It is a five carbon sugar alcohol that occurs freely in certain plant parts and in normal human metabolism. First discovered in 1890s and synthesized in a pure form in the 1930s. Xylitol is a naturally occurring carbohydrate that looks and tastes similar to regular table sugar.
Xylitol is found naturally in our bodies. An average size adult manufactures up to 15 grams of xylitol daily during normal metabolism.
- As a sweetener –offers sweetness without compounding the risks of heart disease, strokes and type 2 diabetes.
- As a kJ reducing agent - It has about 40% less kJ than sugar beacuse about 40% of the Xylitol is not absorbed by the gut.
- It has a low glycemic index and can be an alternative for people with diabetes, pre-diabetes, obesity or other metabolic problems.
- Can reduce dental caries by 27-75%
- Xylitol in chewing gum or ingested as a sweetener can assist in fighting bacterial infections in the mouth that cause gingivitis.
- Because of its antimicrobial action in the mouth, it can assist in the healing of ear infections in children often caused by the bacteria found in the mouth as the ears, nose mouth and throat are all connected.
- Can be viewed as food for good gut flora.
In human guts
Sugar alcohols like xylitol are not broken down in the stomach. They arrive intact into the intestines. There â€œpassive diffusionâ€ takes place whereby the xylitol draws water into the bowels. This results in only partial breakdown of the xylitol. Approximately 25-33% stays in the GI tract where it is metabolized by gut flora and broken down into SCFA (short chain fatty acids) which are vital to proper gut cell metabolism. If a significant amount of Xylitol is consumed all at once, only about 1/3 will be absorbed. Significant ingestion may cause transient soft stools (osmotic diarrhoea). A personâ€™s gut may become adapted and Xylitol then tolerated without causing diarrhoea.
In the mouth -
One of the leading risk factors for tooth decay is a type of oral bacteria called Streptococcus mutans. This is the bacteria mostly responsible for plaque. Although having some plaque on the teeth is normal, when it goes out of hand the immune system starts attacking the bacteria on the gum. This can lead to inflammatory gum diseases likegingivitis. Oral bacteria utilize 6-carbon sugars for energy and are unable to utilize 5-carbon sugars like Xylitol. This leads to a major anti-cariogenic and cariostatic properties of Xylitol, it simply does not support the growth of the bacteria that cause dental decay. Replacing sugar with xylitol therefore reduces the available fuel for the harmful bacteria. Even though the bad bacteria cannot use xylitol for fuel, they still ingest it. When the bacteria are full of xylitol, they are unable to take up glucose, so essentially their energy producing pathway is â€œcloggedâ€ and they end up dying. In other words, when you chew gum with xylitol (or use it as a sweetener), the sugar metabolism in the bacteria is blocked and they literally starve to death
Ear Infections in Children -
Because the mouth, ears and nose are all interconnected, bacteria that live in the mouth can end up causingear infections, a common problem in children. It turns out that xylitol can starve some of these bacteria, in the same way as it starves the plaque producing bacteria in the mouth. In one study in children with recurring ear infections, daily usage of xylitol-sweetened chewing gum reduced the rate of infection by 40%
When used to prevent tooth decay dosages vary between 1-20 grams per day (preferably 6-12 grams) spread throughout the day.
Xylitol is safe in the amounts found in foods. It seems safe as a medicine for most adults in amounts up to about 50 grams (10 teaspoons)/day. FDA has granted xylitol GRAS status( Generally Recognised as Safe)
It is generally well tolerated, but some people do get digestive side effects when they consume too much for them. The sugar alcohols can pull water into the intestine or get fermented by gut bacteria. This can lead to gas, bloating, soft stools and diarrhea. Increasing dosages slowly might reduce these negative effects.
Animals and Xylitol
In humans, xylitol is absorbed slowly and has no measurable effect on insulin production. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about dogs. When dogs eat xylitol, their bodies mistakenly think that theyâ€™ve ingested glucose and start producing large amounts of insulin. When this happen, the dogâ€™s cells start taking up glucose from the bloodstream. This can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) and be fatal .
Xylitol may also have detrimental effects on liver function in dogs, with high doses causing liver failure Keep in mind that it only takes about 0.1 g/kg for a dog to be affected, so a 3 kg (6-7 lbs) Chihuahua will get sick from eating only 0.3 grams of xylitol. This is less than the amount contained in a single piece of chewing gum.
So if you own a dog, then keep xylitol out of reach (or out of your house altogether). If you believe your dog accidentally ate xylitol, take it to the vet immediately.
Some studies have shown that a 100 gram rat can be killed by approximately 1.65 grams of xylitol about half the time. Two little pieces of xylitol gum contain about .7 â€“ 1 gram of xylitol â€“ enough to probably kill your childâ€™s pet rat.
Toxicity in wild birds
A veterinarian examined the bodies of 30Cape sugarbirdsthat had died within 30 minutes of drinking a solution made with xylitol, from a feeder in a garden inHermanus,South Africa.
In conclusion, Xylitol can be highly toxic to dogs, leading to hypoglycemia and/or liver failure. And can be toxic, even fatal to pet rats and wild birds who enjoy a sugary drink.