The Health Benefits of Xylitol

Fighting Tooth Decay and Ear Infections

Xylitol is a low-calorie, five-carbon sugar alcohol that is used in foods as a sugar substitute. It’s also a naturally occurring substance found in some fruits and vegetables, including corn cobs and birch trees, which is how it is manufactured on a larger scale.

It was originally discovered by German scientists in the 1890s but not approved for dietary use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) until 1963. Shortly after in the 1970s, it was studied for its effect on dental plaque. Since then, it has been incorporated into many mints, gums, and other oral health products.

Health Benefits 

Diabetes and Obesity

One of the biggest benefits of xylitol is that is has a low glycemic index (GI) which is a scale that determines how quickly a certain food can raise blood sugar levels. The GI of xylitol is 7, whereas other sugars can range anywhere from 25 (like fructose) to 100 (like glucose). Xylitol also contains no fructose, a common ingredient in many other sugars and sugary foods.

A moderate amount of fructose in a diet is fine, but foods with high-fructose like corn syrup are linked to increased weight gain—this can lead to other health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Xylitol is also a good low-calorie option for someone dealing with diabetes, obesity, or other weight-related health issues as one teaspoon of xylitol has 10 calories compared to 15 calories in a teaspoon of table sugar.

Dental Benefits

The benefits of xylitol to oral health were first discovered in the 1970s first in animals in Finnish research and then later in humans in a study known as the Turku Sugar Studies, which made the connection between less dental plaque and xylitol consumption.

The research found that because xylitol is a sugar alcohol, it’s not metabolized by oral bacteria and can help prevent decay and cavities.

Xylitol is now found in gums and mints as the chewing process itself is another way to reduce the incidence of tooth decay and the incidence of gum disease.

Ear Infections

The same bacteria that can build up in the mouth and cause tooth decay, leading to cavities and disease like gingivitis, can also accumulate behind the ears, causing an ear infection known as acute otitis media (AOM). AOM is the most common form of ear infection of children in United States. Xylitol is one of the preventative measures to reduce the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (S pneumoniae) and Haemophilus influenzae (H influenzae) that can travel up through the nasal cavity up and behind the ear drums, causing this infection.

While more research is needed for children who are at high risk of ear infections, those at moderate risk who are healthy and subjected to the chance of more ear infections (such as children who spend time in daycare centers and thus around more bacteria and germs from other children) may be able to use xylitol as an effective way to prevent ear infections from occurring. In fact, children who had reoccurring ear infections reduced their infection rate by 40 percent just by chewing xylitol gum, as a study published in BMJ found.

Other Diseases

In a study done with diabetic rats, those who consume xylitol produced higher amounts of glutathione, an antioxidant that helps prevents the effects of free radicals. An imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body can cause oxidative stress which can result in tissue damage and diseases including diabetes or prediabetes. While research in humans is still needed to validate the antioxidant effects of xylitol in the body, this suggests that the properties of xylitol may help prevent disease and cell damage.

Possible Side Effects

Xylitol is generally safe to consume, but if you have a sensitivity to sugar alcohols you may have digestive issues like bloating and diarrhea depending on your consumption amount.

Xylitol is very toxic for dogs because it is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, which could result in an insulin release from the pancreas, causing life-threatening hypoglycemia if left untreated.

If you think your dog has eaten food with xylitol in it and is experiencing vomiting along with decreased activity, weakness, seizures, or staggering, you need to take them to an emergency animal hospital immediately.

Dosage and Preparation

The amount of xylitol in foods is safe to consume, and adults shouldn’t exceed 50 grams a day. In children, 20 grams per day is considered safe when used for medicinal purposes. There’s been no research on xylitol during pregnancy or breastfeeding, so it’s best not to use it in supplement or tablet form (though occasionally chewing sugar-free gum with xylitol in it shouldn’t pose any immediate health risks as the dosage is extremely low in these products).

What to Look For

Most xylitol not already found in food or products like gum, mints, and toothpaste is purchased as crystallized, white powder (similar to table sugar) and can be purchased in the grocery store. Regarding xylitol tablets for medicinal purposes such as for preventing tooth decay and ear infections, talk to your doctor about which ones to buy. They can be found in most drugstores as an over-the-counter (OTC) product.

A Word From Verywell

More research is needed on the effectiveness of xylitol and products such as xylitol toothpaste. However, it’s possible that when used together with standard dental and overall health practices (such as a reduced-sugar, low-calorie diet), xylitol can be beneficial to reducing plaque buildup and preventing weight-related diseases. Before you start using xylitol regularly for daily use, consult with both your dentist and doctor first. They will be able to guide you toward the right dosage amounts for your needs and the products that are right for you.

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