What is Propylene Glycol?

Propylene glycol is a chemical substance that is categorized in the same group as alcohol.

propylene glycol

A very popular food additive, propylene glycol is also now being used as the main ingredient by hygiene and cosmetic items manufacturers. Although it has been approved by the food authorities of the U.S. and European countries as safe for food use, it still has stirred controversies about propylene glycol since it contains antifreeze which many people believe to bring toxicity to our body when eaten. To learn more about this additive, let’s have a closer look at the different aspects of propylene glycol such as its chemical composition and health impacts. It is also best to investigate whether it is really bad for our health.

Basics About Propylene Glycol

To have a thorough understanding of this subject, we will start with the basic knowledge about propylene glycol. This brings us to the question, what is propylene glycol?

A synthetic chemical that is categorized in the group as to where alcohol belongs, propylene glycol is a liquid which has better density than water and has no smell, taste, and color. More substances can be dissolved in propylene glycol than in water. In addition, the latter can retain moisture more than water which makes it a very helpful food additive.

Many of us may not be familiar with this chemical as it is called in different names. Propylene glycol in food can be known as trimethyl glycol, methyl ethyl glycol, 1,2-dihydroxypropane and 1,2-propanediol. Most of the time, ethylene glycol is also confused with propylene glycol since both of them have low melting points and contain antifreeze. But just for everyone’s knowledge, unlike propylene glycol that has been approved to be used in food, ethylene glycol could not be added to food items as it is lethal to humans.

Different Uses of Propylene Glycol

As already discussed, propylene glycol in food is rampant as it enhances food’s appearance, flavor, shelf life, and texture. Let’s explore more and identify the different ways how this substance can be used as a food additive.

Propylene glycol is popular in grated cheese and dried soups. This is because it has a property that could prevent the different components or ingredients in food from turning into clumps when watered. It is also commonly used in preserved foods due to its antioxidant content that extends foods’ shelf life.

Other uses of the chemical are as a strengthener to dough and an emulsifier since it could prevent the separation of oil to other liquid components such as those that are used in salad dressing. In addition to these, propylene glycol is very helpful especially in coconut flakes, nuts, and other food products where moisture is to be preserved.

With all the reasons behind its use as a food additive, these explain why this substance is commonly found in drink mixes, soft drinks, cake mix, and other packaged foods. However, its use is not limited to food products. We can also find it in cosmetics as well as in injectable drugs.

Assessing the Safety of Propylene Glycol in Food

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of propylene glycol both as an indirect or direct additive to food. On the other hand, its use in food is limited to dissolving colors, enzymes, antioxidants, and emulsifiers in European countries. Above all, propylene glycol should only be a gram in every kilogram of the final food item.

In terms of the impact of the substance on our health, the maximum amount of propylene glycol that has been recommended by the World Health Organization is set to be 11.4 milligrams for everybody pound on a daily basis. Looking at the records of the food authorities, it seems that we have nothing to be bothered about us, since its use as in food products, only one toxicity case has been documented.

Dangers Associated With the Intake of Propylene Glycol

Although there is just one toxicity case documented, it is still good to have a look at the possible negative effects of this additive on our body. Some people claim that frequent intake can lead to brain injuries, liver failure, kidney failure as well as heart attacks.

Clinical experts agree that one way of determining that propylene glycol toxicity occurs is the development of depression in the central nervous system. Low heart rate, slow breathing rate, and consciousness loss are among the common symptoms.

When toxicity occurs, it is best to consult with a medical expert immediately as the patient needs to undergo hemodialysis. The procedure is important to eliminate all the toxic substances in the blood.

As it can cause possible toxicity in humans, experts have warned us that propylene glycol should not be taken especially by those who were diagnosed with liver as well as kidney diseases. When taken by this cohort, lactic acid, and propylene glycol will be built up in the bloodstream as their kidneys and liver could not break down the substance and eliminate from our blood quickly.

Aside from people with liver or kidney diseases, food with this additive should also not be taken by babies and expecting women. This is for the reason that alcohol dehydrogenase, the important enzyme for propylene glycol breakdown, is low in these groups. This will also explain the occurrence of seizures in premature babies who were given vitamins with propylene glycol content.

Heart Disease and Attack Risks When Intaking Food or Medications With Propylene Glycol

People who are not in good health should be wary or cautious about the food products that they are taking. One reason is that there are a lot of studies claiming that foods or drugs with propylene glycol can lead to people having heart illnesses as well as heart attacks. These are also proven by research done on some animals which showed that those that have received high levels of the substance experienced low blood pressure and slow heart rate. Some subjects also had their heart stopped which caused some medical professionals to release health warnings about this substance. So with all the benefits and dangers mentioned, the best move is to ensure that before taking food products or cosmetic or drug items with this chemical one is in stable and good health condition to prevent the development of alarming medical problems.

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