Xylitol: Uses, effects, and possible benefits
Xylitol is a lower-calorie sugar substitute with a low glycemic index. Some research suggests that it may also improve dental health, prevent ear infections, and possess antioxidant properties.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, which is a type of carbohydrate and does not actually contain alcohol. Xylitol occurs naturally in small amounts in fibrous fruits and vegetables, trees, corncobs, and even the human body.
Manufacturers use xylitol as a sugar substitute because its sweetness is comparable with that of table sugar but with fewer calories.
Xylitol is a common ingredient in many products, from sugar-free chewing gum to toothpaste. People also use xylitol as a table-top sweetener and in baking.
In this article, we look at the uses and potential health benefits of xylitol. We also cover its side effects, drug interactions, dosage, and alternatives.
Xylitol is a low-calorie alternative to sugar.
Xylitol has a similar level of sweetness to sugar but with a fraction of the calories. It is a popular ingredient in a variety of products, including sugar-free gum and toothpaste.
Manufacturers add xylitol to a range of foods, including:
sugar-free candies, such as gum, mints, and gummies
jams and jellies
nut butters, including peanut butter
Xylitol is also an ingredient in some dental care products, including:
other fluoride products
Xylitol sweeteners are available to purchase online.
Xylitol has several potential health benefits, including:
Low glycemic index
Xylitol has a low glycemic index (GI). This means that consuming it does not cause spikes in blood glucose or insulin levels in the body. For this reason, xylitol is a good sugar substitute for people with diabetes.
Due to its low GI, xylitol is also a weight loss-friendly sugar substitute.
Also, a 2015 study revealed that xylitol had significant blood glucose-lowering effects in rats that ate high-fat diets.
Xylitol is an ingredient in many dental hygiene products, including toothpaste and mouthwash. This is due to the fact that xylitol is non-fermentable, which means that the bacteria in the mouth cannot convert it into the harmful acid that causes tooth decay.
The oral bacterium Streptococcus mutans is largely responsible for plaque, which is the sticky, white substance that can accumulate on the outside of a person’s teeth.
Plaque binds lactic acid against the surface of the tooth. This acid breaks down the enamel and leads to tooth decay.
While it is normal for people to have some plaque on their teeth, excess amounts can lead to tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease.
A 2017 systematic review suggests that xylitol reduces the amount of S. mutans bacteria in the mouth, which reduces the amount of plaque and may help prevent tooth decay.
A 2014 study examined the effects of xylitol on Porphyromonas gingivalis, which is the bacterium responsible for gingivitis, or gum disease. If left untreated, excess amounts of P. gingivalis can move into the bloodstream and lead to systemic inflammation.
In the study, scientists grew samples of P. gingivalis in a laboratory and added them to human cell cultures pretreated with xylitol. They saw that xylitol increased the production of immune system proteins and inhibited the growth of the bacteria.
Xylitol may help prevent ear infections.
The bacteria that cause tooth plaque can also accumulate behind the eardrum and cause infections of the middle ear. Doctors call these infections acute otitis media (AOM).
A 2016 systematic review found moderate-quality evidence that chewing gum, lozenges, or syrup containing xylitol can reduce the occurrence of AOM from 30 to 22 percent among healthy children.
However, a 2014 study found xylitol syrup to be ineffective in reducing AOM in children at high risk of the infection.
These conflicting results indicate the need for more research regarding the use of xylitol as a preventive treatment for ear infections in children.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, free radicals cause oxidative stress, which can lead to cell damage and may play a role in the development of several conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Laboratory studies show that antioxidants neutralize free radicals and counteract oxidative stress.