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What is xylitol? A sugar alcohol that kills bacteria

Maybe you've heard of it, maybe you haven't: but what is xylitol exactly? Well, it sure sounds chemical, but it is in fact all natural. Also called "wood sugar", xylitol is a sugar alcohol that was first found in the fibres of the bark of birch trees in Finland, but is also present in various types of berries and mushrooms. There's even traces of it in the human metabolism. 


Xylitol has the same level of sweetness as table sugar, but contains 40% less calories and is generally recommended to diabetics because it is absorbed by the blood slowly.

Xylitol is best known for its use in dental products, such as chewing gum and breath mints, toothpaste and mouthwash. But it can also be found in liquid form, as a nasal spray. Lastly, xylitol is also sold as a dietary supplement as a natural sugar substitute.

xylitolMild symptoms of stomach discomfort and diarrhea can be perceived when using too much of any sugar alcohol. But xylitol, if used in regular amounts, is generally regarded as safe in comparison to other sugar alcohols. In fact, it has some positive side effects as well!

First, when used regularly, xylitol prevents tooth decay and dental caries, which are formed when bacteria form a layer of plaque on your teeth, often due to excessive sugar consumption. These bacteria can not ferment xylitol, and thus aren't able to adhere to your teeth. This is why xylitol is the main ingredient of many chewing gum brands all over the world.

Another reported benign effect of xylitol, is the prevention of otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear). Caused by bacteria known as pneumococci, middle ear infections mostly manifest in children under 7 years of age because they have a shorter Eustachian tube. 


Because the effects of xylitol on tooth bacteria were known, scientists wondered if xylitol could also reduce the growth of pneumococci. Tests quickly showed that children who were given chewing gum with xylitol would develop ear infections much less than those who were given gum with plain sucrose.


Despite having less calories (40% less) and carbohydrates (75% less) than sugar, xylitol is still beaten to the punch by the stevia herb that has no calories, and no glycemic index. Stevia even has similar effects on tooth decay, and much more! Be sure to check out all the benefits of stevia here!

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