Mannitol is a sugar alcohol which means they are part sugar and part alcohol. It was initially obtained by isolating secretions from the tree of the flowering ash, called manna, named after the biblical food. It is also sometimes called mannite or manna sugar.
As a sugar alcohol similar to sorbitol and xylitol, mannitol is considered a form of carbohydrates that is not completely absorbed by the body and therefore, does not contribute to the increase of the body’s glucose or blood sugar level.
Mannitol is used as an osmotic diuretic demonstrating its ability to increase blood flow to the kidneys. It can also transport liquid through a membrane from a less concentrated to a more concentrated environment. It is a type of diuretic that inhibits the reabsorption of water and sodium after it has been used by the body.
It is used as a renal vasodilator which means that it has the ability to widen the blood vessels in the kidneys resulting from the relaxation of the smooth muscle cells within the vessel walls. When dilation of the blood vessel happens, the flow of blood is increased due to the decrease in vascular resistance.
Mannitol is known to significantly reduce an elevated intracranial pressure caused by severe head trauma or injury. This high pressure on the brain can be fatal if it is left untreated for a longer period of time but children are able to withstand the prolonged high pressure more than adults can.
This very unassuming sugar alcohol is also known to treat patients who are suffering from oliguric renal failure, the disease characterized by decreased urination due to the inability of the kidneys to filter toxic substances from the blood. In this case, mannitol is administered intravenously then filtered by the kidneys. As a consequence, more water and sodium are excreted by the kidneys, decreasing the volume of fluid outside of the cells asserting its role as the ultimate cleanser of the body’s toxic substances.
Mannitol is also believed to possess the ability to remove the barrier that separates the circulating blood from the cerebrospinal fluid in the central nervous system. This barrier which is made up of endothelial cells can be completely destroyed by mannitol giving it unhindered access to the brain as it delivers drugs needed for the treatment of certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other diseases of the central nervous system.
Mannitol is also used during cardiopulmonary bypass to ensure stability of the kidneys in case of low blood flow and low blood pressure during surgery. It prevents the swelling of the endothelial cells in the kidneys which would have otherwise reduced the blood flow to the area and caused damage to the organs.
An Australian pharmaceutical company is currently in the process of further developing mannitol as treatment for cysctic fibrosis. In its powder form, mannitol is inhaled using an osmohaler to draw water into the lungs to loosen the thick mucus that characterizes this disease of the the lungs.
Mannitol is also believed to treat glaucoma by providing moisture to the affected eye area, the vitreous humour, thus relieving the pressure inside the eyes.
Mannitol is also used as antidote for ciguatera poisoning, a kind of poisoning caused by the tropical fish, ciguatera, that manifest stroke-like symptoms.
Like the sugar alcohol sorbitol, mannitol is also used as sweetener in sugar-free candies, chewing gums and other food products especially for diabetics. Mannitol possesses a cooling effect property that contributes to the fresh and cool feel of breath-freshening candies. It has fewer calories than sugar and it does not cause tooth decay.
It is also sometimes used as laxative for children, a bacterial growth medium and diluting agent for such prohibited drugs like metamphetamines and heroine.
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