While xylitol is considered as a safe, sugar-free sweetener with lesser calorie count, side effects of this natural sugar substitute are reported in case of higher intake. Probable side effects of xylitol are, allergy, gastrointestinal problems, and increased uric acid in blood.
Xylitol itself is a naturally occurring sweetener, which is also sold as white sugar-like crystals in health food stores. The impressive part about xylitol is its sweet intensity, which is similar to sucrose, but with a lesser calorie content. According to the proponents of this natural sugar substitute, its calorie count is only two-third of sucrose. However, as with any type of sugar substitute, it has certain side effects, which cannot be overlooked at any cost.
What is Xylitol Used for?
Chemically, xylitol is a sugar alcohol or polyol, meaning, a carbohydrate that contains alcoholic group (hydroxyl). Also, it has only five carbon atoms, instead of six. It is found in several whole grains, fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain high amounts of fiber in them. Most health conscious people are concerned about the components involved in the making of this natural sweetener. Well, it is commercially extracted from corn fiber, corn, birch, and hardwood. Other than consumable food products, xylitol is used for therapeutic purposes.
In the market, you will come across chewing gum, candies, pastilles, nasal sprays, mouthwash, and dental care products formulated with this natural sugar substitute. Chewing xylitol gum is claimed as an effective way to reduce cavities and similar dental problems, while nasal sprays containing the same, are used to reduce nasal congestion associated with common cold and sinusitis. It is claimed that xylitol draws moisture in the sinuses and nasal passages, which in turn, aids in expelling pathogens.
Side Effects of Xylitol
Pure form of xylitol is white in color and crystalline, similar to that of regular sugar crystals. Taking into account, the health concerns of using processed sugar, nutrition experts suggest use of natural sugar in specific amounts. However, is xylitol bad for you? Considering the fact that xylitol is found naturally, it is touted as a safe product, as compared to other sugar substitutes, like, aspartame and glutamate. When used in moderation, there are virtually no side effects of this sweetening agent. Nevertheless, the dangers exist in case of excess intake, and usage of adulterated products.
Similar to any type of sugar alcohols (like mannitol and sorbitol), consumption of this sweetener in large amounts results in laxative effects. This is because, the body is unable to break down this carbohydrate compound completely. No doubt, laxation threshold varies from one individual to another. However, excess intake of xylitol may lead to gastrointestinal discomforts, like, gassiness, bloating, and diarrhea.
A study was conducted in children to observe dangers of xylitol. Some of the participants (four out of thirteen) experienced frequent bowel movement after consuming 65 g of this sugar-free sweetener per day. The conclusion is, it has a lower level of laxation threshold than other sugar alcohols. However, the tolerance level of xylitol is higher than that of mannitol and sorbitol.
Mild to severe side effects are reported among people, who receive this sugar alcohol intravenously. The possible medical problems are, increased concentration of uric acid in the blood (thus changing blood acidity) and notable alteration in the liver function test (signifying liver stress). With elevated levels of uric acid, the risk of kidney stone formation is higher.
As far as xylitol gum side effects are concerned, this product contains low amounts of xylitol. Hence, it causes no major adverse effects. The same safety level is predicted for candies and mints containing this sweetening agent. While taking it alone for dental care, intake amount should be not more than 6 – 10 g per day. Users should follow the directions mentioned on the package to reap maximum benefits.
Last but not the least, xylitol side effects in humans include allergic responses. This is applicable for the product brands, in which, proper purification processes are not followed at the time of extraction. In case, allergic symptoms, like, skin rash, itching, hives, wheezing, and difficulty in breathing are manifested after consumption, stop using it, and consult the doctor as soon as possible.
In order to minimize the adverse effects, monitor the serving quantity stringently. Remember that, too much of any sweet agent, whether it is natural or artificial, is not good for health. And while substituting xylitol for table sugar, increase the usage amount gradually. This allows the body to get used to this natural sugar substitute properly, thus reducing its adverse effects.