Xylitol, A Processed Sugar Alcohol
Article summary. Xylitol claims to not promote cavities because it does not affect blood sugar as radically as normal sweeteners. It is not absorbed in the intestine like normal sugars are. Some studies indicate harmful effects of xylitol, others do not. Xylitol may be antibacterial, and have special uses against ear infections for example. I personally recommend against regular use of xylitol as a sweetener substitute and suggest either avoiding sweets entirely, or sticking to unprocessed alternatives like fruit.
Xylitol is not "GRAS" (Generally Recognized As Safe for consumption). Xylitol only has a "GRAS" for cosmetic products which is why it is accepted in toothpaste and chewing gum. The assumption for "safe" use of xylitol in cosmetic products is that it is not swallowed or absorbed in any way. However as you know, it will be absorbed when it goes into your mouth. Xylitol, the white powdered stuff, does not occur naturally. The "xylitol" in nature is going to be different because it doesn't exist on its own as a singular entity.
"The FDA has filed GRAS affirmation petitions for isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, HSH, and erythritol. Sorbitol is on the GRAS list, while mannitol and xylitol are listed as additives. " Reference
GRAS means "Regardless of whether the use of a substance is a food additive use or is GRAS, there must be evidence that the substance is safe under the conditions of its intended use."
Food additive means "For a food additive, privately held data and information about the use of the substance are sent by the sponsor to FDA and FDA evaluates those data and information to determine whether they establish that the substance is safe under the conditions of its use."
FDA regulation for xylitol states "Xylitol - MISC, REG, Amt used is not > that required to produce its intended effect - May be safely used in foods for special dietary uses - 172.395" Whatever that means, I don't know.
Xylitol is Toxic To Dogs
"A sugar substitute found in a variety of sugar-free and dietetic cookies, mints and chewing gum is proving highly toxic, even fatal, to snack-snatching dogs.
Xylitol, popular in Europe for decades but a relative newcomer to the U.S. alternative sweeteners market, can be "very, very serious" to dogs when ingested, says Dana Farbman, spokeswoman for the Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals." (USA Today)
What is Xylitol?
"The so-called nutritive sweeteners include a class of substances known variously as sugar alcohols, polyols, polyalcohols or polyhydric acids. These are the substances which are usually, but not always, identifiable by the suffix "-itol": sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, erythritol, lactitol, maltitol, isomalt and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH). Scientists call them sugar alcohols because part of their structure chemically resembles sugar and part is similar to alcohol, but they don’t completely fit into either category." (Sources: WAPF Foundation and About Xylitol)
Xylitol is a five-carbon sugar alcohol that is used as a sugar substitute. Xylitol is synthesized from the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, including various berries, corn husks, oats, and mushrooms. It can be extracted from corn fiber, birch, raspberries, and plums.
History of Xylitol
Xylitol was first produced from birch trees in Finland and was supposedly a better sugar for diabetics. Later it was mass produced in the United States and made from beet sugar. Now some sources of xylitol are made from corn from China.
Is Xylitol Natural?
Although several sugar alcohols are touted as naturally occurring in various foods, xylitol and other sugar alcohols are created through a manufacturing process.
Xylitol Special Uses?
As a replacement to antibiotics or more toxic therapies, xylitol is being used in cancer patients, and to prevent ear infections.
Xylitol and Tooth Cavities
The xylitol industry wants you to believe that xylitol will stop tooth cavities. Its claim is based upon how sugar alcohols are digested.
"Sugar alcohols are usually incompletely absorbed into the blood stream from the small intestines which generally results in a smaller change in blood glucose than "regular" sugar (sucrose). This property makes them popular sweeteners among diabetics and people on low-carbohydrate diets. However, as for many other incompletely digestible substances (such as dietary fiber), overconsumption of sugar alcohols can lead to bloating, diarrhea and flatulence because they are not absorbed in the small intestine." (Sugar Alcohol Wiki)
In one 2006 article in the Journal of the American Dental Association, "Xylitol-sweetened gum was noncariogenic in all of the protocols tested. Some studies claimed that xylitol-sweetened gum had an anticariogenic effect, though these claims need further study." What this means is that xylitol gum did not promote cavities, probably because of its lower alteration of blood sugar versus regular sugars. However, the anticariogenic effect needs further study, and the idea that xylitol actually inhibits cavities remains to be proven according to this author.
If you believe that bacteria cause tooth decay, then you may be led to believe that xylitol inhibits tooth decay. I believe that xylitol will thwart the growth of bacteria as advertised. But so will white sugar.
Other Sugar Alcohols have known health side effects.
"Unfortunately, ingestion of sorbitol can cause a range of gastrointestinal problems, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating. In sufficiently high doses, the substance can produce osmotic diarrhea, a property that has been exploited by clinicians to induce catharsis. Children are especially susceptible to sorbitol-related gastrointestinal problems. In fact, at least one outbreak of diarrhea among youngsters has been attributed to consumption of sorbitol-sweetened dietetic candies."
