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Xylitol: Our Sweet Salvation

Lynne Brown
BSc Hons, HDE, Dip Clin Nutr

Sugar really deserves its reputation as a “white poison” as it acts like an addictive drug that lures even the most well-intentioned person back into its sweet clutches. The good news is that our sugar cravings need not hold us hostage: there really is a way to lick the sugar habit successfully.

Xylitol to the rescue!

Originally discovered by a German chemist in 1891, xylitol was rediscovered by Finnish scientists during World War II when Finland suffered an acute sugar shortage. Since the 1960s xylitol has been used extensively in countries such as Germany, Switzerland, the Soviet Union, Italy and Japan as a preferred sweetener in diabetic diets but remained relatively unknown in the USA, Australia and South Africa where cheap supplies of cane sugar ruled out the more expensive xylitol.

What is Xylitol?

Xylitol is a natural substance found in fibrous vegetables and fruit, as well as corn cobs and various hardwood trees like birch. Although it looks, feels and tastes exactly like sugar and leaves no unpleasant aftertaste, that is where the similarities end. While sugar wreaks havoc on the body, xylitol heals and repairs. Xylitol is a five-carbon sugar, which means its an antimicrobial, preventing the growth of bacteria. All other forms of sugar are six-carbon sugars which feed bad bacteria and fungi.


Researchers have long known about xylitol’s insulin-independent nature. This means it metabolizes in the body without using insulin. Xylitol is very slowly metabolized and on the glycemic index, which measures how quickly foods enter the blood stream, sugar is rated at 100 and xylitol at just 7.  Xylitol is a natural insulin stabilizer and causes none of the abrupt rises and falls that occur with sugar, making it a perfect sweetener for people with diabetes and those wanting to lose weight. An added bonus is that xylitol has 40% fewer calories and 75% fewer carbohydrates than sugar.

Oral health

Xylitol is a dentist’s dream (or maybe not?)  as it reverses all the destructive effects of sugar on oral health. Refined sugar is a food source for bacteria that quickly multiply and create a highly acidic condition in the mouth. Acidity strips tooth enamel of minerals, leaving teeth vulnerable to attacks by bacteria and the start of cavity formation. Because xylitol does not ferment, it is not a food source for these acid-producing bacteria and a healthy acid/alkaline balance is restored in the mouth creating an environment which is inhospitable to all the destructive bacteria, especially the worst variety, streptococcus mutans. The bacteria count is reduced and cavity formation halted. By increasing the flow of our naturally alkaline saliva, xylitol has even been shown to assist in the re-mineralization of tooth enamel and to treat small decay spots. One study showed that chewing gum containing xylitol reduced caries in Finnish teenagers by 30-60%.

So after brushing and flossing at night, your teeth can benefit if you go to bed with a teaspoonful of xylitol in your mouth. (Bet you’ve never been advised to do this with sugar!)  In other words, with xylitol, you can have your sweet tooth and treat it too!

Ears and noses

One of xylitol’s versatile benefits is its ability to inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause middle-ear infections in young children. Xylitol-flavoured chewing gum was found to reduce the incidence of middle-ear infections by 40%, significantly decreasing the need for antibiotics. A study done by Dr Lon Jones, a physician in Texas, revealed that as a nasal spray, xylitol blocks the ability of  harmful bacteria to stick to the cells lining the back of the nose and sinuses and he reported that use of a xylitol nasal spray in his practice prevented 93% of ear infections and resulted in comparable reductions in sinus infections, allergies and asthma.


Another exciting benefit from xylitol is its possible role in reversing bone loss. Although the successful studies were done on rats, the Finnish researchers made bold recommendations for human application of their studies, suggesting an effective human dose would be about 40 grams daily. They speculated that xylitol’s bone density enhancing properties are due to its ability to promote intestinal absorption of calcium.

Other benefits

Xylitol has been shown to be effective in inhibiting Candida Albicans, a serious systemic yeast problem, and other harmful gut bacteria such as Helicobacter Pylori, implicated in periodontal diseases, bad breath, gastric and duodenal ulcers and even stomach cancer.


From being relatively unknown a couple of years ago, demand for xylitol has increased alarmingly worldwide as people learn of its many health benefits and this unfortunately means that supplies of good quality xylitol are running low. Fortunately at The Orchards Nutrition Centre you are still able to find a good a-grade quality of xylitol.
Xylitol is not only a safe, natural sweetener without the bad side-effects of sugar and artificial substitutes, it’s also a great aid on the way to good health and long life!

Disclaimer: All information here is for educational purposes only and is not meant to cure, heal, diagnose nor treat. This information must not be used as a replacement for medical advice, nor can the writer take any responsibility for anyone using the information instead of consulting a healthcare professional.  All serious disease needs a physician.

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