Many children have trouble with recurrent ear infections. Parents would like to be able to avoid these episodes. On the other hand, they don’t want to give their youngsters anything that could be bad for them. Might birch sugar help prevent recurrences?
Birch Sugar for Preventing Ear Infections:
Q. What are your thoughts on the use of the natural sweetener xylitol to aid in the treatment of ear infections? I have read that xylitol syrup is used in Europe to treat infants’ ear infections with some success.
A. Xylitol, also called birch sugar, is a natural low-calorie sweetener that is sometimes used as a sugar substitute. Xylitol syrup appears no better than placebo for preventing children’s ear infections (Pediatrics, online Jan. 6, 2014).
An early study of 857 children found that birch sugar in either syrup or chewing gum reduced recurrences of otitis (Uhari, Kontiokari & Niemela, Pediatrics, Oct. 1998). Pediatricians were initially skeptical.
Children who are old enough to chew gum, however, get fewer ear infections if they chew xylitol gum. A systematic review and meta-analysis by the highly respected Cochrane Collaboration agreed that xylitol helps prevent recurrent ear infections (Azarpazhooh, Lawrence & Shah, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Aug. 3, 2016). An earlier analysis found that xylitol-containing chewing gum worked better than xylitol syrup (Azarpazhooh et al, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Nov. 9. 2011).
Dangers of Too Much Birch Sugar:
It may be worth keeping in mind that excess xylitol, like certain other sugar substitutes (maltitol, sorbitol, etc.) can cause diarrhea. As a result, it makes sense to monitor a child’s digestive function when using this approach to ear infection prevention.
In addition, people with dogs must safeguard any products containing xylitol from accidental ingestion by the animals. Birch sugar is one of those foods that are good for people and bad for dogs (Cortinovis & Caloni, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, March 22, 2016).