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Xylitol Poisoning In Humans - An Overview.

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Xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol, is a sugar substitute in many products but can cause human poisoning. Read the article to know more.

Written by

Dr. Osheen Kour

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Published At March 16, 2023
Reviewed AtAugust 29, 2023

Introduction

Xylitol is a substitute for sugar that we consume in our daily life. It has a low glycemic index and is mainly carbohydrate and not alcohol. Sugar has many health benefits but can be toxic in some instances. However, sugar is primarily related to causing adverse animal effects but can also poison humans. Xylitol has antimicrobial properties, prevents ear infections, and also helps in reducing dental caries. Sugar is an ingredient in many daily-use products and is mainly fit for consumption. However, xylitol can also produce side effects such as diarrhea, bloating, and other human digestive problems.

What Are the Adverse Effects of Xylitol on Humans?

The adverse effects of xylitol in humans are as follows:

  • High doses of xylitol ingested by humans can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, irritable bowel syndrome, and diarrhea.

  • Xylitol can also cause an increase in the level of phosphate, oxalate, and calcium excretion in urine which may increase the risk of kidney stones. But in humans, no specific evidence has shown any association between xylitol causing kidney stones.

What Are the Uses of Xylitol?

The uses of xylitol include:

  • It can be used as a sugar substitute in manufacturing many products, such as toothpaste, chewing gums, dietary supplements, confections, and drugs.

  • Xylitol does not affect the blood sugar level of a person and can metabolize insulin itself.

  • It can also be used as an additive in food additives but not as a household sweetener.

  • The xylitol compound is also present in saline solutions used for nasal irrigation and can treat the signs of chronic sinusitis.

Which Products Contain Xylitol During Manufacturing?

The products that contain xylitol include:

  • Honey.

  • Jellies and jams.

  • Yogurt.

  • Peanut butter and other nut butter.

  • Sugar-free candies and chewing gums.

  • Fluoride dental products.

  • Toothpaste.

  • Mouth wash.

What Are the Health Benefits of Xylitol?

The health benefits of xylitol are as follows:

  • Oral Health - Xylitol is used in dental health product manufacturing, such as mouthwash and toothpaste. Xylitol has the potential to resist the bacteria present in the mouth and does not get converted into toxic acids that can cause dental plaque or tooth decay. Thus, xylitol is a non-fermentable sugar alcohol and can boost the immune system proteins in humans and prevent bacterial growth.

  • Low Glycemic Index - Xylitol does not cause an increase in insulin or blood glucose levels in humans. Therefore, it has a low glycemic index and is a good and healthy sugar substitute for diabetic people. Sugar also helps in weight loss due to its quiet glycemic index property.

  • Antioxidant Properties - Xylitol is believed to be an antioxidant as it can prevent oxidative stress caused by free radicals in the body. Free radicles cause cell damage and lead to many health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Antioxidants can suppress free radicals and also act against oxidative stress. However, the study was mainly based on animal experiments and needed validation for humans.

  • Ear Infection - The infection is mainly caused by the same bacteria that causes tooth plaque. The bacteria can accumulate in the eardrums in humans and lead to an ear infections. The acute otitis media condition is more prevalent in healthy children consuming xylitol-containing chewing gums, syrups, and tablets.

What Are the Other Alternatives to Xylitol?

Alternatives to xylitol include:

  • Stevia- It is extracted from a natural resource (stevia plant) and used as a sweetener in liquid or granular form. Stevia plant extract can also cause some health effects similar to xylitol, like digestive issues and diabetes in some people.

  • Sorbitol- It is a sugar alcohol with a molecular structure similar to xylitol. Sorbitol is an excellent alternative to xylitol, especially for diabetic people, because the sugar does not affect blood sugar levels. Sorbitol also does not cause dental caries.

  • Agave Nectar- It is a sugar syrup extracted from the agave plant. Nectar is used in many food and drinks as a sugar substitute. However, it is a fructose sugar that can be easily invaded by the bacterial action in the mouth and can lead to dental caries.

  • Erythritol- Erythritol is also a type of sugar alcohol and can block the action of bacteria in the mouth and controls plaque growth.

What Are the Food Properties of Xylitol?

Xylitol is usually absorbed slowly by the human digestive system compared to sucrose and provides 40 % fewer calories than sucrose. In addition, the sugar can be used for baking by not getting caramelized like other sugars because xylitol is a stable heat sugar. The sweetness level of xylitol NS sucrose is the same, but the sugar is sweeter than other sugar compounds.

If taken in high amounts, xylitol can have laxative effects on a person's health. Therefore, its consumption or use in soft drinks is banned in some countries.

Xylitol is digested or metabolized in the intestines. The remaining part remains undigested, fermented by the gut bacteria into gases and organic acids. Some xylitol is excreted via feces and urine. Xylitol can cause diarrhea and constipation.

What Is the Treatment of Xylitol Poisoning in Humans?

Xylitol poisoning does not have any antidote treatment. Therefore, the doctor mainly treats the toxicity with intravenous glucose supplementation and drugs for liver protection.

Conclusion

Xylitol is mainly suitable for human consumption if taken in moderation, but large amounts of sugar alcohol (xylitol) that 30 to 40 grams can cause digestive issues in humans. Sugar cannot be quickly processed by the human digestive system and can lead to irritable bowel syndrome. Therefore, a high dose is unsafe or poisonous for humans. A person experiencing symptoms after consuming xylitol must consult the doctor immediately to avoid any significant health hazard, especially a diabetic person.

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Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Dentistry

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