What is Urea?
Carbamide or more commonly known as urea is an organic chemical compound. This organic chemical compound is the waste product of the body when protein is metabolized. The liver is the organ responsible for breaking down proteins and amino acids to produce urea. Mammals, amphibians and some other fish have the ability to produce this waste product. Urea is actually a part of urine and sweat.
As urea is excreted, excess nitrogen in the body goes out with it. Urea is actually solid, colorless and odorless. However, it can give off ammonia in the presence of water. The ammonia gives the strong odor in the urine. The main purpose of urea in the body is to excrete excess nitrogen. However, it is also used by the body to some other purposes.
Hillaire Rouelle, a French chemist discovered urea in 1773. Most people are unaware of urea’s importance in the history of science. In 1828, this naturally occurring compound had been synthetically formulated. The genius behind the synthesis was one of the pioneers of organic chemistry named Friedrich Wohler.
Urea has been very important and useful in different industries. It has significant importance in the medical, agricultural, chemical and commercial industries.
Levels of urea in the body were used by physicians to detect disorders in the kidney and other renal diseases. Tests such as blood urea nitrogen and urine urea nitrogen can help physicians assess if a patient’s kidneys are functioning well. However, an increase and decrease in urea levels do not always indicate kidney problems. In most cases, changes in levels of urea in the body may be caused by dehydration or increased intake of protein.
Some other medical uses of urea are as follows:
in topical dermatological products.
in certain types of cold or ice packs.
in urine therapy, a type of alternative medicinal treatment.
Urea is useful in agriculture for it is used to fertilize the soil. Plants need nitrogen for growth. Urea functions as a nitrogen-release fertilizer to aid plant growth. Urea can be applied in solid form on soil. It can also be dissolved in water and used as spray or mixed through irrigation systems.
Urea is also important in the chemical industry as it is widely used in manufacturing several chemical compounds. As a raw material, urea is an important ingredient in manufacturing the following:
several types of adhesives
Commercially, urea also plays an important role in several applications.
Nitrocellulose explosives use urea as stabilizer
An ingredient that is a cheap source of nitrogen in producing animal feeds
Used in road de-icing as an alternative to the corrosive rock salt
Enhances cigarette flavors
An important ingredient in dish soaps
Used in fire extinguishers as flame proofing agent
Used as main ingredient used by Nair and Veet for hair removal
Used along with other salts as cloud seeding agent
Combined with other compounds that helps ferment sugars into ethanol
Main ingredient in tooth whitening products, skin moisturizers and hair conditioners
Urea has many important uses in our daily lives. However, just like any other useful compounds, urea has also its negative effect on humans and other living things. In humans, high concentration of urea in the body can be damaging. Moreover, it can also affect plants due to algal blooms that produce toxins.