Is Stevia Safe?

Stevia plant leaves have been used for centuries by native people in Brazil and Paraguay to sweeten beverages. It has also been used in Japan to sweeten since 1970.  Stevia contains no sugar; the main ingredient is called Stevioside. Many people choose to use Stevia in the place of artificial sweeteners. It is calorie-free and has no impact on blood sugar. It is also much sweeter than table sugar–hundreds of times sweeter. The main reason I haven’t tried Stevia is because you can’t buy it in any of the local grocery stores in my area.

Through doing some research, surprisingly I’ve come across claims which say Stevia may not be safe. It’s natural, so one would assume it is safe. Then again, tobacco is natural and it isn’t safe. I stumbled across one site that said a group of European scientists in early 2006 conducted a study that showed when male rats were given high doses of Stevia for 22 months, their production of sperm was reduced severely. It also showed a decline in the weight of the seminal vesicles and an increase of cell proliferation in their testicles. It was stated that over time, this could likely cause infertility or other reproductive problems. Another study in female hamsters showed they had fewer and smaller offspring.

This information is enough to convince some people to either stop using Stevia or to never start using it. For me, it’s not quite enough. I find it hard to believe Stevia is really this harmful, if the Japanese have been using it since the 70s with no report of problems. Also, these studies don’t specify exactly how much Stevia was given in relation to the body weight of the subject. No specific details of the study were given, so I can’t help but doubt its credibility. In addition, I also came across references to studies claiming Stevia is completely safe and even offers health benefits such as regulating blood sugar levels, lowering high blood pressure, improving digestion, and also calming an upset stomach. These studies showed Stevia has absolutely no effect the reproductive system, even when given in large doses (2,500 mg or 2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight).

Stevia is not approved by the FDA as a food additive, which is why I wasn’t able to find any prepackaged products with Stevia. The reason it isn’t approved is not because tests show it’s unsafe but because the toxicological information on Stevia is too inadequate to determine its safety. Basically, no one has done enough extensive research to prove one way or another. Part of this may be because no one wants to spend the big bucks to get it tested. Since Stevia is a natural product, it requires no patent to produce, and that gives less of a motive for companies to take Stevia under their wing because anyone could take a piece of the market. However, the FDA did approve Stevia to be marketed as a dietary supplement.

My take on it is that Stevia is probably safe in moderation–just like the artificial sweeteners. I’m sure the same people who think Stevia isn’t safe, also feel artificial sweeteners aren’t safe. I’m going to give Stevia a try. There are a couple of reasons why I would like to try Stevia. One being, I would like to have an alternative to artificial sweetener because artificial sweeteners cause me to experience  gas, bloating, and headaches, when used regularly. Also, I have read that Stevia is a much better option for those prone to yeast infections because supposedly the yeast do feed off of the artificial sweeteners. I have severely cut back on my intake of artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols since I did my 2 weeks without them. Some weeks I don’t even have any, and when I do it’s only once during the week. Overall, my vagina feels healthier. Last week I had my period. The little irritation I feel after my period was still there for a day or two but didn’t last nearly as long as it had in the past when I was using artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols daily. In the past, it would last an entire week after my period. I’m curious to see how things down there react to Stevia.