In addition to being lower in calories, sugar alcohols like xylitol don’t affect your blood sugar or insulin levels the way regular sugar does. But does xylitol prevent bone less?
Listener Amy recently asked: What about xylitol for osteoporosis prevention? Is this fact or fiction?
What Is Xylitol?
Xylitol belongs to a category of molecules known as sugar alcohols, a group that also includes erythritol, maltitol, and sorbitol. Although small amounts of xylitol occur naturally in various fruits and other foods, it’s primarily used in its refined form as a low-calorie sweetener. Refined xylitol crystals, which look just like sugar, are usually produced from corn cobs or birch trees.
Sugar alcohols taste sweet but have fewer calories per gram than table sugar, so you’ll find them in dietetic or reduced-calorie foods. But in addition to being lower in calories, sugar alcohols don’t affect your blood sugar or insulin levels the way regular sugar does. So you’ll also see sugar alcohols used in so-called “diabetic” or sugar-free candies and cookies.
The Benefits of Xylitol
Xylitol, in particular, has also gotten a lot of attention for its unique ability to prevent and potentially even reverse tooth decay. You’ll find it in sugar-free gum, as well as toothpaste and mouthwash. Chewing xylitol-containing gum for 20 minutes after every meal can aid in the remineralization of your teeth and substantially reduce your risk of tooth decay.
A lesser-known benefit of xylitol is in the prevention of ear infections. Remember that the mouth and inner ear are actually connected by the eustachian tubes. So it’s possible for bacteria to travel from the nose and mouth to the ear and vice versa. Studies have demonstrated that kids who chew xylitol gum after meals and snacks can cut their risk of ear infections in half, compared with kids who chew gum without xylitol.
Another benefit of xylitol may be to act as a prebiotic, promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in our intestines. Is there anything this sweet little molecule can’t do? How about Amy’s question: What about xylitol for osteoporosis prevention?
Xylitol and Bone Loss Prevention
Xylitol can absolutely protect against bone loss and prevent osteoporosis. If you’re a rat. When added to rat chow, xylitol has been found to protect rats from the accelerated bone loss that accompanies menopause as well as plain-old age-related bone loss. The bones of the gum-chewing mice were significantly longer, thicker, and stronger than their counterparts.