For Sore Throat, Xylitol and Probiotics Offer No Benefits Over Placebo

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Xylitol, a popular sweetener in sugarless gum, and probiotics are sometimes recommended as remedies for sore throat, but a randomized trial has found that neither works better than a placebo.

Researchers assigned 1,009 people with sore throats to one of three groups: no chewing gum, xylitol gum, or sorbitol gum without xylitol. Half of each group was also given capsules containing either probiotics (lactobacilli and bifidobacteria) or a placebo.

Patients recorded the number of pieces of gum and capsules they consumed daily and, using a seven-point scale, the degree of pain, swallowing difficulty and other symptoms they had each day. The study is in the Canadian Medical Journal.

No matter how the researchers made comparisons — probiotic versus no probiotic; no gum versus sorbitol; no gum versus xylitol; xylitol versus sorbitol — they could find no difference in pain or swallowing problems between the groups.

Even when they looked at subgroups — children 3 to 15, people over 15, people with high temperatures, people with various symptoms (tonsil swelling, cough, fever and others) — no differences appeared. Nor were there any differences between groups in number of days to return to normal activities or in recurrences of the sore throat.

“It’s very disappointing really,” said the lead author, Dr. Paul Little, a professor at the University of Southampton in England, “but once you have an established sore throat, xylitol and probiotics are not going to do any good.”