Stevia, A Natural Sweetener

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Stevia (Stevia Rebaudiana) is a plant of South America and Central America origin that has been used traditionally for centuries as a natural sweetener by its natives.

Stevia leaves have many nutrients that help control blood sugar, such as chromium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium, zinc, and vitamin B3 (Niacin). It is also believed that Stevia has anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-glycemic (reduces high blood sugar level) and anti-hypertensive properties (reduces high blood pressure).

These properties therefore make Stevia good for patients suffering from diabetes, chronic fatigue, indigestion, upset stomach, heartburn, weight loss, cold and flu, gingivitis, tooth decay, cavities, dandruff, hair loss, brittle bones (also, osteoporosis), candidiasis (yeast infections), bacterial infections and skin conditions (such as cuts, wounds, rashes, itchiness, blemishes, acne, seborrhoeic dermatitis, dermatitis, eczema, and wrinkles).

Several reports also suggest that Stevia may also help improve energy levels, strengthen the immune system, stimulate mental activity, and help in managing withdrawal symptoms from tobacco and alcohol addiction.

Let us get to know the plant a little bit more. Did you know that a few decades ago, modern science ‘discovered’ Stevia's potential benefits as a safe sugar substitute compared to artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame and a few others which have been linked to many health hazards including cancer?! Even companies such as Coca Cola (Coca-Cola has already filed 24 U.S. patent ingredients for Stevia!) and Pepsi are using Stevia-derived molecules in their products!

It is reported that Stevia is 300 times sweeter than table sugar! Despite that, unlike table sugar, Stevia is calorie free and has
Glycaemic Index (GI) rating of 1. Being calorie free makes it an ideal accompaniment for those seeking to lose weight.

Note: Low G.I. rating (55 or less) will not raise blood glucose levels very high for very long. Energy derived from such substances is also better sustained in the body. In a nutshell, Low G.I. food substances are safer for health!

Though it is sweet, Stevia is NOT sugar! Having a low G.I. makes it ideal for diabetics whom can safely use it in place of table sugar in their beverages as Stevia does not cause spikes in blood sugar levels. A researched showed that 1000mg of stevioside (natural sweetener extracted from leaves of Stevia rebaudiana) can reduce blood sugar levels by 18%! Others report of Stevia stabilising blood sugar levels increasing insulin resistance and even promoting insulin production by increasing the health of one's pancreas, discouraging glucose absorption in the blood and inhibit candidiasis (a yeast infection that flourishes with sugar).

A 2009 review study showed that stevioside and its related compounds have anti-hyperglycemic, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-diarrheal, diuretic, and immunomodulatory actions. stated that stevioside has been "safely used in research in doses of up to 1500mg per day for 2 years."

If used as a table sugar substitute, Stevia may also help cut down one's visits to the dentist. This is because Stevia is not a sugar molecule and has properties that can inhibit the growth and reproduction of bacteria that causes gum disease and tooth decay.

Another research purports that Stevia could lower high blood pressure when 750-1500 mg of stevioside is consumed each day! It is not shocking to know that there is a research that links higher consumption of fructose with higher risk of high blood pressure by 30%!

Stevia has also numerous antioxidants that can help defend the human body against damage caused by free radicals and is thereby effective in slowing down ageing. It is also interesting to note that antioxidants are almost non-existent in any other sweeteners! Antioxidants have been shown to prevent the DNA damage in various studies. DNA damage has been linked to many diseases, especially cancer, reproductive disorders and developmental defects. Also, slowing down the rate of DNA damage contributes to longevity.

Nevertheless, Stevia seem to be mainly found only organic shops in majority of the countries for now! Stevia can be quite expensive to purchase. It is about three times more expensive than the cost of table sugar. Mass public awareness on the health benefits of using Stevia instead of table sugar will greatly help the currently small stevia manufacturers to grow more of the Stevia plant so that consumers can be offered better prices through economies of scale.

As Stevia has been reported to lower blood sugar levels and blood pressure, precautions are necessary among diabetics whom can, when using Stevia, become hypoglycaemic, and hypertensive patients whom may become hypotensive. Therefore, diabetics and hypertensive patients are advised to monitor blood sugar and blood pressure levels regularly.

Some may also find the "sweet" flavour of Stevia unappealing. Depending on brands, some may have an after-taste that is similar to licorice or mint. There are however manufacturers whom have come up with ingenious ways to mask this licorice or minty taste.

Though there have been no confirmed negative side-effects of Stevia, there is still a need to rule out any potential negative side-effects that have been proposed by some scientific studies. However, these studies have been criticised as being unconvincing since it was not conducted in a large scale and for a longer duration of time.

Some of the claimed side-effects caused by Stevia include bloating, nausea, mild muscle pain, numbness, infertility and even cancer. However, there are many contradictory results from studies done on Stevia. Although a study suggests that a component of Stevia is carcinogenic, there are many other studies that have suggested otherwise. For example, in a 1997 study conducted at the National Institute of Health Sciences in Tokyo, Japan, it was concluded that Stevia had no adverse effects on the experimental rats. Others have also reached the same conclusion.

Ray Sahelian, MD, in The Stevia Cookbook has said, "Stevia has been used as a sweetening ingredient in foods and drinks by South American natives for many centuries, and there is no report of any plant toxicity to the consumers (Suttajit, 1993). Stevia has been added to a number of food products in Japan since the mid 1970s. No indications of any significant side effects have yet been reported after more than 20 years of use. Similarly, no reports of any adverse reactions to stevia have been reported in the United States."

Dr. Ken Yasukawa in the 2002 issue of Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin also claimed that the steviol molecules derived from Stevia leaves successfully blocked the effects of 12-O-teradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (shortly known as TPA) in mice.TPA is a potent carcinogen that promotes the growth of cancer. Therefore, Stevia might be anti-carcinogenic after all. Nevertheless, many propose that more unbiased and honest research is required as to the benefits and side-effects of Stevia.

It is also interesting to highlight that Stevia was once banned in some countries such as the United States (in the 1990s) due to politics as it was regarded as a potential threat to the table sugar industry! Over the years however, the number of countries in which Stevia is available as a sweetener has been increasing. In 2011, stevia was finally approved for use in the European Union.

It is disappointing to know that a plant that has been studied and known for decades have not been fully exploited for its potential health benefits globally. Do help raise awareness on this wonder plant by sharing this article. The more awareness we create among the public, the more stevia plants will be used as a safer sugar substitute all around the world!

Author: Silambarasu Karuppiah & Genevieve Tan Shu Thung

Copyright © 2012 Sandhya Maarga Holistic Living Resources
Holistic Living Annex (JULY 2012)

2 Responses for “ Stevia, A Natural Sweetener”

  1. stevia says:

    The health promoting use of stevia make it more popular in a very short span of time as every one is very health conscious these days

  2. Anna Schmidt says:

    I like Stevia. The minty taste makes my drinks taste better. Thanks for your articles. They are very informative and useful. Keep it up!


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