All about stevia: health benefits and side effects
The plant Stevia is a perennial shrub with common name sweet weed, sweet leaf, and honey leaf. There are 150 to 300 species of Stevia but among them, only Stevia rebaudiana is used as bio sweetener. With increased consciousness for health nowadays the use of artificial sweetener with low calorie is also increasing. Stevia rebaudiana is one of the ways to add sweetness in life without adding extra calorie. Many countries like Japan, Brazile are using this plant as a sweetener to control diabetes (1).
The use of stevia is increasing so the commercial demand is also increasing. Stevia has its health effects along with its side effect. We will analyze in detail about all the effects.
What makes stevia sweet?
The sweetness of stevia is higher than the normal sugar with little or almost no impact on the blood sugar level. The leaves of Stevia contains specific compounds of diterpene glycosides namely stevioside and rebaudiosides A. These compounds are easily digestible and get absorbed in our body without any side effect.
Health benefits of Stevia
The sweetness of stevia is 300 times more than normal sugar. And gets easily absorbed by the body, therefore, we can say that Stevia is a boon for diabetics who just don’t want to give away the sweetness from their life. Some of the health benefits are highlighted as below
One of the most important properties of Stevia is that it is antidiabetic in nature. A study done by Curi et al 1996 suggests that taking stevia helps in the suppression of the plasma glucose level and enhance the glucose tolerance of the human body (2). Therefore we can conclude that Stevia helps in insulin production, stabilizing glucagon secretion, improve glucose tolerance (3).
2. Decrease Hypertension
Hypertension is the most common modern disease. Hypertension is mainly caused because of stress which ultimately leads to high blood pressure thus makes the heart more difficult to pump blood. Taking medicine routinely releases the tension of the arteries but also have other side effects on the other hand stevia is a natural way to release the blood pressure with other health benefits. Stevia helps in relaxing the arteries of the body thus releases the tension along with this stevia also helps in lowering the cholesterol level of the body. The glycosides present in Stevia helps in improving blood coagulation and cell regeneration (3).
3. Weight loss
Obesity is a major lifestyle-related disorder in today’s world. Many heart-related diseases, hypertension, and other problems are further related to obesity. Obesity results in low metabolism and thus finally leads to accumulation of fat in the body. Stevia is a good and wide option in order to fight against obesity. Stevia as a natural sweetener has low calorie and increase the body metabolic activity and also sweeter than that of normal sugar (4).
Various research has been done to study the anticancer nature of stevia leaves. Stevia leaves extracts helps in inhibiting or stopping the tumor growth of the body. Studied done on human cell line and animal model suggested that the extract of stevia leaves known as stevioside helps in slow down the cancerous cell growth and DNA replication (3).
5. Relief from the upset stomach
Stevia leaf extract in lukewarm water helps in healing the upset stomach.
6. Antifungal and antibacterial
Stevia leaves can be used as an herbal medicine. The extract of stevia leaves has antifungal and antibacterial property.
7. Healthy Liver
Stevia helps in prevention of cirrhosis of the liver. In an experiment on the animal model (7), it was found that stevia powder 100 mg/ kg body weight helps in reduction of liver cell damage and thus prevents thickening of the tissues of the liver. Therefore stevia may help in healing the damaged liver due to hepatitis or alcoholism.
8. Healthy teeth
Unlike sugar, Stevia is safer against dental caries. Stevia has plaque inhibition and cavity reduction property (5). Sugar has sucrose which causes dental problems on the other hand stevia has stevioside which is safe for teets and does not cause dental caries.
Side effects of Stevia
There is almost little or no side effect of highly purified Stevia. All the studies done on animal model to investigate the potential side effect. Although many studies does not prove anything against stevia. Some of the side effects of stevia are as follows
- Acceptable daily intake defined by FDA for stevia is 4 mg per kilogram of body weight (6).
- Stevia is known to decrease hypertension by dilating the blood vessels. Therefore people having low blood pressure should not take excess stevia. Doctor consultation is necessary in case of prolong intake of stevia.
- Many countries raise an issue regarding the hypersensitivity reaction on taking purified stevia. As Stevia belongs to Asteraceae family therefore and plants of this family are known for inducing hypersensitivity reaction. Although detain study has been done by stevia manufacturers and food allergy networks but no or very little reports are found on the allergic reaction from stevia (8).