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Xylitol and the Primal Bodybuilder

May 6, 2010

This is either going to come off as psycho or funny.  Neither would surprise me, neither would disappoint me.

I am addicted to Trident Chewing gum.  Original Flavor only – and it better be from a pack that was made BEFORE the “longer lasting flavor” campaign (please don’t get me started…).  For all of 2007 – early 2009, I was chewing a pack (that’s 18 sticks) everyday of that delicious, dentist recommended goodness.  Friends and family were concerned for my neurotic chain-chewing habits, but I really wasn’t.  Trident and I were partners through and through. 

That is to say, Trident and I were partners until I noticed a certain “reaction” in the bathroom.  This was a subtle change over time, but things were just a bit off.  Browsing the interwebs, I learned that diarrhea is a common side affect of the sweetener used in Trident – Xylitol. 

She seems to have an invisible touch yeah
She reaches in, she grabs right hold of your heart
She seems to have an invisible touch yeah
She takes control and slowly tears you apart – Genesis (Phil Collins)

Xylitol (a “Polyol” or sugar alcohol) was discovered in 1891 by German chemist Emil Fischer and has been used as a sweetening agent in human “food” since the 1960s.  It is found naturally in some fruits, and is a by-product of sugar metabolism produced by the body – between 5-15g of it everyday.  It is found most readily as a sweetener in gum/mint products as well as mouth wash, since it has been shown to reduce dental caries: “In clinical and field tests, the consumption of xylitol between meals was associated with significantly reduced new caries formation, even when participants were already practicing good oral hygiene.”

How does it do this?

According to a study from March 2008, Xylitol is a fairly potent antibiotic (Full Study .pdf).  To cut a long story short, xylitol kills all manner of bacteria.  It prevents caries and cavities when used between meals because it kills the nasties (streptococcal bacterial strains, typically) left over from a bagel or whatever.  It appears that it can help shorten ear infections in children.  Xylitol is “good” for your teeth because it is essentially a chronic, low dose antibiotic you slosh around in your mouth, killing bacteria. 

Antibiotics were a wonderful innovation, having saved the lives of millions, but their current over-prescription has led to a strange catch-22.  The human body is made up of between 1020 times more microbial life (bacteria) than it’s own cells – it’s been said that if an alien life form came to our planet, they might view us as moving microbial dumpsters!  We don’t just need those bacteria considered “good” to survive, we need the entire cesspool. (Check out this article for a quick understanding of the gut flora situation)

“In fact, some researchers think of our bodies as superorganisms, rather than one organism teeming with hordes of subordinate invertebrates.”

Antibiotics kill “good” gut flora along with “bad,” typically killing the weakest first, while inevitably leaving the strongest microbes.  Taking that penicillin may get you “well,” but at what cost?  When we systematically destroy these bacteria, we end up strengthening the strongest remaining species, and when they proliferate, it leads to all manner of inflammation and disease (like MRSA – Methicillin Resistant Staph – super-duper scary). 

Now, I am not saying Xylitol is as bad for gut flora as chronic antibiotic use per se, but keep in mind – it is a bacterial killer.  This is not a good thing for healthy, primal folks (or primal bodybuilders or anyone really).  We want to let our guts sort themselves out – not force our limited understanding of what “good” and “bad” flora is down there! 

We have no way of knowing what side effects these types of low-grade, chronic doses of antibiotics will do to us long term, but consider that the chronic antibiotics administered to cattle are not given to keep them healthy, but rather to make them fat.  

The likening of modern humans to potatoes sacked out on a couch is misleading.  The obesity epidemic linked to diets of processed foods more closely resembles the stumbling progression of cattle to abattoir.  Antibiotics and diet systematically lead in both feedlot and food court to gut dysbiosis, immune system failure, hormone disruption, rampant fat accumulation, physical inactivity, depression and the modern suite of chronic diseases.  Healthcare costs escalate, but vet bills, in contrast, are forestalled by a captive bolt pistol. – Dr. Art Ayers,

More info on how it makes US fat, from the Huffington Post:

Science magazine published on March 4, 2010, other important research that observed similar phenomena as Blaser. Researchers at Cornell, Emory, and the University of Colorado have found that gut microbiota determines how food is digested and fat is stored in the body. They too noted that antibiotics disrupt certain bacteria in the gut that can lead to obesity as well as to increased inflammatory processes that can cause metabolic syndrome…

While it may help with dental caries, Xylitol has been proven to Halt Gluconeogenesis and Ketosis (Full Study .pdf).  In this study, it was shown that when xylitol levels were raised, not only were Free Fatty Acids lowered but Gluconeogenesis and Ketosis were stopped.  These are BAD things for the Primal Bodybuilder.  We need Gluconeogenesis and Ketosis cranking on all cylinders – not because we seek them out deliberately, but because in order to properly perform fasted workouts and achieve leanness while restricting carbs/grains, both must be working.  We need the glucose created from both dietary protein and the glycerol part of Free Fatty Acids, as well as the ketones for both mental acuity and for their other protective effects, including muscle-sparing during restricted calorie phases (like fasting). 