Studies about Xylitol Research and Tooth Decay
Of course, research funded by major xylitol pushing industries is going to show xylitol is safe and useful.
Indeed, many studies can be cited to support such a claim that xylitol stops cavities. But not all. The results of a recent two-year trial found no difference in cavities between those who chewed xylitol-containing gum and those who did not.
In an earlier study, researchers concluded that, “Overall, consumption of xylitol-containing snacks and candy did not reduce S. mutans levels.” (J Am Dental Assoc, 2002;133(4):435-441.)
In a long term toxicology study on rats “it was concluded that xylitol caused a significant increase in the incidence of adrenal medullary hyperplasia in male and female rats in all dose levels tested (5%, 10% and 20%).” (Russfield, A.D. (1981) Two-year feeding study of xylitol, sorbitol and sucrose in Charles River (UK) rats: Adrenal Medulla. Unpublished report.)
As for the claim that xylitol is good for diabetics, the fact that this sweetener is not completely absorbed comes at a cost: bloating, diarrhea and flatulence. And in a study performed on 18 diabetic children who consumed a dose of 30 grams of xylitol per day, researchers found “a significant elevation of the uric acid concentration.” (Förster, H., Boecker, S. and Walther, A. (1977) Verwendung von Xylitals Zuckeraustauschstoff bei diabetischen Kindern, Fortschr. Med.,95, nr. 2, 99-102.)
In general, sugars that are whole and unrefined are less harmful, or not at all harmful to the body. Natural sugars are in the forms of fruits, vegetables and other naturally sweet substances.
Most sugars are refined sugars, meaning that they have been heated excessively and purified in various ways.
The sweetener I use most often is
unheated, raw honey
Other acceptable sweeteners are unprocessed stevia (the natural herb), rapadura, or Heavenly Cane Sugar (carefully processed sugar cane) and grade b maple syrup.
Xylitol Material Safety Data Sheets
Chemical compounds of data sheets that show the testing regarding the safety of xylitol.
The data sheet for xylitol brings up some causes for concern:
"Caution! May cause eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation. Hygroscopic (absorbs moisture from the air). "
"Inhalation: May cause respiratory tract irritation. May be harmful if inhaled. Chronic: No information found."
This means that the datasheet could not locate long term inhalation studies to show that xylitol is safe to inhale.
Further, the MSDS continues:
The lethal oral dose for a rat was "Oral, rat: LD50 = 16500 mg/kg;" that is it took
16.5 grams of xylitol per 2.2 pounds of body weight to kill a rat 50% of the time in an experiment.
Xylitol, Is it Beneficial or Safe Article Appearing In Wise Tradiations, Summer 2008
Heralded as an ally in the battle against tooth decay and diabetes, xylitol is another sweetener to enter the market with a great deal of hype. Xylitol is a five-carbon sugar alcohol found in some fruits and vegetables and produced
in small amounts by the human body. Because mouth bacteria cannot ferment sugar alcohols, xylitol is said to prevent
cavities; and because the body metabolizes it primarily through the liver rather than the pancreas(1)
it is said to be good
for diabetics in limited amounts (no more than 60 grams per day).
Xylitol is less sweet than sugar and produces a noticeable cooling sensation in the mouth when highly concentrated, as in “sugar-free” candy and chewing gum. it is often added to foods sweetened with aspartame, to mask the bitter taste.
And because xylitol contains fewer calories than sugar, products containing it can carry weight loss claims.
How Xylitol is Made
Origianally made from birch bark, and hence associated with the very natural, nutritious and traditional birch syrup (similar to maple syrup), xylitol is anything but a natural product. The manufacturing process goes like this:
1. Obtain some source material containing xylan. one commonly used source is corn cobs imported from China.
2. The xylan needs to be broken down, either through a chemical process called acid hydrolyzing or through microbial fermentation. (Genetically engineereed bacteria have been proposed for this step.) The results of this process are xylose and acetic acid.
3. The acetic acid, described as “very hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation. . . hazardous in case of skin contact (corrosive, permeator), of eye contact (corrosive),” must be removed.
4. Next the hydrolyzing acid and organic residues must be removed, which is done by heating the mixture and evaporating it.
5. The resulting syrup is now free of acetic acid, hydrolyzing acid, and other residues.
6. The syrup is crystallized by stirring ethanol into it.
7. The crystalline xylitol is now separated in a centrifuge. The ethanol is separated from the sorbitol remaining in solution.
8. voilà! you have xylitol.
Xylitols Questionable Health Claims
Since xylitol is an industrial product, it pays to be dubious about the industy’s health claims for it. First among these is the claim that xylitol prevents cavities. indeed, many studies can be cited to support such a claim. But not all. The
results of a recent two-year trial found no difference in cavities between those who chewed xylitol-containing gum and
those who did not. (2) in an earlier study, researchers concluded that “overall, consumption of sylitol-containing snacks and candy did not reduce S. mutans levels.” (3) As for the claim that xylitol is good for diabetics, the fact that this sweetener is not completely absorbed comes at a cost: bloating, diarrhea and flatulence. And in a study performed on 18 diabetic children who consumed a dose of 30 grams of xylitol per day, researchers found “a significant elevation of the uric acid concentration.” (4)
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.” Fifteen grams of xylitol is about 0.5 ounces. What about doses over 15 grams?
