Stevia – A Natural Sweetener
For this reason, people are looking for healthy alternatives.
There are many low-calorie sweeteners on the market, but most of them are artificial.
However, there are a few natural sweeteners out there that taste just as good.
One of these is stevia, a sweetener that has become immensely popular in recent years.
Stevia is a 100% natural, zero calorie sweetener with a number of health benefits that have been confirmed in human studies.
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a green, leafy plant that is native to South America.
It has been used for medicinal purposes for many centuries. The plant has also been bred for its strong, sweet flavor and used as a sweetener.
However, the refined stevia sweeteners used today often don’t resemble the whole stevia plant at all.
You can buy whole or crushed stevia leaves, but most often you are getting an extract (either liquid or powder), or a refined version of the plant’s isolated sweet compounds.
The two major sweet compounds that are isolated from the stevia leaves are called Stevioside and Rebaudioside A. These two compounds are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar.
Here is an important point… most of the studies use stevioside, the isolated sweet compound. It would be hard to reach pharmacologically active doses of stevioside just by using stevia as a sweetener. Stevia is about 10% stevioside, by weight.
People often confuse stevia with another sweetener called Truvia, but they are not the same. Truvia is a blend of compounds, one of which is extracted from stevia leaves.
Bottom line: Stevia is a naturally occurring, zero-calorie sweetener. The two major sweet compounds in stevia are called Stevioside and Rebaudioside A.
Studies Show That Stevia Can Lower Blood Pressure
Elevated blood pressure is a major risk factor for many serious diseases.
This includes heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.
Studies have shown that taking stevioside (one of stevia’s sweet compounds) as a supplement can reduce blood pressure.
One of these studies was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 174 Chinese patients (1).
In this study, patients took either 500 mg of stevioside or placebo (dummy pill), 3 times per day.
These were the results after two years in the group taking stevioside:
- Systolic blood pressure: went from 150 to 140 mmHg.
- Diastolic blood pressure: went from 95 down to 89 mmHg.
In this study, the stevioside group also had a lower risk of Left Ventricular Hypertrophy, an enlarging of the heart that can be caused by elevated blood pressure. The stevioside group also had improved quality of life.
There are also other studies in both humans and animals showing that stevioside can lower blood pressure (2, 3, 4).
The mechanism is not well understood, but some researchers have suggested that stevioside may act by blocking calcium ion channels in cell membranes, a mechanism similar to some blood pressure lowering drugs (5).
Keep in mind that it would be hard to reach these large daily doses with regular use, so just sweetening things with a little stevia here and there probably won’t have such a potent blood pressure lowering effect.
Bottom line: Studies suggest that stevioside, one of the sweet compounds in stevia, can lower blood pressure when it is unnaturally high. However, these studies used very large doses.
Stevia May Lower Blood Sugar Levels and Help Fight Diabetes
Type II diabetes is currently one of the biggest health problems in the world.
It is characterized by elevated blood sugar in the context of insulin resistance or an inability to produce insulin.
Stevia has been studied in diabetic patients with impressive results.
In one of the studies, type 2 diabetic patients took either 1 gram of stevioside with a meal, or 1 gram of maize starch.
The group taking stevioside had a reduction in blood sugar by about 18% (6).
Another study compared sucrose (regular sugar), aspartame and stevia. It found that stevia lowered both blood sugar and insulin levels after a meal, compared to the other two sweeteners (7).
Other studies in animals and test tubes have shown that stevioside may increase production of insulin, as well as make the cells more sensitive to its effects (8, 9).
Insulin is the hormone that drives blood sugar into cells, so this appears to be the mechanism behind stevia’s blood sugar lowering effects.
Bottom line: Stevioside appears to improve function of the hormone insulin, helping to lower blood sugar levels. This may be useful for people with type 2 diabetes.
Stevia Has Shown Health benefits in a Number of Animal Studies
Stevia has also been tested in animals.
One animal study found that stevioside decreased oxidized LDL cholesterol, indicating that it may help prevent heart disease (10).
Stevia has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, diuretic and immunomodulatory effects (11).
But definitely take all of this with a grain of salt. What works in rats doesn’t always work in humans.
Bottom line: The active compounds in stevia have led to numerous health benefits in animal studies, including reduced oxidized LDL cholesterol.
Is Stevia Safe?
Judging from two review studies published in 2010, stevia has not been shown to lead to any adverse effect on health.
However, there have been some claims out there about stevia having a similar structure to hormones that can interfere with fertility.
Those claims are based on studies on animals that were given extremely high doses of stevia extract, so it is unlikely that this is applicable to humans.
Bottom line: Overall, stevia has an outstanding safety profile and no adverse effects have been reported in the human studies.
What are the Benefits of Stevia?
