Is Stevia Bad For You?

Is Stevia Bad For You?

As more and more consumers become aware of the many negative health effects of over-consuming sugar in their diet, the search continues for a good replacement to sweeten foods. While the FDA has insisted that artificial sweeteners like aspartame (brand name Equal) and sucralose (brand name Splenda) are safe, they can cause side effects in many people. Headaches and muscle pain are two of the more common reported side effects, for example.1

The main reason we turn to these sweeteners is to enjoy sweetened foods without the calories. Yet studies have shown that artificial sweeteners not only don’t help us lose weight, they may make us gain weight.2 In addition, studies have linked the heavy use of artificial sweeteners with a slightly increased risk of bladder cancer.3

For years, natural practitioners, myself included, have recommended the herb stevia as a natural sweetener alternative. The stevia plant grows in South America and has a long history of use with native South Americans for a variety of health benefits. More recently, stevia has been used as a natural sweetener in other countries like Japan. Yet it was never approved as a sweetener in Europe or the US — until recently that is.

In December of 2008, stevia was finally approved by the FDA for use as a general purpose sweetener in the US. Marketed under the brand names TruVia and PureVia, the sweeteners are not in the whole plant form, but are made from an extract from the stevia plant called rebaudioside A, or rebiana for short.

Already, soft drink companies like Coca Cola and PepsiCo are launching stevia sweetened versions of their soft drinks in an effort to boost their sagging sales and unhealthy reputation. “Natural great tasting zero calorie sweetener that comes from a leaf, not a lab,” is the comforting description being used for these sweeteners. But surprisingly, even this natural sweetener is facing some controversy.

Stevia’s controversial past includes studies linking it to liver mutations, fertility problems, and disruptions in energy metabolism.4 A December 2008 study in chicks fed a diet of either dried ground whole stevia leaves or pure stevioside (an extract of stevia comparable to rebiana), reported that both the dried stevia as well as the extract decreased blood levels of T3 thyroid hormone.5This study is a concern because T3 is your active thyroid hormone, and low thyroid activity is linked with weight gain and a whole host of health problems.

Like many other substances, the negative effects of stevia are seen in animals only at very high levels of intake, and we don’t know if these effects will carry through to humans. So light to moderate usage is probably safe, and unlike the artificial sweeteners, I have yet to see any of my patients experience headaches or muscle pain from stevia.

Remember stevia is a sweet plant, so my guess is it will turn out to be much better than the artificial sweeteners. But until further research on the stevia extracts can clarify their effects, I recommend using stevia only in moderation like other sweeteners.

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References:
1 Van den Eeden SK, et al. Neurology. 44 (10): 1787-93.
2 American Psychological Association (2008, February 11). Artificial Sweeteners Linked To Weight Gain. Science Daily. Retrieved February 2, 2009, fromhttp://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080210183902.htm.
3 http://annonc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/15/10/1460.
4 Schardt, David. Stevia a Bittersweet Tale. http://www.cspinet.org/nah/4_00/stevia.html.
5 Atteh JO, et al. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2008 Dec; 92(6):640-9.

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Health Topic: Diet and Nutrition | Health Warning

Comments:

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write this article. Most people say that Stevia is good for you but I appreciate you researching this. I will definitely limit my Stevia intake.

    Thanks!

  2. Ilina Vorna says:

    Ditto!

  3. Mike Jackson says:

    Thank you for your very useful summary. Could you please provide an approximate daily use that defines your suggestion to limit intake to moderate levels? Any comment comparing Stevia with Agave in terms of safety? Much appreciated.

  4. Arturo Billington says:

    Today artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes are found in a variety of food and beverages marketed as “sugar-free” or “diet,” including soft drinks, chewing gum, jellies, baked goods, candy, fruit juice, and ice cream and yogurt. *`-”

  5. Erin says:

    THANK YOU for mentioning the possible effect on T3. I have been using liquid stevia in my morning coffee for the past few months and have started noticing thyroid side effects like fatigue, bloating, wave like sensations in my arms/legs all of which led me to a doctor years ago when I was diagnosed with borderline hypothyroid. I will stop for a while and see if I readjust!

  6. Helena Hunt says:

    I have found that just putting 1 tablet into my tea or coffee doesn’t give me the sweetness I want. Have tried 2 or even 3 and am still disappointed. Maybe I should just go back to normal sugar!

  7. Christine says:

    I have recently been suffering migraines. I couldn’t figure out the trigger. I finally realized that Stevia was the only thing different in my entire lifestyle (I was looking at exercise, posture, sleep, food, beverages, etc) so I stopped using it. I had been using it daily. The headaches stopped within 24 hours and have not returned. I am not an allergy prone person, so I question the general safety of something that causes such pain.

  8. JeffreyDahmer says:

    I have been consuming a protein power with stevia in it and I’ve noticed that my throat becomes very tight and constricted. I have also been feeling fatigued. Stevia must be bad, all sweetners are. People are just too hooked on sweet stuff and the health industry is cashing in on that. There is already evidence that xylitol is bad for you and extracted with chemicals. The same goes for agave, this is also extracted with chemicals. It’ll come out some day that stevia is bad for you…

  9. Lisa says:

    they thanks for posting this i have a border line thyroid problem so its nice to know i will keep a close eye on how stevia affects me i recently found a stevia plant in my local bunnings and have just been cutting up half a leaf to have in my oats so i will keep an eye out and let you know what happens =-)

  10. Angelina says:

    I love stevia, it has also helped to lower my blood sugar. I drink a soda called Zevia that is sweetened with stevia and it does not give me head aches like regular diet coke. So just speaking for myself, stevia has been a great choice for me. I also buy the liquid drops of stevia and put in a few drops in some club soda. Ginger root beer is one of my favorites along with the cola from the company called Zevia, a lot of your main stream grocery stores carry Zevia. It use to be I Could only get it at Health Food Stores.

    • Billy says:

      I love zevie too. I drink it daily. Did you know that it can help lower blood pressure too. Finally someone that gets it! :-)

  11. Kenneth says:

    I found some brands marketed as stevia also include alcohol sugars like xylitol. Or the are primarily the rebiana extract and not actual stevia. One brand of powder, Truvia, made from rebiana with xylitol caused muscle aches. I switched to a brand of liquid made from stevia and distilled water and haven’t had any ill effects since. Plus the liquid is Paleo compliant unlike the powder.

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