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What is xylitol? Why do we need it?

Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance found in plants, fruits and vegetables, in addition to being produced by the body. It is an alcohol form of xylose, and is often used as a sweetener.

Xylitol is also a component of many manufactured "sugar-free" foods, ranging from candies and cookies to soft drinks and chewing gum. In addition, xylitol has many industrial uses, and is often incorporated into toothpastes and throat lozenges.

Xylitol is considered extremely safe. It is listed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an ingredient that is GRAS, or "generally regarded as safe." It has been used in food dating back to the early 1960s.

Xylitol is typically used as a sugar substitute. It has less of an effect on blood sugar and insulin levels compared to sucrose. It also inhibits the growth of several types of bacteria, including the bacteria that cause tooth decay and ear infections, hence its use in several brands of toothpastes and mouthwashes.

How much xylitol should I take?

The amount of xylitol to be taken depends on the condition being treated. To fight tooth decay, a typical daily dose ranges between 7 and 21 grams, divided into several small doses provided in candies or chewing gum. To prevent ear infections, 1.5-2.0 grams are given up to five times per day, usually in gums, throat lozenges, or syrups.

What forms of xylitol are available?

Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance in a variety of foods, ranging from fruits to cereals and mushrooms. When used as a food additive, xylitol is usually harvested from the bark of the birch tree.

What can happen if I take too much xylitol? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Xylitol has no known toxicity or carcinogenicity. It has been recognized as safe by the U.S. government for more than 40 years. However, large amounts (>40 grams) consumed all at one may produce diarrhea and intestinal gas.

As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions associated with xylitol. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking xylitol or any other dietary supplement or herbal remedy.


  • Bakr AA. Application potential for some sugar substitutes in some low energy and diabetic foods. Nahrung 1997;41:170-5.
  • Kontiokari T, Uhari M, Koskela M. Antiadhesive effects of xylitol on otopathogenic bacteria. J Antimicrob Chemother 1998;41:563-5.
  • Tapiainen T, Kontiokari T, Sammalkivi L, et al. Effect of xylitol on growth of streptococcus pneumoniae in the presence of fructose and sorbitol. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 2001;45:166-9.
  • Trahan L. Xylitol: a review of its action on mutans streptococci and dental plaqueĐits clinical significance. Int Dent J 1995;45(1 Suppl 1):77-92.
  • Xylitol. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Volume 3. U.S. Government Printing Office, 2003:21CFR172.395.
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