When we lower FFA’s in the blood, we’re not burning as much stored fat, simply utilizing glycogen.  Simply put, based on the above study, xylitol is counter-productive to leaning out.  This is lame, because here at Primal Bodybuilding, the aesthetics of physical fitness is not overlooked.

Last but not least, while the GI of xylitol is only 13, we know that the smell and taste of sweet things can raise insulin production all by itself.  Since it is usually used in fairly low-calorie snacks, the anticipatory nature of insulin could cause a spike greater than necessary based on the snack’s eventual blood glucose effect, causing hypoglycemia (crappy to have before/during a workout).  And since it turned off ketosis, you are looking at a much greater perceived swing in blood sugar, possible haziness and impairment of your ability to rock out in the gym.

So, I’ll sum it up.  Antibiotics make you unhealthy because they disrupt healthy gut flora.  This can (will) make you fat.  Xylitol restricts processes integral to both the physical health and aesthetic leanness desired by primal bodybuilders.  Last, low blood sugar resulting from possible insulin response to “sugary” snacks can cause poor performance in the gym and lowered mental acuity. 

I’ll lump xylitol in with other neolithic “things you can eat,” and vote that, other than occasional use (ie. less than once a week), I say avoid it – it’s not really food in my book. 

Maybe this turned into a rant against antibiotic use, but understand that no matter how a scientist at a consumer packaged goods company bends the names of things: we are healthiest in our natural state.  Xylitol is counter to that state.

Oh and it kills dogs.  Scary shit.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. jennfelo2 permalink
    February 27, 2012 11:51 am

    Thanks. Well explained.

  2. Brandon permalink
    May 1, 2012 8:45 pm

    If xylitol is found naturally in some fruits and is produced naturally in our body, isn’t it safe to persume that 1-3 sticks of trident gum is not going to effect your body much? Especially considering the size of each stick of gum.

    You cannot compare a low grade antibiotic like xlitol to something a doctor prescribes. It’s like comparing an ant to a dog.

    This is all just petty nitpicking. I doubt a stick of gum is going to disrupt your body to a great enough degree to notice during work outs. Maybe overthinking it will. It’s all mind over matter.

    Chew the gum and enjoy good oral health with peace of mind.

    • May 1, 2012 9:08 pm

      Well said… I can’t argue it other than to say that 1-3 sticks can lead to a lot of other things. If you are wondering why your IBS is acting up, maybe it’s that harmless 3 pieces of gum. You may not be having that issue, in that case, this article isn’t for you.

  3. Kevin permalink
    June 15, 2012 6:57 pm

    “However, xylitol feeding caused a clear shift in the rodent faecal microbial population from Gram-negative to Gram-positive bacteria. In human volunteers a similar shift was observed even after a single 30-g oral dose of xylitol. All animals were capable of adapting to 20% dietary xylitol and an accompanying enhancement of the ability of caecal and faecal flora to utilize xylitol was observed.”

  4. lisa permalink
    March 4, 2014 5:05 pm

    Xylitol is NOT An Pharmaceutical grade antibiotic. It is only dangerous to animals. And the Unhealthy intestinal flora. This stuff has this ability is to kill Anaerobic activity whether it is locate in your mouth stomach or gut tubes it will get to it and you Will shit out YOUR OWN TOXIC WASTES. It stimulates healthy lymph in your small intestines and and kills all kinds of nasty terrible bacteria that Proliferate in NoNoxygenated Environments. Like YOUR GUTS
    You can eat all the greens you want, but if you don’t kill off the bad bacteria in your gut, in effect you can have greater challenges at maintaining your healthy long lasting and effortless weight loss/management.

    Yes I have eaten this wonderful stuff just like halloween candy and my skin is healthier, I have no GI troubles including bloating or trouble digesting oils like I used to have either.
    I am able to eat Copious amounts Xylitol and still maintain my Healthy weight after I lost the unhealthy weight with the help of many, many Pounds! of this Xylitol!

    My life is much better for it.

    • March 4, 2014 5:49 pm

      As I state in the piece, this kinda turned into an anti-antibiotics rant as much as anything. Sounds like it’s working for you! I’m very happy!

  5. March 17, 2014 3:05 pm

    Hi, I just wanted to stop by to state for the records (and for the sake of your readers), that low dose (1/4 tsp several times per day) xylitol truly is beneficial for oral health.

    It is not the broad sprectrum antibiotic that you are making it out to be. It does kill harmful bacteria in the mouth, but actually has been shown to act as a prebiotic for beneficial mouth bacteria. For more details, see the website of preventive dentistry specialist Dr. Ellie Philips.

    Please be careful before you make sweeping statements without proper references. Some people may take you on your word and the faulty/incomplete information may prevent them from reaching optimal health. In my personal experience, regular, low doses of xylitol have proven extremely beneficial to my oral health and I am not ingesting nearly enough to arrest ketosis.

    • March 17, 2014 4:44 pm

      Glad it’s working for you! See the previous comment I made @Lisa.

      Thanks for reading.

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