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What Does Xylitol Do

Xylitol is a low-calorie sugar substitute with a low glycemic index. Some studies have shown that it may also improve dental health, prevent ear infections and have antioxidant properties.

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, a carbohydrate that does not actually contain alcohol. Xylitol is found naturally in small amounts in fibrous fruits and vegetables, trees, corn cobs and even in the human body.

Manufacturers use xylitol as a sugar substitute because it is comparable in sweetness to table sugar, but has fewer calories.

Xylitol is a common ingredient in many products, from sugar-free chewing gum to toothpaste. People also use xylitol as a tabletop sweetener and in baking.

In this article, we look at the uses and potential health benefits of xylitol. We also describe its side effects, drug interactions, dosing and alternatives.


Uses

Xylitol is similar in sweetness to sugar, but with a fraction of the calories. It is a popular ingredient in a variety of products, including sugar-free chewing gum and toothpaste.


Manufacturers add xylitol to a range of foods, including


Sugar-free candy, such as gum, mints and fudge

Jams and jellies

Honey

Nut butters, including peanut butter

Yogurt

Xylitol is also an ingredient in some dental care products, including

Toothpaste

Mouthwash

Other fluoride products


What Does Xylitol Do

Xylitol has several potential health benefits, including


Low Glycemic Index

Xylitol has a low glycemic index (GI). This means that its consumption does not cause elevated blood sugar or insulin levels in the body. For this reason, xylitol is a good sugar substitute for people with diabetes.


Because of its low GI, xylitol is also a diet-friendly sugar substitute.


In addition, a 2015 study showed that xylitol had a significant hypoglycemic effect in rats on a high-fat diet.


Dental Health

Xylitol is an ingredient in many dental hygiene products, including toothpaste and mouthwash. This is because xylitol is non-fermentable, which means that bacteria in the mouth cannot convert it into the harmful acids that cause tooth decay.


The oral bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes is primarily responsible for the formation of plaque, a sticky white substance that can accumulate on the outside of a person's teeth.


Plaque binds lactic acid to the surface of the teeth. This acid breaks down tooth enamel and causes tooth decay.


While it is normal for people to have some plaque on their teeth, too much can lead to tooth decay, cavities and gum disease.


Ear infections

The bacteria that cause dental plaque can also build up behind the eardrum and lead to middle ear infections. Doctors refer to these infections as acute otitis media (AOM).


A 2016 systematic evaluation found moderate-quality evidence that xylitol-containing gum, lozenges or syrups can reduce the incidence of AOM from 30% to 22% in healthy children.

However, a 2014 study found that xylitol syrups were not effective in reducing AOM in children at high risk of infection.

These conflicting results suggest that more research is needed on the use of xylitol as a preventive treatment for ear infections in children.


Antioxidant properties

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health credible sources of free radicals cause oxidative stress, which leads to cellular damage and may play a role in the development of a variety of diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Laboratory studies have shown that antioxidants can neutralize free radicals and fight oxidative stress.


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