In a long term toxicology study on rats “it was concluded that xylitol caused a significant increase in the incidence of adrenal medullary hyperplasia in male and female rats in all dose levels tested (5%, 10% and 20%).” (5)
it caused abnormal cell growth in the adrenal glands. in one higher-dose study in which mice consumed 20 percent
of their diet as xylitol, there was a significant increase in the mortality of the males as compared to those consuming
sucrose. (6) A major study in dogs found an increase in liver weight associated with xylitol use.(7)
Conclusions About Xylitol
Xylitol’s own promotional material says it is not safe for everyone to use. Since children are smaller and less developed than adults, they will obviously be much more sensitive to xylitol’s effects. There are no safety data or tests to indicate a safe dosage for children. And foods containing xylitol may also contain sweeteners that are undeniably harmful, such as aspartame.
As for claims that xylitol can prevent tooth decay, i can only say, “Buyer beware!” Such claims are based on the faulty theory that bacteria cause tooth decay. We know from the work of Weston Price that tooth decay is a problem of nutrient deficiencies--the bacteria are just there cleaning up dead tissue.
Finally, and most importantly, this industrial product is just not necessary. Nature has provided us with many
wholesome sweeteners that can be used in moderation without adverse effects in the context of a diet of nutrient-dense traditional foods.
Xylitol Article Footnotes
1. 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.
2. Int J Paediatr Dent. 2008 May;18(3):170-7.
3. J Am Dental Assoc, 2002;133(4):435-441.
4. Förster, h., Boecker, S. and Walther, A. (1977) verwendung von Xylitals Zuckeraustauschstoff bei diabetischen kindern, Fortschr. Med.,95, nr.
5. Russfield, A.D. (1981) Two-year feeding study of xylitol, sorbitol and sucrose in Charles River (Uk) rats: Adrenal Medulla. Unpublished report.
6. World health organization, Summary of Toxilogical 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/
7. heywood, R. et al. (1981) Revised report: Xylitol toxicity study in the beagle dog (Report of huntingdon Research Centre)
Attention Xylitol Industry & Consumers
A Canada company threatened me with a lawsuit due to this article on this website. In response I offer the following: In my opinion filing a lawsuit against a father who is reporting about concerns of processed supplements in people's diets to suppress science getting out to the public is going to backfire, and make the industry look very bad. Because people will wonder, if Xylitol is so good, why do they need to file lawsuits against people who question it? I already have a full legal team ready to defend my case, as well as connections to a variety of researchers who are calling into question the regular consumption of sugar alcohols. If there is anything you find inaccurate on this website please write and I will fix it. California law has specific protection against lawsuits meant to silence opinions that are important to public health. Awards against frivolous lawsuits are in the millions, and there can be jail times as well. "A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation ("SLAPP") is a lawsuit or a threat of lawsuit that is intended to intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Winning the lawsuit is not necessarily the intent of the person filing the SLAPP. The plaintiff's goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate.
According to New York Supreme Court Judge J. Nicholas Colabella, "Short of a gun to the head, a greater threat to First Amendment expression can scarcely be imagined." A number of jurisdictions have made such suits illegal, provided that the appropriate standards of journalistic responsibility have been met by the critic."
In the past, juries in some SLAPPback suits have ordered SLAPP filers to pay large sums of monetary and punitive damages to the original SLAPP target. For instance, in Leonardini v. Shell Oil Co. the California Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a jury award of $5,197,000 to a consumer advocate and union attorney who had been SLAPPed by an oil company for reporting to a state health agency that there were cancer-causing substances in a product of the oil company used in home plumbing. (1989, 216 Cal.App.3d 547, 264 Cal.Rptr. 883.)
In Wegis v. J. G. Boswell Company the California Fifth District Court of Appeal upheld an award of $11,100,000 to three family farmers who had been SLAPPed by a large corporate farmer for their publication of newspaper ads attacking the corporate farmer for its opposition to a water project ballot measure. (June 14, 1991, No. F011230, unpublished opinion.)
In Tanner v. DeCom Medical Waste Systems a St. Louis jury in 1989 awarded $86,500,000 to a hospital worker who had been SLAPPed for writing to a newspaper reporter criticizing a company for seeking a permit for a medical waste incineration plant. (See George Pring and Penelope Canan, Getting Sued for Speaking Out, pp. 124, 179.)
And in Humana Inc. v. Hemmeter a Clark County (Nevada) district court awarded $9,800,000 to a doctor who had been SLAPPed by a large hospital chain for his advocacy of cost containment legislation before state legislative bodies and agencies. (Dec. 18, 1991, No. A274231.)
Other people have learned the secrets to stopping cavities with the published book Cure Tooth Decay