of wrinkles, promote flakey or unhealthy looking skin, and compromise the skin’s ability to defend against the constant barrage of outside substances, bacteria, and pathogens. Generally, this moisturizing quality of glycerin helps the skin look and feel great.
Speeds up Healing
Some people choose to use glycerin on or near wounds, scratches or blemishes because it can promote the natural maturation of skin cells. You want skin cells to be produced and exist for a normal lifespan, before shedding off prematurely, such as what happens in psoriasis. The therapeutic effect of glycerol on wounds and other skin diseases is a very good reason to use this easy-to-find and inexpensive substance. Consumption of glycerin-rich foods can help with this, but it certainly isn’t as effective as using pure glycerin intended for therapeutic purposes.
Stimulates Bowel Movements
Another common use of glycerin is in the form of a laxative capsule (in the form of an enema). This glycerin-rich delivery will irritate the anal mucosa and cause the bowels to take more water in (hyperosmotic effect), which then stimulates a smooth bowel movement. For those who are sensitive to glycerin in their diet, this laxative effect can be seen as a negative side effect, but if you’re suffering from chronic constipation, a small suppository or enema coated in glycerin can be an excellent and rapid solution.
There is a good reason why glycerin is included in so many cosmetic soaps and compounds; the moisturizing effect actually draws moisture up through the layers of skin, ensuring that dehydration and evaporation from the surface of the skin don’t have as much of an effect. For inflammatory conditions on the skin or excess irritation, this moisturizing quality can quickly provide relief. Using glycerol on conditions like eczema, psoriasis, rash or dry skin can provide a barrier that locks in moisture and promotes healing, while also lowering your desire to itch!
The body loses a great deal of water through the skin, and not only in the form of sweat. The constant loss of liquid from the body, particularly in low-humidity environments and regions, can cause chronic dehydration in the body. While the application of glycerin all over the body isn’t recommended, regular use on those parts of the skin exposed to the elements (particularly wind), is a good way to give your skin and body a protective boost against drying out. After all, we are composed of more than 70% water, and it’s important to keep hydration levels high!
Boosts Immune System
The skin is the body’s first line of defense against the constant onslaught of “stuff” from the outside environment, including irritants, pollutants, toxins, and pathogens. Glycerin not only locks in moisture, but also provides a boost of protection for the skin against those elements that would do us harm, or increase irritation.
The deep-layer moisturizing power of glycerol not only prevents irritation, itching, and water loss but also helps with various symptoms of aging. Aside from minimizing the appearance of wrinkles, it can also diminish blemishes and maintain the elasticity of skin, which are some of the most common side effects of the aging process.
A Final Word of Warning: As mentioned, glycerin is found in many foods, as well as pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, but if you want to apply pure glycerin topically, it is best to use small amounts at first to see how your skin reacts. Some people have strong negative reactions to glycerol, so before you coat your body in the stuff, or use it as a suppository, speak to a medical professional and ensure that glycerin is a wise addition to your health regimen.