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Study: High levels of xylitol associated with heart attack, stroke risk

If you're watching your sugar intake you've probably seen xylitol on the backs of packaged foods labeled as "calorie free," or keto or diabetes-friendly.
Artificial sweeteners packets
Posted at 8:53 PM, Jun 06, 2024

A new study finds people who consume high levels of the sweetener xylitol are at a greater risk of heart attacks, stroke and death. The research was published Thursday in the European Heart Journal.

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol. It's found in nature but is commercially manufactured as a food additive to taste like sugar without spiking blood sugar. Xylitol is found in lots of everyday items from toothpaste and gum to vitamins and reduced-sugar foods.

If you're watching your sugar intake, you've probably seen xylitol on the backs of packaged food labeled as "calorie free," or keto or diabetes-friendly.

Researchers analyzed the blood tests of more than 3,000 people, and found those who had higher levels of xylitol were more likely to have a heart attack or stroke within three years. They also found study participants who drank a beverage sweetened with 30 grams of xylitol were "significantly" more prone to blood clots.

"This is like made out of sawdust, you know, wood pulp. It's insidious," Dr. Stanley Hazen, co-section head of preventive cardiology for Cleveland Clinic told Scripps News. He co-authored the study.

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Hazen warns that people who often eat and drink higher amounts of xylitol, like diabetics, are most at risk.

"Sugar is a safer option than a sugar alcohol, especially for someone who's at increased cardiac disease risk," he said.

Hazen stresses toothpaste and gum, which use xylitol for cavity prevention, don't carry the same risk because the xylitol is present in small amounts, and we spit those products out.

The FDA says sugar alcohols are "generally recognized as safe," but he suggests cutting them out.

"To have a period of time after reaching for that diabetic cookie or candy and being only a couple hours of high-level is a risk, and I would recommend completely avoiding it," he said.

Last year, the same researchers found similar results for another low-calorie sweetener called erythritol, but say more testing is needed to determine the safety risk of sugar alcohols.

The World Health Organization also warned last year that using non-sugar sweeteners long-term could lead to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and death.