There's nothing like a little foreign travel to open your eyes, and while we were in Japan my eyes discovered xylitol, which appeared to be a popular sweetener. Normally I wouldn't have given it two seconds worth of attention, as I loathe artificial sweeteners. I make an exception for chewing gum, but otherwise strive to avoid all versions of Saccharine, NutraSweet, Splenda, etc. and get really annoyed when they're included in a product without their presence being announced in big, obvious letters.

But xylitol was something popular in Japan and not here, so I did a little investigating. What I've found makes me astonished that it's not widely available, and very popular, in this country. I'm still looking for the down side, so maybe someone who reads this can fill me in. Here's what I've learned so far:

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol (rather than a sugar), present naturally in the human body, and found in a surprising variety of plant materials, including raspberries, mushrooms, and cauliflower. The most commercially useful sources are corn cobs and birch wood. (Xylitol is also called "birch sugar.")

It looks and tastes much like sugar, and can be used one-for-one in most applications. (Yeast breads are a notable exception; see below.)

It is already approved and considered safe in any quantity for diabetic foods, and is a commonly-used sweetener in many other countries, from Finland to China.

The most well documented benefit of xylitol is its ability to prevent—and possibly even repair—tooth decay. As I understand it, there are several different mechanisms by which it does this. It increases salivation (as does sugar, but that's not enough to overcome the harm sugar does); it starves the bacteria primarily responsible for tooth decay because they cannot metabolize xylitol; it helps prevent plaque from sticking to teeth; and it promotes remineralization of tooth enamel.

Other studies indicate that xylitol inhibits the growth of bacteria that often cause ear infections in children.

In addition to its anti-bacterial properties, xylitol inhibits the growth of yeast, which is good news for sufferers of candidiasis, and bad news for bread bakers.

All this antibacterial and anti-yeast action made me concerned about the effect of xylitol on the "good guys," the helpful inhabitants of our intestinal ecosystem. I have found little that addresses this question, but what I did find inticates that xylitol actually has a prebiotic effect and promotes rather than inhibits the growth of beneficial intestinal flora!

Animal studies indicate xylitol may fight osteoporosis by increasing bone density.

Xylitol has a low gylcemic index, and does not cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and resultant insulin response.

Xylitol is not a calorie free sweetener, but has about 40% fewer calories than sugar.

The only side effect I've been able to find is a temporary laxative effect in people who consume large amounts without giving their body time to adjust by increasing production of the enzymes used in the digestion of xylitol.

Now for a bit of personal experience. One advantage of being past the childbearing years is that one feels freer to experiment a bit. Xylitol is not easy to find in this country. A few brands of chewing gum contain some xylitol -- though for the positive dental effects it really needs to be the primary sweetener in gum. The "sugar" section of our grocery stores offer an amazing variety of real and artificial sweeteners, but no xylitol. But on the way home I stopped in to our local health food store and found a one-pound bag, which I promptly bought. The cost was $7, so it's not going to replace sugar in great quantities any time soon. (I subsequently found a five-pound bag for $22.)

So far, I think xylitol is great! I haven't used it in baking yet, but I've found it works well in yogurt and when I want to add a little more sweetness to fruit puree. Mostly I've just used it in small amounts (1/2 - 1 teaspoon) to swish around in my mouth after eating (and after rinsing my mouth with water). I must say it's weird because it tastes as if I'm coating my teeth with sugar -- and that can't be good, right? I don't know if I'll ever be able to attest to any anticariotic effects, since my teeth are at the stage where my greatest problem is the demise of ancient fillings. But I have noticed one thing. For many years my gums have been more red than pink, which alarms dental hygienists but which dentists, having been unable to determine a cause, and having ruled out all the bad possibilties they know, have chosen not to fret over. Suddenly, after two weeks of xylitol use, my gums are pink!

So -- I throw the subject open for discussion. What do you know about xylitol? Are there bad side effects I haven't been able to discern? Why is it so uncommon in the United States?

If you want to investigate for yourself, isn't a bad place to start.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 18, 2006 at 12:47 pm | Edit
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What does Dr. Parpia (our dentist) have to say?

Posted by Dad-o on Sunday, May 21, 2006 at 1:15 pm
She hadn't heard much recently, but knew what I was talking about. A friend from dental school did a research project on the subject. She asked me about the caries rate in Japan, but of course I had no idea.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, May 21, 2006 at 1:55 pm
My daughter's teeth has been hurting her for some time. She will be going to the dentist soon for that. But she started brushing her each time after she eats, not just after meals, and chewing xylitol chewing gum every once in awhile. Her teeth no longer hurt.

Posted by Bob Magness on Thursday, September 21, 2006 at 4:30 pm
Thanks for your comment, Bob, and congratulations to your daughter.

Posted by SursumCorda on Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at 1:10 pm

I just started using it on cereal and in my coffee and think it may have been the cause of some excess burping and salivation so I'm going to continue to monitor it.

Posted by Andrea Lewis on Friday, September 28, 2007 at 10:27 am

Seems like a great thing to put in gum. So great in fact that I'll bet the man is keepin' it out of our country. Curses Big Pharma

Posted by Mike on Sunday, September 30, 2007 at 7:33 pm

No one's keeping it out of the country. I can buy xylitol by the pound, xylitol gum, and xylitol mints at my local health food store. There might, however, be some collusion involved in the fact that you don't find it with Equal, Splenda, and such in the sweetener aisle of your local grocery store.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, October 01, 2007 at 10:51 am

Thanks for the xylitol info. I have been using it for a few months, very happily, but then I started developing minor yeast infection symptoms (while currently taking a good probiotic!). I am interested in reading more about the effect of xylitol upon the "good guys" in our guts. Any good article links you can recommend? Thanks bunches

Posted by margaret on Friday, February 20, 2009 at 12:13 am

I'm sorry; I don't know any more than I've reported here. But I would be interested in anything you learn.

