Xylitol has become much more popular in recent years, but what exactly is it? Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, and while it is called a sugar alcohol, it is actually neither. It is related to and manufactured from xylose, which is wood sugar. Adding another hydrogen atom to xylose makes it into a ‘sugar-alcohol,’ just like adding another hydrogen to glucose makes the sugar alcohol sorbitol.

A significant difference between xylitol and the more common sugars is in the number of carbon atoms. Animals more commonly use 6 carbon sugars for energy, specifically glucose, while plants use the 5 carbon sugar xylose. This is significant because most of the bacteria that infect us as they try to recycle us rely on the glucose we eat in order to grow and survive and they have often lost the ability to digest 5 carbon sugars so xylitol starves them. That is a pretty good way to deal with them. Our GI bacteria play a role here: a diet consisting mostly of meat fosters bacteria that digest six carbon sugars; a plant based diet fosters bacteria that can eat five carbon sugars. And it’s not just about indigestion. Bacteria also attach to us by holding on to sugar complexes on our cell surfaces and if xylitol, which is flexible and can fit into lots of these bacterial hands, can prevent them from holding on we are far ahead in our survival. In other parts of this story, where we talk about how xylitol helps prevent infection, we will show how important this is.

Unfortunately many of us have also lost some tolerance for 5 carbon sugars and sugar alcohols so GI distress is a common side effect seen by those trading out table sugar for a healthier option. If this is the case with you, be patient. Decrease the amount you use, but continue using it. Tolerance does develop. Does it develop in the bacteria as well? Bacteria are the experts at adapting, but mostly what they do is learn not to eat the xylitol. When the oral bacteria that cause tooth decay learn not to eat it they also stop making the acid that causes the decay in the first place.

Xylitol is naturally found in many fruits and vegetables and is even produced in small amounts by the human body. The best source for xylitol would be waste plant material and corncobs and birch bark have been used commercially to make xylitol. Corncobs are the more preferred source because they are more available, both in volume and frequency.

Xylitol is most commonly known for being an alternative to sugar. It became a popular sweetener for diabetics because it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. However, the health benefits of xylitol stretch far and wide.

It’s first use in medicine was as an alternative to glucose in IV solutions. This was followed by dental researchers in Finland showing how it prevented tooth decay. Then when the Finns began using it for this in their schools a pediatric infectious disease doctor there showed how it prevented some ear infections. A Texas family physician looked at this study and, since it works on bacteria, and the germs that cause ear infections live in the nose, he and his wife, a special ed teacher who was frustrated trying to deal with the educational problems that result from chronic ear infections, decided to put the xylitol in the nose. His result, when he looked at the difference before and after was a 94% decrease when parents and caregivers sprayed the child’s nose at every diaper change. In short xylitol helps clean the mouth and the nose when it is put there often.

When it is eaten regularly is goes along with what is called a ‘paleo diet’, one that is plant based with non processed foods. Early people ate lots of root foods that are rich in cellulose made from 5 carbon sugars. Many people today know the benefits of probiotics, helpful bacteria, and plant based organisms are also known to be the most helpful. Xylitol is not a probiotic but it is a strong prebiotic in that it feeds these healthier bacteria.

What do these healthier bacteria do?

– reduce inflammation. Inflammatory bowel disease is characterized by a lessening of bacterial diversity in the bowel and by a shift in type of bacteria. Xylitol’s prebiotic properties feed the diversity and starve those bacteria causing most of the inflammation. The biggest single factor behind the decrease in diversity is the prior use of antibiotics. That is also the single factor behind antimicrobial resistance and superbugs. The regular use of xylitol, both orally and nasally, starves harmful infectious bacteria, replaces them with more friendly bacteria, and eliminates the need for most antibiotics.

– prevent autism? That is the conclusion of some research physicians looking at the role of propionic acid in autism. It’s made by some bacteria in the GI tract that are starved and replaced by xylitol–and even more so by erythritol, a 4 carbon sugar alcohol. More on this is at one of our blogs.

Direct benefits:

– prevent cancer? The mushroom Cordyceps militaris has been shown to help people survive some forms of bowel cancer and malignant melanoma. A recent study from China reported that repeated extracts of this mushroom looking for the active ingredient isolated xylitol.

– recent studies looking at xylitol as a treatment for Type 2 Diabetes showed that a dietary switch from table sugar to xylitol resulted in normalization of all lab abnormalities. The study was done on rats, but it should work on people as well.

So to summarize, xylitol is a sugar alternative, which was plentiful in our ancestor’s diets and which has many other health benefits that we will get into in other chapters.

Chapter 1
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