Are you familiar with sugar alcohols?
These compounds are often used as a sugar substitute in foods, providing sweetness without the added calories.
But have you ever heard of polyethylene glycol?
This chemical compound is commonly used in a variety of products, from laxatives to skin care products.
But is it considered a sugar alcohol?
In this article, we’ll explore the properties and uses of polyethylene glycol and determine whether it belongs in the same category as popular sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol.
So, let’s dive in and find out!
Is Polyethylene Glycol A Sugar Alcohol?
Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is not considered a sugar alcohol. While both PEG and sugar alcohols contain hydroxyl groups, PEG is a synthetic polymer made by combining ethylene glycol molecules.
Sugar alcohols, on the other hand, are organic compounds derived from sugars and contain one hydroxyl group attached to each carbon atom. They are also classified as polyols due to their multiple hydroxyl groups.
While PEG is not a sugar alcohol, it is often used in similar applications. Both PEG and sugar alcohols are commonly used in the food industry as thickeners and sweeteners. In laxatives, PEG works by attracting and binding water in the intestines, similar to the osmotic effect of some sugar alcohols.
However, it’s important to note that PEG has some potential side effects that are not typically associated with sugar alcohols. In rare cases, PEG can cause allergic reactions or kidney damage. It’s always important to consult with a healthcare professional before using any new products containing PEG.
What Are Sugar Alcohols?
Sugar alcohols, also known as polyhydric alcohols, polyalcohols, alditols, or glycitols, are organic compounds that are typically derived from sugars. They contain one hydroxyl group (-OH) attached to each carbon atom, and are classified as polyols due to their multiple -OH groups.
Sugar alcohols are white, water-soluble solids that can occur naturally or be produced industrially by hydrogenating sugars. They are commonly used in the food industry as thickeners and sweeteners, often in combination with high-intensity artificial sweeteners to offset their low sweetness. Xylitol and sorbitol are popular sugar alcohols in commercial foods.
Compared to table sugar (sucrose), sugar alcohols are almost noncaloric and provide fewer calories per gram because they are not efficiently absorbed and metabolized by humans. However, when consumed in large quantities, unabsorbed and unmetabolized sugar alcohols can have a variety of effects on the human digestive system. These include an osmotic effect that attracts and binds water, which can result in diarrhea, as well as microbial metabolism that produces gas and short chain fatty acids.
It’s important to note that there is a lot of individual variation in how people react to sugar alcohols. Some people may suffer from symptoms such as flatulence, abdominal pain, and diarrhea when consuming large amounts of sugar alcohols, while others may not experience any negative effects at all. People can also develop a tolerance to sugar alcohols over time as their bodies and bacterial populations adapt.
What Is Polyethylene Glycol?
Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is a compound that is derived from ethylene glycol, which is a primary ingredient in antifreeze. It is a synthetic polymer that is commonly used in various industrial and medical applications due to its versatility and low toxicity. PEG can be found in a variety of products, including skin creams, personal lubricants, and laxatives.
In the food industry, PEG is used as a thickener and stabilizer, as well as an anti-foaming agent. It is also used as a sweetener in some food products. In medicine, PEG is used as a laxative to help treat constipation. It works by attracting and binding water in the intestines, which helps soften stool and promote bowel movements.
While PEG is generally considered safe, it can have some potential side effects. In rare cases, it can cause allergic reactions or kidney damage. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before using any products containing PEG to ensure it is safe for you to use.
How Is Polyethylene Glycol Used?
Polyethylene glycol (PEG) has a variety of uses in different industries. In the medical field, PEG is commonly used as a laxative to relieve constipation. It works by attracting and binding water in the intestines, which softens the stool and makes it easier to pass. PEG is also used as a bowel preparation before certain medical procedures, such as colonoscopies.
In addition to its medical uses, PEG is also used in the food industry as a thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier. It can be found in a variety of processed foods, including baked goods, candy, and ice cream. PEG is also used in cosmetic and personal care products as a moisturizer and emollient.
PEG has industrial applications as well. It is used as a solvent for many substances, including oils, waxes, and resins. PEG is also used in the production of polyurethane foams and as a lubricant for machinery.
Polyethylene Glycol Vs. Sugar Alcohols: Similarities And Differences
Polyethylene glycol (PEG) and sugar alcohols share some similarities but also have significant differences. Both contain hydroxyl groups and are used in the food industry as thickeners and sweeteners. However, PEG is a synthetic polymer made by combining ethylene glycol molecules, while sugar alcohols are organic compounds derived from sugars.
One of the main differences between PEG and sugar alcohols is their calorie content. Sugar alcohols have a lower calorie content than sugar, while PEG has no calories. This makes PEG a popular ingredient in low-calorie foods and beverages.
Another difference between the two is their potential side effects. While sugar alcohols are generally considered safe, they can cause digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea when consumed in large amounts. PEG, on the other hand, has been linked to rare cases of allergic reactions and kidney damage.
In terms of their uses, sugar alcohols are commonly used as a sugar substitute in foods labeled as “sugar-free” or “no sugar added”. They also have a non-cariogenic property, which means they do not contribute to tooth decay. PEG, on the other hand, is often used in laxatives to attract and bind water in the intestines.
Potential Health Concerns With Polyethylene Glycol Consumption
While PEG is generally considered safe for consumption, there are some potential health concerns associated with its use. One of the most common side effects of PEG consumption is gastrointestinal distress, including nausea, gas, and bloating. These symptoms can usually be managed at home and are not typically serious.
However, there have been reports of more serious side effects associated with PEG use, particularly in pediatric patients. These side effects include neurological symptoms such as abnormal behavior, anger, anxiety, mood swings, seizures, and sensory disturbances. The exact mechanism by which PEG triggers these symptoms is still unclear and requires further study.
In addition to potential neurological side effects, there are also concerns about the contaminants that may be present in PEG. Depending on the manufacturing process used to create PEG, it may be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Both of these substances are classified as potential carcinogens and can have harmful effects on the nervous system and human development.
While PEG itself is not considered dangerous in reasonable amounts, the pollution and contamination associated with its production raise concerns about its safety for use in cosmetics and personal care products. For these reasons, PEGs are not accepted in certified organic cosmetics in Europe.