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Is Xylitol Bad For You?

Also Known As: C5H12O5



Short answer

Xylitol is a natural sweetener that is known as a sugar alcohol. It is found naturally in some fruits and veggies and our bodies can make it in small amounts. It is a decent alternative to artificial sweeteners because it does not bump glucose levels and has beneficial effects in dental hygiene. However, some of the potential gastrointestinal side effects can be very unpleasant.



Long answer

In the quest for natural sweeteners that do not raise blood glucose levels or stimulate insulin resistance – sugar alcohols have become quite popular.  Xylitol is one of these.  Xylitol has a 1:1 ratio of sweetness to that of sugar but is not fully digested or absorbed so it does not have an adverse effect on sugar levels in the bloodstream.  Xylitol is low in calories and has a low glycemic index (ranking of how certain carbohydrates can elevate your glucose). 

Unlike sugar, Xylitol does not cause an acidic environment in your mouth and therefore bacteria in our mouth cannot use it for energy.  Xylitol creates a neutral PH and bacteria have difficulty adhering to your teeth which leads to less plaque build-up. 

Xylitol is found in many products that are labeled “sugar free” – including chewing gum, mouthwash, mints, candies, fruit beverages, jams, jellies and peanut butter. 

Xylitol has been sourced from the fibrous parts of trees including the Birch tree but the main source of Xylitol is from corn cobs.  Although Xylitol manufacturers have prided themselves on non-GMO sources of corn there has been speculation that genetically modified corn may be the source of Xylitol coming out of China (one of the largest sources of Xylitol globally). GMOs and genetically modified foods pose a continual risk to the stability of our food chain. 

Assuming you are ingesting non-GMO Xylitol you are reaping the benefits of a low-calorie natural sweetener that keeps your glucose levels stable and keeps your dental hygienist happy. 

But on the flip side of this sugar alcohol is the potential of GI upset.  Because Xylitol is not fully digested it can lead to bloating, loose stools, abdominal discomfort, nausea and flatulence.  The sugar alcohols, in general, can also cause fermentation of gut bacteria and pull more water into the intestinal tract.

Everyone is different when it comes to the potential for GI side effects so it is important to check the label.  GI side effects increase when your daily dosage of sugar alcohols exceeds 40 grams a day. 

Xylitol has its benefits in humans but it is not safe for your dog. Even small amounts of Xylitol can cause extreme lowering of the glucose, seizures, vomiting, coma, liver failure or death. 

It should also be noted that although they share a similar name, sugar alcohol and alcoholic beverages do not share the same chemical. Sugar alcohol does not contain ethanol, which is found in alcoholic beverages.

Possible short-term side effects

  • gas
  • bloating
  • nausea
  • diarrhea and abdominal discomfort
  • can be deadly to dogs

Possible long-term side effects

  • daily excessive amounts can cause weight gain or fluctuation in blood sugar

Commonly found in


  • low in calories and low glycemic index
  • natural sweetener that keeps glucose stable
  • decreases bacterial growth in mouth
  • decreases plaque buildup and cavities

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 12-16-2017
Last updated: 11-28-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 12-16-2017
Last updated: 11-28-2023

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