Xylitol, which is used by people with diabetes or those who want to lose weight, is also found in products such as chewing gum and toothpaste. A study last year found that the sweetener erythritol, which is classified as a sugar alcohol like xylitol, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke by up to two times.

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The team that conducted this research examined the effect of xylitol on cardiovascular health in their new study.

The team conducting the study, published yesterday in the peer-reviewed European Heart Journal, tested blood samples from more than 3,000 people at risk of heart disease who were fasting overnight.  

They followed the participants for three years and found that while some of them experienced cardiovascular problems, those with high levels of xylitol in their blood were more likely to experience them.

The researchers then conducted human and mouse experiments and found that xylitol accelerated the clotting of platelets in the blood. These blood clots can lead to heart attacks, strokes and even death.

Half of 20 healthy people were then given a drink containing normal levels of xylitol, while the other half were given a drink sweetened with sugar (glucose). In the first group, blood clotting increased rapidly, but not in those who consumed the sugar-sweetened drink.

THE RISK OF HEART ATTACK, STROKE AND DEATH ALMOST DOUBLES

The researchers found that xylitol, like erythritol, was associated with an almost doubled risk of heart attack, stroke and death. Dr. Stanley Hazen, senior author of the study, explains

"Our taste buds can't tell the structural difference between sugar and these other sweeteners, but apparently our platelets can.

"BLOOD GLUCOSE GOES UP A THOUSANDFOLD"

The scientists also noted that after consuming xylitol, blood glucose levels increased a thousand-fold and remained elevated for 6 hours. "When you eat sugar, glucose levels may increase by 10 or 20 percent, but not a thousand-fold," Dr. Hazen explains this finding.

Sugar alcohols are generally considered healthy because they are naturally produced in the human body. However, the researchers emphasize that they are produced at much lower levels in the body and undergo various processes in commercial production.

Although the new study shows an association between sugar alcohols and cardiovascular disease, it does not establish cause and effect.

Rob van Dam, a professor in the Department of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at George Washington University, says that xylitol levels may have naturally increased in people who fasted at night.

In the 20-person experiment, the participants did not fast, making the relationship more reliable, but the small number of participants necessitates further studies.

Despite these limitations, the team conducting the study says the findings will draw attention to the risks of substances such as xylitol and erythritol. 

Editor: John Wickey