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Veterinarian Reviewed on June 15, 2012 by Paulina Nelega, RH
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Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance that is commonly used as a sugar substitute. It is actually a type of an alcohol that is found in plants, especially in fruits and vegetables. Xylitol can also be called Birch Sugar, E967, Xilitol, Xylite and also Xylo-pentane.

Xylitol is extracted from the Birch tree and is widely used as sugar substitute. It can also be extracted from corn fiber, berries, oats and also from various types of mushrooms.

History and Origin

Xylitol comes from the Greek word ‘xylon’ which means ‘wood’ plus the suffix ‘–itol’ which means that it is a sugar alcohol. It was initially discovered by German and French chemists in the 19th century. It became popular in Europe as an artificial sweetener as it is known to be safe for diabetics. It was also seen as significant in the proper care of teeth in Finland during the 1970s where Xylitol was well noted for its healthy dental benefits.

Ancient Uses

There were no known uses of Xylitol during the ancient times. Plants were used mainly for food, as well as for a variety of medicinal benefits. It was only in the 19th century, however, when Xylitol was first discovered when it became popular for its medicinal purposes as well as for its applications in the manufacturing industry.

Modern Uses

Xylitol is effective as an artificial sweetener since it is safe and has no direct effect on blood sugar levels. Xylitol is as safe to the teeth as it is sweet. It does not cause dental caries and can even protect the teeth from cavities. It is an ingredient that is commonly found in chewing gum, toothpaste and in dental preparations that aims to prevent cavities and preserve oral health. It can also fight gum disease and also treat bad breath. It also inhibits bacterial growth and development that can cause upper respiratory infections. There are even Xylitol nose sprays that are available in market for this purpose.

Xylitol may also benefit people suffering from metabolic problems that are evidenced by hypertension, increased cholesterol levels and also appearance of blood clots.

Xylitol is also effective in the treatment of osteoporosis and is seen to prevent bone weakening and improving bone density.
Infections of the ear and upper respiratory tract can also be treated with Xylitol. It prevents bacterial growth that causes these infections. Oral yeast infections may also be treated with Xylitol.

Side Effects

Different literature and researches have different points of view regarding the safety of Xylitol in pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. It is therefore best to stay on the safe side and avoid use while pregnant. There is little research regarding the safety of Xylitol to very young children as well.

If you want to use Xylitol for the treatment and prevention of illnesses and infections, it is best to consult a doctor regarding the appropriate dose and any adverse reaction to any medication you may be using.

Xylitol can cause mild diarrhea and gas formation so it is therefore necessary to discontinue use if these symptoms are present. It is considered as being safe for children to use up to 20grams of Xylitol in a day, but do not overuse this amount.

Read also: Scarlet Fever

Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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