In the early 1970’s, the benefits of Xylitol for dental health were discovered by Finnish researchers who found that it affected bacteria in the mouth that caused tooth decay, leading to several studies that concluded it can indeed reduce cavities.5
The oral bacteria Streptococcus mutans has been found to be mainly responsible for the plaque that leads to tooth decay. Excess plaque encourages the immune system to attack the bacteria in it which can lead to gum disease and gingivitis. This particular type of bacteria enjoys glucose as its favourite food, however, it cannot feed on Xylitol.1 Swapping Xylitol for regular sugar starves this harmful bacteria of glucose, thus reducing the available fuel for it to proliferate. Several studies have shown that chewing gum containing Xylitol or using it as a sweetener in place of regular sugar reduces levels of harmful bacteria by 27 – 75 percent, whilst leaving friendly oral bacteria untouched.23
The most famous studies are the “Turku Sugar Studies”, undertaken between 1972 – 1975 at the University of Turku Dental School in Finland. 125 volunteer participants substituted sucrose for Xylitol and special non-sucrose sweetened, xylitol-based foods were manufactured for the two-year study. A second test group consumed fructose sweetened foods using the same protocol and the control group continued to eat a sucrose containing diet. Significantly, the Xylitol group developed almost no new caries lesions, while more than seven developed with the sucrose group and four among the fructose group.4
Many more studies since this time have demonstrated that by either adding Xylitol to the diet or using it as a sugar replacement can reduce dental cavities and tooth decay by 30 – 85 percent.
Type 2 Diabetes
Consuming sugar and other refined carbohydrates results in the rapid release of glucose, or blood sugar. In response, the pancreas secretes insulin to usher glucose into the cells where it is burned for energy. Excess glucose stresses the system, leading to the cells becoming less responsive to insulin over time. This condition, known as insulin resistance, is associated with abnormalities in cholesterol and triglyceride levels, hypertension, increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The dramatic rise in type 2 diabetes since the mid-1900's directly coincides with our increased consumption of sugar. One long-term study of more than 65,000 women demonstrated that a high-sugar, low-fibre diet increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 250 percent. Another recent study found that excessive intake of sugar was the single most important dietary risk factor for heart disease in women and for men.
Xylitol has been demonstrated in repeated clinical studies to be very slowly metabolised. In fact, on the glycemic index, which measures how quickly foods enter the bloodstream, sugar is rated at between 60 - 100 and xylitol at just 7. Xylitol is a natural insulin stabiliser; therefore it causes none of the abrupt rises and falls that occur with sugar. Furthermore, it actually helps in stopping sugar and carbohydrate cravings. Foods sweetened with xylitol will not raise insulin levels, this makes it a perfect sweetener for people with diabetes as well as those wanting to lose weight. There is also a growing consensus amongst anti-aging researchers that maintaining low insulin levels is a key to a successful anti-aging program.
If included into a healthy weight loss program, Xylitol can have a dramatic effect. It contains 40 percent less calories as regular sugar and zero net effective carbohydrates (sugar has 4g per teaspoon). Because it is a naturally derived sweetener, it doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste and is slowly metabolised by the body. This can address sugar cravings, keep blood sugar levels stable and help to control the appetite whilst still enjoying the occasional sweet treat.
Folklore and history
The oldest record of this “sugar for oral health” seems to have been about 2500 years ago, in a book of Chinese herbal cures. The remedy is “Zhin-he–tong” (sugar from the white tree) for cavities and gum disease. The Chinese have known about Xylitol for a long time although they didn't call it that.
In North America, Native Americans cleaned their teeth with wood from birch trees. They made teething rattles for babies and used the wood as a toothpick for teeth and gums. In Russia and Alaska the sap from birch trees is swished around teeth that are cutting and used as a mouthwash.
During World War II, Finland suffered a major sugar shortage and with their large birch forests, they turned to Xylitol as an alternative and consumption became widespread. After the war when shortages diminished, Xylitol production ceased until its resurrection in the 1960's and 70's when scientists started to apply it to dental products. This led to the first Xylitol chewing gum being launched in Finland and the United States in 1975.
Discovered in the early 1900’s, Xylitol is not an artificial sweetener, it is a naturally occurring sweet crystalline carbohydrate that is present in almost all fruits and vegetables. It was originally isolated by Fischer and Stahel in Germany and Bertram in France prior to the outbreak of the Great War.
It was quickly embraced by Finland, as Xylitol is also abundant in birch trees. With 65 percent of Finland being covered by forest (including birch), it is not surprising they tapped into this natural resource.
Organic Xylitol Powder
Xylitol can be used to replace regular sugar at a 1:1 ratio. It makes a healthy alternative in baking and can be used to sweeten all your favourite beverages. Xylitol can also be combined with molasses to make brown sugar.
Xylitol (C5H12O5) is a 5-carbon (pentose) sugar alcohol.
Some people experience digestive side effects when they consume too much. Xylitol is highly toxic to dogs - do not feed your dog anything containing this sweetener.