Xylitol is prothrombotic and associated with cardiovascular risk

Eur Heart J. 2024 Jun 6:ehae244. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehae244. Online ahead of print.


Background and aims: The pathways and metabolites that contribute to residual cardiovascular disease risks are unclear. Low-calorie sweeteners are widely used sugar substitutes in processed foods with presumed health benefits. Many low-calorie sweeteners are sugar alcohols that also are produced endogenously, albeit at levels over 1000-fold lower than observed following consumption as a sugar substitute.

Methods: Untargeted metabolomics studies were performed on overnight fasting plasma samples in a discovery cohort (n = 1157) of sequential stable subjects undergoing elective diagnostic cardiac evaluations; subsequent stable isotope dilution liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) analyses were performed on an independent, non-overlapping validation cohort (n = 2149). Complementary isolated human platelet, platelet-rich plasma, whole blood, and animal model studies examined the effect of xylitol on platelet responsiveness and thrombus formation in vivo. Finally, an intervention study was performed to assess the effects of xylitol consumption on platelet function in healthy volunteers (n = 10).

Results: In initial untargeted metabolomics studies (discovery cohort), circulating levels of a polyol tentatively assigned as xylitol were associated with incident (3-year) major adverse cardiovascular event (MACE) risk. Subsequent stable isotope dilution LC-MS/MS analyses (validation cohort) specific for xylitol (and not its structural isomers) confirmed its association with incident MACE risk [third vs. first tertile adjusted hazard ratio (95% confidence interval), 1.57 (1.12-2.21), P < .01]. Complementary mechanistic studies showed xylitol-enhanced multiple indices of platelet reactivity and in vivo thrombosis formation at levels observed in fasting plasma. In interventional studies, consumption of a xylitol-sweetened drink markedly raised plasma levels and enhanced multiple functional measures of platelet responsiveness in all subjects.

Conclusions: Xylitol is associated with incident MACE risk. Moreover, xylitol both enhanced platelet reactivity and thrombosis potential in vivo. Further studies examining the cardiovascular safety of xylitol are warranted.

Keywords: Artificial sweetener; Cardiovascular disease; Heart attack; Low-calorie sweetener; Nutrition; Platelet; Polyol; Stroke; Sugar alcohol; Thrombosis.