The New Miracle Sweeteners, Part II

In the last issue, we talked about stevia, the natural sweetener that poses a healthy alternative to aspartame and sucralose. However, if you're anything like your editor, nothing will do it for you but the flavor of good old sugar--which, arguably, none of the above comes even close to.

Yet there is a sweet salvation for health-conscious sugar addicts: Xylitol, also called wood sugar or birch sugar. It can be extracted from fibrous vegetables and fruit, corn cobs and various hardwood trees like birch.

The term "new" in our headline is slightly misleading since xylitol has been a popular sweetener for diabetic products in Europe since the 1960s. First (re-)discovered by Finnish scientists during World War II, xylitol is a natural intermediate product of mammals'--including the human--glucose metabolism. It has been FDA-approved as a dietary food supplement, and there are no known toxic levels of the substance. It looks, tastes and measures like sugar (1 teaspoon sugar = 1 teaspoon xylitol), but has 40% fewer calories and 75% fewer carbs. And if that weren't enough good news for dieters, it also reduces sugar and carbohydrate cravings.

Xylitol is slowly absorbed and metabolized by the body and safe for use by diabetics and people with hypoglycemia. (On the glycemic index, pure glucose is used as a reference point with a score of 100; foods of 55 or less rank as low glycemic; Xylitol is a 7.)

Actually, you could say xylitol is the opposite of sugar, insofar that it prevents and to some degree even reverses tooth decay. Scientific studies have shown that it inhibits harmful bacteria that can lead to periodontal disease. Since it is non-fermentable, xylitol cannot be converted into acids by oral bacteria, thus maintaining a healthy pH-level in the mouth.

With use of xylitol, "The number of acid-producing lactobacilli and streptococci may fall as much as 90%," states the physician-owned website www.xylitol.org. "No acid is formed because the pH of saliva and plaque does not fall. After taking xylitol, the bacteria do not adsorb well on the surface of the teeth and the amount of plaque decreases."

International research has confirmed these benefits. One 5-year follow-up study of 740 Estonian schoolchildren, for example, showed that the caries (the medical term for tooth decay) incidence in children using either xylitol gum or candy was 53.5% and 59% less than that in the control group.

Findings that are echoed by the Journal of the American Dental Association and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, which agree that "Xylitol can significantly decrease the incidence of dental caries."

Another of xylitol's considerable number of benefits is that it inhibits the growth of bacteria responsible for middle-ear infections in young children, reducing the incidence of those infections by up to 40%. Instead of gum, xylitol nasal spray can be used for the same and other purposes--reportedly also alleviating allergies, asthma, and sinus problems.

And that's still not all. Health author Sherill Sellman states that "Xylitol has been shown to be effective in inhibiting Candida Albicans, a serious systemic yeast problem, and other harmful gut bacteria including H. Pylori, implicated in periodontal disease, bad breath, gastric and duodenal ulcers, and even stomach cancer." Moreover, Finnish studies with rats proved that xylitol may not only stop osteoporosis, but in fact increase bone density.

And remember, you can get all those benefits by simply giving in to your sweet tooth. If only staying healthy were always this easy.

[Xylitol sweetener, toothpaste, chewing gum, nasal spray, etc. are available in health food stores and on the Internet on sites such as www.xlear.com.]

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Posted 06-13-2006 12:10 PM by Doug Casey
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