We know too much sugar is harmful, but is there a healthy sugar substitute? Is Stevia safe?
By now, it should be clear that the amount of sugar that average Americans consume is harmful. We also know that Saccharin and Aspartame have been shown to be problematic over the years.
Is there a healthy sugar substitute? How about Stevia?
Stevia is a perennial shrub (stevia rebaudiana) native to Paraguay and Brazil. The leaves have long been used to sweeten the local Mate. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) originally banned Stevia in 1991 and still hasn’t approved the crude extract for use as a sweetener. However, Rebaudioside A, a highly refined extract of the leaf, has been accepted as a Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) food supplement. Reb-A is sold under various trademarks, including Truvia, PureVia, and SweetLeaf.
So far so (potentially) good. But is Stevia safe? Let’s do a deeper dive and examine Stevia further.
The key benefit of Stevia involves calorie reduction: Stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar and arguably makes a tasty zero-calorie drink.
Further, some preclinical studies hint at the possibility that Stevia could act as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent. (However, much more research is needed before it can be recommended as a therapeutic agent.)
Of course, if zero-calorie sweeteners like Stevia are a big part of your diet, you’re probably eating too many processed foods. Processed foods don’t support your overall health. Further, recent research suggest that regular consumption of artificial sweeteners can actually lead to weight gain. The body tracks caloric intake and generally uses that data to regulate food intake. Eating zero-calorie foods may inadvertently cause you to consume more calories from other sources.
In addition, many researchers continue to ask the question: Is Stevia safe? It’s a complicated question, as Stevia does have known side effects, including allergic reactions, digestive issues, blood sugar control issues, and possible damage to heart and kidney health.
People with a preexisting allergy to chrysanthemums, marigolds, ragweed, or daisies are at greater risk of a Stevia reaction. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include dizziness, hives, shortness of breath, wheezing, general weakness, or a hard time swallowing shortly after consuming Stevia. If any of these symptoms present themselves, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
Some people have also reported feelings of nausea after consuming highly refined Stevia. The steviosides in stevia can irritate your stomach. Other digestive issues associated with stevia use include bloating and decreased appetite. If you have any of these responses to Stevia and they don’t go away after you stop using it, speak with your doctor.
In short, the FDA has only recognized the highly refined Stevia extract as safe, meaning that not all Stevia preparations are approved for consumption. Possible health effects of non-approved crude extracts of Stevia and whole-leaf stevia extracts are damage to the heart and kidneys and blood sugar control problems.
So … Is Stevia Safe?
Occasional use of Stevia is generally considered safe. However, much more long-term research is required in the areas described below.
Mutagenic – An animal study found that some bacteria in the gut can convert stevioside into compounds that exhibit mutatgenic effects.
Central Nervous System – Stevia contains beta-caryophyllene and caryophyllene oxide, compounds that may depress the activity of your central nervous system. Beta-caryophyllene epoxides can cross the brain-blood barrier and bind to the synaptic-vesicle membrane, possibly interfering with the regulation of neurological impulses in your brain. More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of Stevia on both the brain and the spinal cord.
Peripheral Nervous System – By a similar mechanism, Stevia may affect the transmission of nerve impulses to and from your central nervous system and may slow the speed of nerve conduction. In the extreme, this may lead to tingling or numbness in your hands and feet (similar to the feeling of neuropathy), as well as a temporary loss in motor control. (However, it seems that it would require a massive dose or extreme sensitivity to Stevia’s compounds to reach this level of disfunction.)
Psychological Effects – Stevia may interfere with the actions of anti-psychotic medications because those medications can compete for the same cellular receptors in the brain. People suffering from bipolar disorder, psychosis, and other chemically treated psychological issues may find that their symptoms worsen when they consume Stevia. Ingesting Stevia and lithium, for example, isn’t recommended, as Stevia can cause your body to retain higher amounts of the metal. People taking anti-psychotic medications should consult with their physicians before using any products containing Stevia.
Pregnancy – Stevia consumption isn’t recommended for women who are pregnant or who are breastfeeding, as the sweetener is not currently approved for infant consumption.
Is Stevia Safe — Key Takeaways
So … is Stevia safe? The answer is that occasional use of Stevia – if you aren’t pregnant – is most likely safe. However, using Stevia as a general replacement for sugar may be problematic. More to the point, replacing sugar probably isn’t the path to a healthy lifestyle.
Phyllanthus niruri (Chanca Piedra, Stonebreaker) is a small herb found in tropical rainforests and coastal areas. Chanca Piedra has been used for thousands of years to eliminate kidney and gall stones and has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels and protect against potential liver damage.
In sum, eliminate added sugar. Ween yourself off your sweet-tooth cravings. Start there, and you’ll find that almost every one of your body system functions better. In short, eliminating sweeteners of all kinds will help you optimize your health.