11 Mar

Xylitol is a relatively new sweetener on the market that has joined the lo-calorie sweetener club.  Many are justifiably concerned with the regular consumption of chemical sweeteners and are regularly on the look-out for sweeteners that are made from natural sources.  While xylitol is made from natural sources, it has been discovered that it may not be without health risk.

The Making

Xylitol crystals as seen under a microscope

Xylitol was discovered at almost the exact same time by German and French scientists during the late 19th century and has been used throughout Europe since World War 2.  As with all good tasting things, it has been readily adopted in the U.S. and used in sweetening many different types of food products.

While xylitol can be extracted from many fruits and vegetables, the majority of xylitol used for food consumption is taken from either corn cobs or birch trees, and because corn cobs are easier and a more renewable resource this is the primary source.   Birch trees must essentially be killed because the bark must be harvested to extract xylitol and we all know that trees don’t grow in a year!

Xylitol is produced primarily through hydrogenation, being processed with steam, hydrogen and hydrochloric acid.  This leaves waste water that can be used for mushroom farming and corn cob pulp that can be used for fuel.  The processing of birch bark is similar but substitutes sulfuric acid for hydrochloric acid, rendering the waste products unusable.

How Xylitol May Impact your Health

The good:

  • Xylitol is a low-calorie sweetener called a sugar alcohol, containing about 1.5 kcal less than the equivalent amount of sugar.  It is also a low glycemic index food, meaning that it does not cause the same rises in blood sugar as sucrose.  This makes it attractive for those with diabetes.
  • It is good for your teeth
    • While there is always conflicting research, most of it shows that it helps to reduce plaque build-up and tooth decay by reducing the levels of strep mutans bacteria in dental plaque and reducing the amount of bacteria that stick to the teeth [1].
    • The caveat to this is that this benefit only lasts while the xylitol is present in the mouth, and it does not reduce the bacteria in the saliva [2].
    • To receive maximum benefit, one must use an oral product containing xylitol a minimum of 3 times per day, for a total daily dose of 5-6 grams [3].

The bad:

  • Xylitol is included in the same class of low-digestible carbohydrates as dietary fibers such as pectin and inulin, and other sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and erythritol.  While there is no immediate health risk associated with consuming these products, any consumption of low-digestible carbohydrates increases food fermentation in the gut.  This leads to abdominal discomfort, gas and bloating [4].  Those of you that have had severe episodes of digestive discomfort know that it can be quite miserable.
  • Explosion of a hydrogen balloon

    Hydrogenation is used to make xylitol.  This is the same process that is used to make hydrogenated oils (trans-fats), and requires a catalyst such as nickel, palladium or platinum.  Hydrogenation is linked to a scad of health ailments, including:

    • Coronary heart disease
    • Inflammation [5]
    • Alzheimers
    • Cancer
    • Obesity
    • Diabetes
    • Compromised liver function
    • and depression [6].
  • Nickel and palladium are all heavy metals used regularly in chemical reactions.  Both are known to be toxic and create the following symptoms:
    • Palladium
      • Bone marrow damage
      • Liver Damage
      • Kidney damage
      • Cancer
    • Nickel
      • Cancer of the respiratory tract and prostate
      • Heart disorders
      • Birth defects
      • Respiratory failure
      • Asthma and chronic bronchitis
    • Platinum is relatively non-toxic in most applications

While these risks are relatively low, in my opinion (and contrary to FDA allowances) no level of toxic metal is safe for ingestion.  There are some metals the body requires in small amounts but even those are toxic at high levels.  Another concept to consider is that each unique person has different tolerance levels for toxins, so what may be fine for your friend may not be fine for you.  Listen to your body and treat it with respect.

GMO Watch

Corn, corn, corn…I’m sure you see my mention of corn in this section of MANY blogs.  It goes to show how the role that corn-based products play in our food supply because of its crop sustainability and ease of use.

Xylitol is made from corn cobs, and it would be ignorant of me not to mention it.  If you can ingest xylitol without digestive issues and choose to keep using it, be sure to seek out non-GM sources.

Check out these blogs for GMO free xylitol-based products!





1. Nayak, Prathibha Anand, Nayak, Ullal Anand, and Khandelwal, Vishal. The Effect of Xylitol on Dental Caries and Oral Flora. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dentistry. 2014; 6: 89–94.
2. Söderling, Eva;  Hirvonen, Aino; Karjalainen, Sara; Fontana, Margherita; Catt, Diana and Seppä, Liisa.   The Effect of Xylitol on the Composition of the Oral Flora: A Pilot Study. European Journal of Dentistry. 2011 Jan; 5(1): 24–31.
3. Söderling, Eva. Controversies around Xylitol. European Journal of Dentistry, 2009 Apr; 3(2): 81–82.
4. Livesey, Geoffrey. Tolerance of low-digestible carbohydrates: a general view. British Journal of Nutrition (2001), 85, Suppl. 1, S7±S16.
5. Kummerow, FA. The negative effects of hydrogenated trans fats and what to do about them. Atherosclerosis. 2009 Aug;205(2):458-65.
6. Wikipedia.  Trans Fats, Other Health Risks.

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