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The importance of xylitol and diabetes mellitus

Diabetes mellitus is one of the most common chronic metabolic diseases affecting global society. Its appearance is due to heterogeneous causal factors characterized by disorder in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, but mainly from a prolonged hyperglycemia, which causes other diseases such as dyslipidemia, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, micro- and macroangiopathy. Resulting in problems with secretion and action of insulin.

According to the 2016 World Diabetes Report of Worlds Health Organization (WHO), 108 million people had diabetes in 1980, and 422 million people in 2014, with the prevalence of this metabolic disorder to occur mainly in middle and low-income countries.

Furthermore, the long-term effects of diabetes include the development of neuropathy, nephropathy and retinopathy. Diabetic people are in danger of peripheral arterial, cardiac and cerebrovascular disease. Specifically, in 2016, 1.6 of the 3.7 million deaths worldwide caused by high blood glucose levels, were due to diabetes mellitus.

In an effort to reduce the side effects of diabetes, people suffering from it should check their blood glucose levels, dyslipidemia and their blood pressure. Diabetics, in order to prevent themselves from hyperglycemia and diabetes mellitus, should also increase their physical activity and lose weight, but mainly change their eating habits, reducing their caloric intake, consuming less carbohydrates, especially sugar, less salt and less saturated and trans-fatty acids. The efficacy of such a lifestyle can be assessed by measuring plasma glucose and determining blood glucose levels.

An alternative way to control hyperglycemia is the use of sweeteners and sugar substitutes in foods or in pharmaceutical products. In that way, people who have been identified as diabetics have the chance to enjoy sugar by eating sweets. Foods with sugar substitutes are suitable for people who want to reduce the glycemic response to their blood. The reduced digestion and absorption capacity of these substitutes leads to lower glycemic and insulin responses.

Among all sugar substitutes, that are marketed or are used in the food industry based on legislation, xylitol is becoming more and more popular. The metabolism of xylitol is faster than the gastrointestinal absorption rate, compared to most carbohydrates, causing little or non-increase of blood sugars and/or insulin levels. Xylitol’s consumption doesn’t release insulin in blood and doesn’t require the presence of insulin to regulate its metabolism or to enter into human cells. As a result, this polyol is an excellent source of energy for people who follow a diet low in carbohydrates, especially those suffering from diabetes mellitus, in order to reduce their glycemic index.