Xylitol is a type of sweetener obtained from various fruits and vegetables. Chemically speaking, it is an alcohol and can be found in dietary supplements, chewing gum, oral hygiene products, and processed food.
It is curious to note that the human body synthesizes 4 teaspoons (15 grams) of xylitol a day. The substance is considered a healthy substitute to ordinary sugar, compared to which it contains 75% less carbohydrates and 40% less calories. Furthermore, it is claimed not to have any carcinogenic properties.
With all these qualities, it is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as for infants and children. Bodybuilders, people suffering from diabetes and those on a diet, favor xylitol over sugar for its inability to be easily transformed intofat. Xylitol has also found its use in dental care products, due to the fact that mouth bacteria cannot convert it into acid. As long as alkaline-acid balance is kept inside the mouth, cavities are less likely to appear.
In addition, xylitol is used to treat ear infections, since it can stop the development of the bacteria causing these conditions. Small amounts of xylitol help tooth enamel absorb minerals more effectively. It also prevents bad breath by eliminating H.pylori bacteria, responsible for gastric ulcers and stomach cancer as well. Xylitol stimulates the activity of white blood cells against bacteria and fights Candida albicans, an agent leading to yeast infections. The passing of Streptococcus mutans to infants is reduced by 80% in cases of breastfeeding women taking xylitol on regular basis.
Xylitol has been approved as non-toxic food additive by the FDA, but very large doses are known to cause side effects. As xylitol is an alcohol, it can cause stomach upset and diarrhea in case it is not digested. Due to its laxative qualities, diarrhea and gas are another outcome of large dose intake. Large amounts of xylitol can cause the levels of blood sugar to drop resulting in hypoglycemia. Excessive doses may lead to the rise of uric acid in the blood, which in turn leads to the formation of kidney stones. Increased levels of blood acidity are also a possible side effect. Allergic reactions in the form of wheezing, hives, skin rash and itching, heavy breathing and swollen mouth are extremely rare side effects of xylitol use, and can occur only if xylitol was purified belowstandard.
Small amounts of xylitol found in chewing gum and sweets do not cause any side effects. If using xylitol orally (in form of lozenges, syrup or chewing gum) to prevent ear infections in pre-school children, daily doses should not exceed 8 to 10 grams. 7 to 20 grams of xylitol a day is enough to prevent cavities in children and adults.