Xylitol sugar alternative linked to higher risk of heart attack, stroke: study

Xylitol, a popular sugar substitute, has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, according to a recent study. 

The research, published in the European Heart Journal, concludes that consuming xylitol can also make your blood more likely to clot. 

"Our studies show that elevated blood levels of xylitol contribute to heightened platelet reactivity and are associated with an enhanced risk for cardiovascular events, like heart attacks and strokes," Dr. Stanley Hazen, the study’s senior author, told the Cleveland Clinic. 

What is xylitol? 


Xylitol is an alternative sweetener to sugar. (Photo by Darrell Wong/Fresno Bee/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Xylitol is a type of sugar alcohol often used to make low-calorie, sugar-free foods, like candies and desserts. According to the Cleveland Clinic, sugar alcohols are chemically similar to sugar, but they don’t impact the body the same way. It doesn’t spike your blood sugars, which is why it’s used in so many "diet" foods, the study’s authors say. 

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It’s not considered an artificial sweetener because it’s naturally found in small amounts in plants, including fruits and vegetables. It’s also found in grocery stores sold as a sugar substitute. 

Humans produce xylitol in their bodies at very low levels, but high levels of the compound can cause "big problems," The Cleveland Clinic states. 

Xylitol and heart disease

The study suggests that people with high levels of xylitol in their bodies could be at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. 

Researchers analyzed blood samples from 3,000 people to find substances that were elevated  in people who had cardiovascular problems. Xylitol was near the top of the list, according to The Cleveland Clinic. 

Researchers also gave volunteers a drink sweetened with 30 grams of xylitol, similar to what’s used in a serving of keto-friendly or sugar-free desserts. 

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"In the presence of xylitol, platelets become much more angry and ready to clot," Hazen said. "It’s as if our platelets have a kind of tastebud receptor for xylitol that makes them go into overdrive. And that’s very significant because enhanced clotting can stop blood flow."

Decreased blood flow increases your chances of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems. 

Consuming xylitol doesn’t necessarily cause heart attacks, researchers concluded: they said platelet function returned to normal levels by the next day. But for people who eat foods with xylitol regularly, the heightened cardiovascular risks will remain.