Is Stevia Safe?
It is the first question that comes to the mind of every health-conscious person before using a comparatively new sweetener. It becomes more critical when a herb is going to replace a multi decades-old sugar which has already been proved harmful for human heart, liver and other organs.
A superficial answer of this vital question can be that dozens of countries in North America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe have permitted the use of stevia sweetener in foods, and declared it safe for human health. However, we know that the government has been allowing various harmful products to be sold openly like tobacco and alcohol. Some of the insecticides and pesticides like DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), continued to be used for long before they were banned by various governments. A similar case is with the drugs. A whole generation takes medicines for years before some negative side-effects are observed to ban those drugs.
Just look at Stevia which can be categorized in three stages of the stevia leaves; fresh leaves, dried leaves (in powder form) and extract of active compounds from the stevia leaves which are sold by big companies like WallMart, Truvia, Purevia, etc. As these companies seek permission for selling the stevia leaf extract, so the governments are approving them alone as safe for human health. The United States Food and Drug Administration (USDFA) states:
“High-purity steviol glycosides may be lawfully marketed and added to food products sold in the United States. However, stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts are not considered GRAS and do not have FDA approval for use in food.”
Same is the case with the European Union, Canada, and other countries. Arguably, there can be another reason too. The governments don’t consider stevia leaf and crude stevia extract unhealthy for human beings. In that case the authorities should notify stevia side effects to the ordinary customers. But we have failed to find any such document on websites of the concerned authorities.
After scrolling through dozens of published researches and studies, you are surprised to find very few reliable studies on stevia side effects. And those available, most of them are made while taking stevia equal to other natural and artificial sweeteners.
However, some latest studies on Stevia side effects are eye openers for us who didn't want to believe on stevia dangers.
The early studies in the United States showed some results where stevia was associated with some cancers. The USFDA banned the sweetener in 1991 and continued so for the next four years. In 1995, the USDA permitted to import and sale of stevia as a food supplement but not as a sweetener. In 2008 the stevia sweetener was declared as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) to be used in the foods as an additive.
The concerns of safety of stevia sweetener for male reproductive system rise from an old study which shows that administration of stevia rebaudiana extract to male rats for sixty days can reduce weight of their testis, seminal vesicle, and sperm concentration. In some situations, the stevia seems to cause infertility.
However, a recent study shows different results; is stevia safe?
“Stevia resulted in an increase in weight, testis volume, the number of sexual lineage cells, and sperm count and motility…, Hence, Stevia could diminish the reproductive system problems and improve infertility in diabetic male rats.”
This study proves that past research was not correctly conducted. The stevia is not only safe for the male reproductive system but also beneficial for fertility.
However, there is need for another research to find a conclusive evidence that Stevia sweetener is safe for male reproductive system. The discussion below proves that stevia sweetener seems much more dangerous that it was considered a couple of years ago.
The pregnancy issues relate to two lives, so it is important to ask is stevia safe during pregnancy?
In a recent study made on female rats which were divided into four groups. One was of lean rats while three groups were of obese female rats. One obese group was administered stevia, and it was found that “only 53.3% of rats were able to conceive in the obese + stevia group.”
In another study it was observed that the use of sweeteners during pregnancy may cause various problems. The study advised:
“During pregnancy, the consumption of cyclamate, saccharin and crude stevia leaf should be avoided, as well as that of stevia infusions or extracts of the whole leaf.”
Dr. Bruce Fife, author of the famous book, "The Stevia Deception," tells story of a 42 years old pregnant woman Tammy, who took stevia sweetner in her pregnancy and ended up in abortion. The stevia side effects were so strong that she was unable to take sugary things after week of quitting stevia. She also reported that any quantity of sweet edibles like a spoon of ice cream used to feel her dizzy and out of balance, even after months.
He also reported various research studies to prove that stevia was not safe during pregnancy. He reported:
“While stevioside and rebaudioside A appear to be nontoxic, steviol, on the other hand, has been shown to be toxic and mutagenic in lab animals. At high does steviol is toxic to pregnant hamsters and their fetuses when given days six through ten of gestation.”
Unfortunately, most of the supporters of Stevia sweeteners and even the governments consider it safe in pregnancy by limiting its consumption to five packets or less. However, some companies have started to issue warnings on their labels that their product is not safe in pregnancy.
It is another area where some research work immediately required as food-producing companies have been using stevia sweetener in some products being prepared for children. The Canadian government is of the view that no evidence has been reported so far that stevia can cause allergy to the general public including children. It further states:
“With respect to allergenicity, Health Canada's Food Directorate considers that highly purified steviol glycosides, including purified preparations of rebaudioside A, used as a food additive are unlikely to be an allergenic concern for the general population.”
The above discussion shows that the use of stevia during pregnancy is not recommended. Some advise not to use Stevia sweetener if you are suffering from low blood pressure. On the other hand the governments all over the globe are permitting Stevia sweetener to be used in various foods as sugar free. At the same time, the natural Stevia leaves are not approved to be used in foods.
Is stevia safe for others?
The question is still unanswered. However, we have tried below to analyze the latest researches and scientific to find an answer.
Saqib Ali Ateel
Stevia is a natural, zero-calorie popular sweetener. You may disagree what is written above. It is comparatively a new switch from sugar. You are welcome with your point of view, your personal story of using it or even new research which refutes or alleviates moringa benefits. You are requested to share it with our visitors.