We hear a lot about Xylitol these days. What is it? It’s a sugar alcohol made from birch bark, fibrous vegetables and fruit. It was approved by the FDA in 1963, who claim it has “no known toxic levels”. Despite this assertion, people continually report diarrhea or cramping when they first start using it, especially if they eat a lot of it. This is why Xylitol manufacturers recommend that you start with small amounts to let your body adjust to the stuff. One of the things you should know is that Xylitol is deadly to animals, both dogs and cats, even in minute quantities. So keep all of the candies, gums and table scraps—anything with Xylitol in it—as far away from them as possible. (This includes the garbage, since dogs, who are foragers, often get in to waste buckets.)
Xylitol was first manufactured in 1891 by a German chemist. It is an intermediate substance which occurs in the glucose metabolism of animals, as well as in the metabolism of a number of plants and microorganisms. Our bodies even produce small quantities—up to 15 grams a day—during normal metabolism. Xylitol has been highly promoted since there is no blood sugar spike when you eat it. It metabolizes without upsetting insulin balance.
DUBIOUS HEALTH CLAIMS
There are many. First, there’s a claim that Xylitol prevents cavities. Many studies support this claim, but not all of them. In fact, recent two-year research shows that there is absolutely no difference in the dental caries between those who chewed Xylitol-containing gum and those who did not. As for the claim that Xylitol is good stuff for diabetics: The reality is that Xylitol is not completely absorbed, and comes at a cost. Flatulence, diarrhea and bloating are common. In one study involving diabetic children who took only 30 grams of Xylitol each day, researchers discovered there was a worrying elevation of uric acid concentration in their bodies. Also, since 80% of Xylitol is metabolized by the liver, there appears to be a danger to liver function—very close to the same problem that eating or drinking fructose can cause.
THE P.R. TALE
The official website for Xylitol—xylitol.org—states “In the amounts needed to prevent tooth decay (less than 15 grams per day), Xylitol is safe for everyone.” 15 grams of Xylitol is less than half an ounce, but what about doses over 15 grams? In animal studies, researchers found that Xylitol causes abnormal cell growth in the adrenal glands—this is known as adrenal medullary hyperplasia—which resulted in a high rate of mortality, particularly in the male animals.
Even Xylitol’s own promotional material states that the product is not safe for everyone. Because children are smaller and less developed than we are, they are much more sensitive to any of Xylitol’s negative effects. Meanwhile, it’s important that you know that there is no safety data or tests to indicate a safe dosage for children. Something else you should know: Often, foods that contain Xylitol also contain other artificial sweeteners that are proven to be extremely harmful, such as aspartame.
By the way, the notion that Xylitol prevents tooth decay is based on a widespread but faulty theory that bacteria alone cause tooth decay. Anyone who is familiar with the work of the remarkable dentist Weston Price knows that tooth decay is the result of nutritional deficiencies. The little beasties in the the mouth are there primarily to clean up the necrotic tissue which has been caused by poor diet.
THE BEST SWEETENER
Last, and by no means least, remember that nature has given us many wonderful wholesome sweeteners which can be used in moderation without any adverse effects. The best sweetener of all is natural stevia—available from iHerb.com. Here are the two best stevias I have found anywhere. The first is great for baking, porridge, and sprinkling. The second is ideal to sweeten tea, coffee, sparkling water, and anything that requires a liquid form. It is also absolutely delicious.
All Natural, Zero Calories, Dietary Supplement. SweetLeaf liquid stevia with all natural flavors is convenient and easy to use. As a supplement, add nutritious stevia to water, tea, coffee, milk, sparkling water, protein shakes, plain yogurt or anything else you can imagine..
SOME LINKS TO XYLITOL RESEARCH:
Dehmel KH and others. Absorption of xylitol. Int. Symp on metabolism, physiololgy and clinical use of pentoses and pentitols. Hakone, Japan, 1967, 177-181, Ed. Horecker.
Int J Paediatr Dent. 2008 May;18(3):170-7.
J Am Dental Assoc, 2002;133(4):435-441.
Note about Förster, H., Boecker, S. and Walther, A. (1977) Verwendung von Xylitals Zuckeraustauschstoff bei diabetischen Kindern, Fortschr. Med.,95, nr. 2, 99-102.
Russfield, A.D. (1981) Two-year feeding study of xylitol, sorbitol and sucrose in Charles River (UK) rats: Adrenal Medulla. Unpublished report.
World Health Organization, Summary Of Toxicological Data Of Certain Food Additives and Contaminants, WHO Food Additives Series NO. 13 Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives* Rome, 3-12 April 1978 accessed at: http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v13je11.htm.
Heywood, R. et al. (1981) Revised report: Xylitol toxicity study in the beagle dog (Report of Huntingdon Research Centre).