Have you ever wished for a miracle product that cures everything? Xylitol just might be as close as we have come to that “magic bullet”… It doesn’t really cure everything, but this natural sugar alcohol is a truly amazing health discovery with a multitude of benefits!
Where does Xylitol come from?
Xylitol isn’t new. The product was first discovered by a German chemist in the late 19th century, and was popularized in Europe as a safe sweetener for people with diabetes that would not impact insulin levels. During World War II, when Europe was experiencing an acute sugar shortage, Finnish scientists searched for an alternative – and re-discovered Xylitol, the low-calorie sugar alcohol found in fibrous vegetables, fruit, berries, corn cobs and various hardwood trees like birch. The name, in fact is derived from a Latin word meaning “wood sugar”. This natural substance is produced by certain microorganisms; and it even forms in the human body as a result of normal glucose metabolism. We actually make up to 15 grams daily!
Sugar alcohols like Xylitol are commonly used in sugarless products; you will recognize them by names such as such as mannitol and sorbitol. Equal in sweetness and volume to sugar, Xylitol has 40 per cent fewer calories and 75 per cent fewer carbohydrates and the granular form of can be used in many of the ways that sugar is used, including to sweeten cereals and hot beverages and for baking.
The Many Health Benefits of Xylitol
Among the greatest benefits of Xylitol is that it prevents tooth decay by inhibiting the growth of the bacteria that cause cavities. These bacteria (Streptococcus mutans) use sugar to grow and reproduce generating acid as a by-product, which causes the tooth enamel to break down and a cavity to form. Streptococcus mutans cannot use Xylitol the same way so over time, the type of bacteria in the mouth changes- fewer and fewer decay-causing bacteria survive on tooth surfaces, so less plaque forms and the amount tooth-dissolving acid is decreased.
Studies show that Streptococcus mutans is passed from parents (usually mothers) to their newborn children. Regular use of Xylitol by expectant and new mothers has been demonstrated to reduce this bacterial transmission by up to 80% during the first two years of life, resulting in fewer cavities for the child.
Xylitol has been evaluated and recommended by the American Dental Association for the prevention of tooth decay, but studies have demonstrated that it has some other potentially promising medical benefits which deserve further exploration. Xylitol can:
- Prevent ear infections (Xylitol chewing gum)
- Prevent upper respiratory infections or “colds” (Xylitol nasal spray)
- Helps with glycemic (blood sugar) control in diabetics
- Increase the activity the white blood cells involved in fighting bacteria (neutrophils).
- Help control oral infections of Candida yeast
- Help prevent periodontal disease, gastric and duodenal ulcers.
- Improve bone density and show potential as a treatment for osteoporosis.
The effectiveness of Xylitol is depends on using an optimal dose each day – about 5 grams, or the amount found in gum or mints used 3-5 times daily, is usually adequate. The frequency and duration of exposure is important, so chew Xylitol gum for approximately 5 minutes and mints should be allowed to dissolve. Xylitol was approved for safety the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1963 and has no known toxic levels for humans, although it can be rapidly fatal if accidently ingested by dogs (who frequently have a bit of a sweet tooth!). Large amounts of Xylitol can have a laxative effect, however the dose suggested for cavity prevention is much lower than what typically produces this unwelcome side effect. Most people build a tolerance to the product when used over time in recommended doses, and eventually the laxative effect decreases or disappears entirely.
Xylitol is found most often in chewing gum and mints, but toothpaste and mouth rinses are also available. Health food stores and several internet companies offer are often a good resource for Xylitol products, including bulk packaged. Generally, for the amount of Xylitol to be at decay-preventing levels it must be listed as one of the first three ingredients on the product label.
People at moderate to high risk for tooth decay are most likely to benefit from using Xylitol, especially if it is used as part of an overall strategy that includes a healthy diet and good oral care at home. Ask your doctor, dentist or dental hygienist how using Xylitol may be of benefit to you or your family- you may find that it is the “magic bullet” you have been searching for!