A number of studies show that Stevia can be beneficial in the treatment of many health conditions. Stevia is believed to have anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-glycemic, and anti-hypertensive properties which may help with hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, chronic fatigue, indigestion, upset stomach, heartburn, weight loss, cold and flu, gingivitis, tooth decay, cavities, dandruff and hair loss, brittle bones or osteoporosis, streptococcus, candidiasis, bacterial infections and skin conditions such as cuts, wounds, rashes, itchiness, blemishes, acne, seborrhoeic dermatitis, dermatitis, eczema, and wrinkles. It may also improve energy levels, strengthen immune system, stimulate mental activity, and may also help in withdrawl from tobacco and alcohol addiction.
Uses of Stevia
DANDRUFF AND HAIR HEALTH
Stevia concentrate is believed to be beneficial for dandruff, dry scalp, and dull, dry and thin hair. People have noticed stronger, dandruff-free and rejuvenated hair after the regular use of Stevia. Simply mix 3-4 drops of Stevia concentrate into your regular shampoo and wash as normal. Also, after shampooing, using stevia tea as a conditioner and rinsing it out after 5 minutes can help retain natural hair colour and strength.
Studies and researches show that Stevia may stabilize blood sugar levels, increase insulin resistance, may even promote insulin production by promoting the pancreas health, discourage glucose absorption in the blood, and inhibit candidiasis – a yeast infection that flourish with sugar. Stevia is a great low carb, low sugar and low calorie sugar alternative and the steviol glycosides are not metabolized by the body and are excreted in the urine without getting accumulated in the body. A Study also suggests that Stevia may inhibit the craving for sweet and oily or fatty foods. Drinking tea made with crushed raw Stevia leaves, or with its extract or tea bags two to three times daily may help with hyperglycemia. To make Stevia tea, heat – not boil one cup of water and let a tea bag or 1teaspoon of its leaves steep in it for 5 -7 minutes. Drink it hot or cold. Or 3-4 drops of Stevia extract can be added to warm or cold cup of water. Also stevia can be used as a natural alternative to any other artificial sweetener being used.
Study shows that antibacterial properties of Stevia may help with gingivitis, cavities, tooth decay and mouth sores. It may suppress the development and reproduction of infectious organisms in the gums and teeth, inhibit the growth of plaque and may improve overall oral health. People who have used Stevia as a mouthwash has reported significant decrease in gingivitis and other mouth infections. Simply gargling with Stevia mouthwash and brushing with Stevia added toothpaste may be beneficial. To make Stevia mouthwash, add 3-4 drops of Stevia extract in half a cup of lukewarm water or steep half a cup of tea with its leaves or teabag and gargle three to four times daily especially in the morning and at night. For toothpaste, mix 2 drops of Stevia extract to the regular toothpaste.
HEARTBURN AND INDIGESTION
People in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia have been using Stevia tea to soothe upset stomach, heartburn, and to improve indigestion and gastrointestinal function. Drinking Stevia tea after every meal may serve as a digestive aid and relieve heartburn and stomach pain.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE (HYPERTENSION)
A few longer term studies done over a period of 1 and 2 years show that stevia may lower elevated blood pressure levels. Simply drinking Stevia tea twice daily may help stabilize the blood pressure levels.
A study performed on chickens shows that by adding Stevia leaf powder to chicken feed it significantly increased calcium metabolism in the chickens and had 75% decreased eggshell breakage. A patent application for possible Osteoporosis treatment with Stevia suggests that stevia may help promote absorption of calcium in the body and help improve bone density. Suggested remedy is to make Alfalfa and stevia tea by steeping Alfalfa herb and Stevia half teaspoon each for 5-7 minutes. Drink it two to three times daily. Adding vitamin D powder to the tea or taking its supplements can be beneficial too.
Recent medical research suggests that low at carbohydrates, calories and sugar Stevia may be beneficial in weight management. One preliminary research suggests that Stevia may interfere with the functions of hypothalamus and may aid weight loss by curbing the hunger sensation. Hypothalamus is a part of the brain which controls hunger, thirst and fatigue along with its other functions. Anti-glycemic activity of Stevia may also control blood glucose levels which is one of the major causes of weight gain. Stevia works as a tonic to increase energy levels in people battling for weight loss. Suggested remedy is to drink one cup of Stevia tea or mix 10-15 drops of Stevia concentrate in one cup of cold or warm water. Drink it 15 minutes before every meal.
WRINKLES AND OTHER SKIN CONDITIONS
Stevia is believed to be a remarkable healing agent for skin disorders. Its antioxidant, antibacterial and antiseptic activity may help with wrinkles, skin blemishes, dermatitis, eczema, acne outbreaks, scarring, rashes, itchiness and chapped lips. A small amount of Stevia concentrate applied directly onto the affected skin may promote the healing process. To smooth out the wrinkles, before going to bed, apply a paste made by crushed Stevia leaves or its liquid concentrate evenly all over the face and let it dry for fifteen to twenty minutes. Wash and pat dry your face and apply a few drops of extra virgin coconut oil on the face and leave it on over night to benefit from its antioxidant effects.