We continue on our journey of looking at different sweeteners today. Xylitol is on the menu today and so lets take a look at this substance and see what we discover. Xylitol is becoming popular in many foods and snacks. It’s a sweetener that is about as sweet as sucrose. It is found in nature but produced commercially chemically. On a personal note I think xylitol has what I can only describe as a “cooling” taste in my mouth, but that’s just me. So what else can we learn about xylitol. Study time!
Insulin and GI
In dogs after administration of xylitol and insulin response was seen. 1,2,3 Insulin did raise more with xylitol than with glucose. It is important to remember two big things from these studies; first is that these are dogs, second is these were infusions of xylitol rather than being ingested. Would ingested xylitol cause a greater response than glucose? I don’t know but it does appear to raise insulin.
After administration of xylitol, researchers measured a significant increase of insulin in the portal veins in man. 4
In another study 5 subjects were given 30gm glucose and 30mg xylitol (months apart) and their insulin responses as well as GIP and motilin. GIP (glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide) is a hormone that increases insulin secretion. This action is greater when glucose is ingested rather than infused. Motilin does a number of things including stimulation of the motility of the gut. So in this study a solution of xylitol or glucose was given and they measured these factors. Insulin rose in both solutions but more so in glucose. In fact it was a very small increase with xylitol. GIP was not affected by xylitol but was by glucose. Glucose increased motilin and caused faster stomach emptying than xylitol. So what did the xylitol do you ask? Cause diarrhea. Yup it gave 3 of the 5 subjects the runs. The researchers attributed this to an osmotic difference. This is consistent with many reports that xylitol causes Montezuma’s revenge. The good part though is that it only happened that one time and after bowel evacuation the 3 volunteers had no more problems. 5 Very similar effects were seen in both men and rat subjects. 6
Another effect of xylitol, as mentioned above is that it can slow gastric emptying. This may be helpful to help a person feel full longer. A study looking at this gave subjects 25gm xylitol in solution at 10 AM. Others were given other sweet solutions such as fructose and sucrose. At 11 they were given a meal of eggs. The xylitol group maintained the food in their stomach for roughly 30min longer than the others groups. In another part of the study the same preloads were given and 1 hour later the subjects were allowed to eat at an “attractive buffet” (according to the researchers). Calorie intake was measured and the group that had 25gm preload of xylitol ate significantly less calories (690 +/- 45 with 25g xylitol vs 920 +/- 60 with water). 7
It think it’s important to keep this in context. These people were consuming 60 kcal before a meal to consume on average 230 kcal less. Now this would be a net reduction for the people in this study of 170kcal/meal. Not bad but the potential for diarrhea I’m sure would increase with that kind of dose if taken regularly.
So it appears that xylitol does have a very small impact on insulin and definitely the potential for an impact on your porcelain throne. It may also help you eat less when consumed about an hour before meals. What else can xylitol do?
Xylitol is touted as having beneficial properties on dental health, most especially with caries (cavities). One reviewer of articles believes this is due to increased saliva production from xylitol gum and candies rather than preventing bacteria from being able to metabolize the xylitol. 8 Saliva has chemicals that are responsible for tooth remineralization and health. Elderly folks who have chronic dry mouth are at increased risk of having caries. Some believe that streptococcus mutans (the bug responsible for laying down plaques and excreting acid) are responsible for caries and xylitol has been shown to stop this bug from doing it’s nasty deeds. 9,10 It’s possible that xylitol doesn’t interfere with the internal nutrient system in the individual teeth like sucrose does, but that is the topic of an entire article.
An entire article looking at data has concluded that xylitol chewing gum is beneficial in preventing dental caries. 11 It should be noted it has to be done 3-5 times per day after meals and for at least 5 minutes. Chewing on one piece for 2 hours once a day might not do a thing. Another study done over 40 months in Belize showed that children who chewed xylitol gum had a significant reduction in caries over those who had xylitol-sorbitol combo and most definitely over sugar base gums. 12
Xylitol isn’t calorie free like some people may think. While sugar has close to 4kcal/gram, xylitol has 2.4kcal/gram. So if you’re using xylitol in cooking be aware that while you aren’t putting as many calories in that dish as sugar, you’re still putting calories into the food. So really you can only say that it is a lower calorie alternative to sugar, not a no calorie option.
There are actually nose sprays that one can use to help treat sinus problem and maybe even help resolve sinus and ear infections. Xlear is one company that makes such products. Because the xylitol helps disrupt bacterial plaques it is thought that they can help balance in the nose and ear. I’ve never tried them but if you have and had success I’d love to hear about it.
Some people have had problems with the gut after ingesting xylitol. As mentioned above xylitol can cause diarrhea and maybe fermentation can arise because it arrives to the colon pretty much untouched. There are no large trials that I know of showing adverse effects. Lack of evidence isn’t an indictment but for me xylitol goes into my book as once in a while probably ok but not regularly. This is a natural substance but you don’t get a lot of it naturally and there’s probably a reason for that. Sugar is also natural but really you don’t get a ton of it in nature all in one spot, at least in most areas. We humans condense it down and create abundance. If you are having ill effects but think you’re doing good for say your teeth, then you should reconsider using it. It’s never good to sacrifice one organ system for the other. Try to treat the whole system. Also, xylitol is toxic to your dog. Do not give xylitol to your dog!
If anyone has had any experience with xylitol please share down below. I love hearing anecdotal stories about how they affect different people.
1.Kuzuya, Takeshi, Yasunori Kanazawa, and Kinori Kosaka. “Stimulation of insulin secretion by xylitol in dogs.” Endocrinology 84.2 (1969): 200-207.
2.Kuzuya, Takeshi, Yasunori Kanazawa, and Kinori Kosaka. “Plasma insulin response to intravenously administered xylitol in dogs.” Metabolism 15.12 (1966): 1149-1152.
3.Hirata, Yukimasa, et al. “Blood glucose and plasma insulin responses to xylitol administrated intravenously in dogs.” Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 24.3 (1966): 471-475.
4.Berger, W., et al. “Insulin concentrations in portal venous and peripheral venous blood in man following administration of glucose, galactose, xylitol and tolbutamide.” Hormone and Metabolic Research 5.01 (1973): 4-8.
5.Salminen, Eeva K., et al. “Xylitol vs glucose: effect on the rate of gastric emptying and motilin, insulin, and gastric inhibitory polypeptide release.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 49.6 (1989): 1228-1232.
6.Salminen, Eeva K., et al. “Xylitol vs glucose: effect on the rate of gastric emptying and motilin, insulin, and gastric inhibitory polypeptide release.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 49.6 (1989): 1228-1232.
7.Shafer, Rex B., et al. “Effects of xylitol on gastric emptying and food intake.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 45.4 (1987): 744-747.
8.Alanen, Pentti. “Does chewing explain the caries-preventive results with xylitol?.” Journal of dental research 80.7 (2001): 1600-1601.
9.Beckers HJ. Influence of xylitol on growth, establishment, and cariogenicity of Streptococcus mutans in dental plaque of rats. CariesRes 1988;22(3):166-73.
10. Grenby TH, Phillips A, Mistry M. Studies of the dental properties of lactitol compared with five other bulk sweeteners in vitro. Caries Res 1989;23:315-9.
11.Burt, Brian A. “The use of sorbitol-and xylitol-sweetened chewing gum in caries control.” J Am Dent Assoc 137.2 (2006): 190-6.
12.Makinen, K. K., et al. “Xylitol chewing gums and caries rates: a 40-month cohort study.” Journal of Dental Research 74.12 (1995): 1904-1913.