Stevia is a plant, particularly called a perennial shrub, which belongs to the Asteraceae (daisy) family. This shrub is indigenous to northern part of South America. Stevia is also commercially grown in other places including China, Thailand, Central America, and Israel. Stevia comes with a scientific name Stevia rebaudiana. Its common names are Azucacaa, Ca-A-Yupi, Capim Doce, Eira-Caa, Ca-A-Jhei, EStevia, Green Stevia, Eupatorium rebaudianum, Paraguayan Stevioside, Reb A, Chanvre d’Eau, Plante Sucrée, Rebaudioside A, Stevia Plant, Sweetleaf, Sweet Herb, Sweet Herb of Paraguay, Stevioside, Yerba Dulce, and Sweet Leaf of Paraguay.
Over the years, the native of South America began using Stevia as a natural sweetener. The leaves if the plant is also used as herbal medicine.
What is Stevia used for?
Common uses of Stevia are:
- Sweetening agent- For centuries, Stevia has been used as a natural sweetener. In 1931, glycosides were discovered. This substance makes the plant useful as a natural sweetener.
- Flavor enhancer
- weight loss treatment (due to its low caloric content)
- Treatment of diabetes- Diabetes is a chronic condition wherein there is an abnormally high level of glucose or sugar in the blood circulation. Studies show that Stevia can be beneficial for diabetic patients since it can help reduce the blood sugar levels.
- Reducing high blood pressure- A study shows that an intake of approximately 750 to1500 mg a day of stevioside, a substance that is found in Stevia, can help lower the systolic blood pressure by 10 to 14 mmHg and the diastolic blood pressure by 6 to 14 mmHg. With just a week of treatment, there can be gradual improvements that can be seen.
- Lowers uric acid levels- Uric acid is a produced when purines are broken down by the body. Purine can be obtained from the diet, by eating foods like anchovies, mackerel, liver, dried beans, beer, and peas. Normally, uric acid is dissolved in the blood and pass through the kidneys. It will then be eliminated through the urine. But in certain condition, the body may produce too much uric acid, or have a difficulty in excreting it. As a result, the person may suffer from a condition called hyperuricemia (high uric acid levels in the blood).
- Treatment of heartburn
- Treatment of heart problems
- Water retention
- Pregnancy prevention
- Better muscle contraction
Common side effects of Stevia
Generally, Stevia is likely safe to use since it is derived from a plant. Stevioside and rebaudioside A, the chemicals found in Stevia, poses less side effects and adverse reactions. In fact, Rebaudioside A is considered in the United States as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status for its use as sweetener.
On the other hand, stevioside is widely used in research for approximately two years, using the its dose of up to 1500 mg per day.
Although Stevia is safe to use in general, there are some cases in which a person may experience some side effects like.
Here are some of the mild side effects that a person may have:
- Dizziness- This may interfere in the person’s ability to walk or stand up normally without any assistance. The person’s gait might be affected.
- Muscle pain
- Temporary decrease in appetite
- Stomach upset- The substance stevioside is responsible for this side effect. Stevioside may cause irritation of the stomach lining.
In addition to this, there are also some potentially harmful side effects that could happen to anyone. However, these only occur rarely. Here are some of the harmful side effects:
- This is a medical term for severe allergic reaction. This is a very rare case, but once it happened, it can be life-threatening. Before taking Stevia, make sure that you don’t have any allergies to chrysanthemums, marigolds, ragweed or daises. If you are allergic to these plants, you are most likely allergic also to Stevia. Symptoms of severe allergic reaction includes difficulty breathing or swallowing, shortness of breath, wheezing, hives, rashes, weakness, dizziness, and paleness of the skin. If you experience these symptoms, immediate medical attention is urgently needed. If the anaphylaxis does not resolved in due time, it can lead to fatal medical complications or can even lead to death.
2. Severe hypoglycemia
- Drug interactions with antidiabetic drugs may lead to severe hypoglycemia or sudden drop of blood sugar levels. So if you are taking any anitdiabetic drug such as insulin, oral hypoglycemic drugs, biguanides, meglitinides, or thiazolidinediones, it is important to seek first some medical advice in order to avoid drug interaction. Severe hypoglycemia is a life-threatening event. A person may experience seizures, syncope, coma, or can even lead to death.
3. Severe hypotension
- Stevia is avoided when the person is already taking antihypertensive drugs such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, or calcium channel blockers. When antihypertensive drugs are taken with Stevia, it can lead to too much lowering of blood pressure.
4. Increase lithium levels
- The use of Stevia along with lithium should be strongly avoided because Stevia can increase the lithium retention in the body. Lithium is basically used as a treatment for bipolar disorder. If lithium level is very high, it can lead to lithium toxicity. Lithium toxicity can lead to renal problems such as nephritic syndrome, chronic tubulointerstitial nephritis, and renal tubular acidosis. Aside from renal disorders, the endocrine system may also be affected. There might be imbalances in thyroid hormones, leading to hypothyroidism, or its life-threatening complication called myxedema coma. Aplastic anemia is also a common complication of lithium toxicity.
Stevia side effects on children
As a matter of fact, Stevia is even recommended for children as a substitute for the usual artificial sweetener. It is natural, safe, and does not cause any tooth decay unlike the artificial sweeteners. Although it is beneficial for children, there are still cases in which the side effects mentioned above may still occur.
Stevia side effects on men
Almost all the side effects of Stevia may be encountered by any man. Still, having some side effects is generally uncommon to anyone to occur. Some of the side effects common to men are dizziness, muscle pain, and stomach upset. Most men used Stevia due to its weight loss effect, which is desirable for any man who wants lose weight.
Stevia side effects on women
Also, women can experience all of the side effects listed above. The common effects that women experience are nausea, dizziness, and stomach upset. Same as men, women also used Stevia to have its weight loss effect.
Stevia side effects on pregnant women
There is not enough study that can support that Stevia is harmful for pregnant women. However, it is still advisable and better to stay safe by avoiding Stevia during pregnancy.
Stevia side effects on elderly
Elderly individuals may also experience all the side effects listed above like GI upset, bloating, body ache, and dizziness.