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, February 20, 2009 at 6:29 am

Too much info!!!

Posted by Mike on Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Too much info? Hardly. Part of the problem is that there is not enough information on xylitol anywhere, much less on this blog.

My greatest concern these days is that most of it is made in China, so one has to wonder what's really in the package.

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 2:30 pm


No, I meant I didn't need to know about margaret's yeast infection.

Posted by Mike on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 4:26 am
I have heard xylitol can be cancer causing also.

Posted by star on Monday, June 08, 2009 at 9:30 pm

I also get really annoyed when aspartame, sucralose, etc. are included in a product without warning.

A few months ago, I began eating a new 'non-diet' brand of protein breakfast bars when I noticed my body ache, lethargy, and headache. It took me a few days to think about if I had been doing anything different. I re-read the ingredients on the breakfast bars package and found 'sucralose' listed (hidden in the package crease) even though sugar and rice syrup (natural sweeteners) were main ingredients! AHHH!!! The carcinogenic chemical sucralose is now being hidden in a non-diet products?! But there was no skull and crossbones on the box!!

All the artificial sweeteners cause bad reaction, and even stevia gives me a headache, but Xylitol does not, and I love the taste. Thank God for Xylitol.

Posted by Oblio_A on Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 9:40 am

I agree wholeheartedly about the deception -- that's not too strong a word -- practiced by those who add artificial sweeteners to their products. I especially resent buying something labelled "sugar free," expecting something unsweetened, only to be gagged by aspartame or sucralose.

Personally, I think all ingredients should be listed on the package, along with their places of origin. That some products are too small to fit this list on their packaging should make us stop to think.

Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 10:23 am

I have heard that blogging about xylitol can cause cancer

Posted by Mike on Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 7:43 am

I have heard that actively following a blog on a topic one deems ridiculous can cause crotchetitis. But apparently that's how Rush Limbaugh got his start...

Posted by Stephan on Saturday, August 01, 2009 at 3:58 am

Oooo, inflamed quarter notes! Sounds painful; no wonder Rush is strident at times.

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, August 01, 2009 at 7:53 am

I am so pleased this site is being kept alive, even though the number of commenters is small. Patients is a virtue to any good site.

Star posted the following URL:
(Clearly, Ramiel Nagel, its author, has a special interest in tooth decay. He has written a book on the subject with his own prescription for preventing dental decay. He wants you to follow his money so he makes many false claims: for example, one is that "Xylitol might inhibit bacteria growth, but so does white sugar". This is blatantly, scientifically not true; it is a deliberate lie.

Bacteria thrive on carbon and sugars are the easiest nutritional sources for metabolizing carbon so simple sugars are what most bacteria are attracted to for energy. Fats and proteins, the other two food kinds are broken down to simple sugars, and then carbon, by bacteria to use for survival. All sugars attract these hungry bacteria and feed them, with the exception of Xylitol and some other 5 carbon based sugars. But Xylitol then starves them. I suggest you try this little experiment. When waking up with a dirty and coated mouth, chew a half teaspoon Xylitol for a minute or two and as it dissolves, swish the solution around your mouth and between your teeth. The coating and gunk on your teeth thin out and seem to disappear leading to your mouth being clean and feeling smooth. The bacteria will have been attracted to the Xylitol and quickly will die. They have an extremely high metabolic need. Crash and burn is the best description of what happens.

One commenter said it was difficult to find information on Xylitol. Not true. Googling Xylitol brings a plethora of informational sites, many which are copies of information for other sites, but some sites have very carefully written articles with scientific supported evident. Check out Wikipedia as a starter.

A tablespoon or two of Xylitol a day will impact any future income support you will ever have to advance your dentist. Brushing your teeth with a Xylitol-soda mix (3 soda - 1 Xylitol) and a soft tooth brush will clean hardened dark plaque from your teeth over a month or two. It disappears like magic. With regular use, you will never need to have your teeth professionally cleaned ever again. Not even between the teeth. Healthy pink gums will be your natural state. Sinus problems and ear aches will be problems of the past.

As a child had I the chance to use Xylitol for brushing, swishing and to rinse my teeth, my ears and my nasal passages, I would not have a cavity in my mouth, my teeth would be stronger and harder, my breathing would have been easier and my ears itch free.

This is a great site. I wish more people could see it and post their findings. Opinions are cheap and easy; knowledge and understanding take a little time. Spend the time to learn everything you can about the wonders of Xylitol.

Posted by mhikl on Friday, November 05, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Xylitol based sugar substitute under brand Ideal is available at my local supermarket. Again, it's not as economical as sugar, but it tastes great in my coffee.

Posted by Linda on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 6:17 am
Xylitol Warning
Excerpt: Ten years ago I discovered xylitol and the positive effects it had on the health of my gums. Four years later I reported on my unintentional experiment in which I discovered that regular use of xylitol in my dental care routine kept my teeth in be...
Weblog: Lift Up Your Hearts!
Date: July 24, 2016, 10:24 am
Xylitol - An Unintentional Experiment
Excerpt: I wrote about xylitol when I discovered it in Japan four years ago, and that remains one of my most popular posts.  Although I did not experiment further with xylitol as a sugar substitute, I continued to use it as a dental rinse, swishing a small...
Weblog: Lift Up Your Hearts!
Date: June 16, 2010, 8:05 am
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