Xylitol – Benefits, Side Effects

What is xylitol ?

Xylitol is a natural form of sugar alcohol and occurs as a white crystalline substance. Hence one can use it as a sweetener as well as a substitute for sugar. It is readily available in different types of mushrooms, berries and oats, and can be extracted from fruit and vegetable fibers. Other items such as sugarcane husks and corn also have naturally occurring forms of xylitol.

One will not get the same amount of energy from xylitol as compared to sucrose, but it is just as sweet. One should intake xylitol with precautions as excess consumption can lead to side effects.

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History of Xylitol

Xylitol was discovered by French and German scientists in the late 1800s. Its use as a form of sweetener for diabetic persons soon gained popularity across Europe. The insulin levels within the body are not affected by xylitol. In the 1970s, studies in Finland resulted in the discovery of the dental benefits of xylitol. Hence, it is consumed for dental purposes as well.

One of the biggest manufacturers of xylitol is a Danish company called Danisco, which extracts xylitol from hardwood and maize. Xylitol is produced by employing a process to hydrogenate the xylose, which then converts the sugar available in the raw materials into a primary alcohol.

Many items of daily use such as fluoride tablets, toothpaste, mouthwashes, chewing gums, etc., use xylitol as an alternative sweetener.

Health benefits of Xylitol

  • Research suggests that xylitol helps to increase the presence of calcium salts in the bones, thereby preventing the possibilities of bone abnormalities. Other studies suggest that development of oral bacteria is inhibited by xylitol and hence it can be an alternative treatment for middle ear infections.
  • Streptococcus mutans are the bacteria that cause cavities, and xylitol is known to inhibit their growth, thereby preventing the formation of cavities. Xylitol consumption also helps to reduce plaque and the bacteria, itself. Research also suggests that consumption of xylitol prevents the transfer of the bacteria from expectant mothers to the child
  • Xylitol is a boon for diabetic patients as they can use it to add a sweet taste to their beverages and food, without elevating the blood sugar levels.
  • Xylitol is usually combined with amino acids and carbohydrates during intravenous passage of nutrition.

Side effects of Xylitol

  • Since xylitol is a sugar alcohol, it can lead to bloating, diarrhea, nausea and other gastrointestinal abnormalities. The stomach finds it difficult to absorb sugar alcohol and hence increased xylitol consumption can be hazardous.
  • Xylitol consumption can result in blood sugar hypoglycemia, seizures and deaths in pets. Hence they should be kept away from pets, particularly dogs.
  • Intravenous administration of xylitol can lead to excessive levels of uric acid, bilirubin and lactic acid, which may eventual result in seizures and acute kidney failure
  • On rare occasions, xylitol consumption can result in rashes and oral erosive eczema. This can then cause infection of the oral area, cracking and increased dryness of the lips, etc.

Xylitol-Nutritional information

  • A single tablespoon of xylitol has 10 calories, 4 g of sugar alcohols and 4 g of carbohydrates.
  • Certain amounts of liver glycogen can also be obtained from xylitol
  • Xylitol has minimal quantities of vitamins and minerals
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