What are the Potential Dangers of Stevia?

Amanda R. Bell

Stevia, one of many sugar substitutes on the market, is considered generally safe for consumption by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. There are certain studies, however, that indicate some dangers of stevia. Those who are allergic to certain plants or suffer from diabetes or low blood pressure should exercise caution when consuming stevia. In otherwise healthy individuals, stevia may cause some undesirable side effects. There have also been some studies done on rats that indicate the plant could cause cancer or reduce fertility.

Stevia may be used to sweeten beverages.
Stevia may be used to sweeten beverages.

One of the dangers of stevia include an allergic reaction. This typically occurs in people who suffer from plant allergies, especially those sensitive to ragweed, daisies, and marigolds. Persons who experience reactions to these or any other plants should use caution when using stevia as an artificial sweetener and avoid any foods containing the plant if they've had a previous reaction.

Stevia can cause side effects like allergic reaction.
Stevia can cause side effects like allergic reaction.

Individuals suffering from diabetes should closely monitor their blood sugar levels if they've eaten anything containing stevia. Studies have found that this plant, in both raw and refined form, can react with several different blood sugar control medications and lower blood sugar. While research is not clear on these dangers of stevia, most doctors recommend diabetics limit the use of this plant.

In some studies, stevia has been found to cause cancer in healthy laboratory rats.
In some studies, stevia has been found to cause cancer in healthy laboratory rats.

Stevia may also react with some blood pressure medications in those with lower than normal blood pressure. This sugar substitute can cause a person's blood pressure to drop dangerously low. Known as hypotension, this health issue can result in dizziness, weakness, exhaustion, and episodes of fainting.

Stevia may react with certain blood sugar control medications.
Stevia may react with certain blood sugar control medications.

There may also be some dangers of stevia in otherwise healthy individuals. Some people have reported feeling overly full or bloated after consuming products containing this artificial sweetener. Nausea is also a common complaint, as is muscle pain and weakness.

Stevia may cause an allergic reaction in people sensitive to daisies, ragweed, and marigolds.
Stevia may cause an allergic reaction in people sensitive to daisies, ragweed, and marigolds.

Since the early 2000s, researchers have been looking into other potential dangers of stevia. In some studies, the artificial sweetener has been found to cause cancer in healthy laboratory rats. The same results have not been found in studies done on humans, however. While stevia has been consumed in several countries for hundreds of years, there have been no long-term studies done on the link between cancer and stevia; as with most things, moderation is typically suggested when consuming stevia.

Diabetics who consume Stevia should monitor their blood sugar levels.
Diabetics who consume Stevia should monitor their blood sugar levels.

In other studies, chronic high intake of stevia has been found to reduce sperm count and mobility in male rats and hinder the ability of female rats to become pregnant. As with the cancer studies, the same results have not been found in humans. Some researchers have, however, found evidence that stevia was used as a contraceptive in ancient times. While stevia is considered relatively safe for the majority of the population, most researchers and doctors do not suggest heavy, frequent consumption of the plant or foods containing it.

One possible side effect of stevia is bloating.
One possible side effect of stevia is bloating.

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Discussion Comments

lluviaporos

@KoiwiGal - One thing that I think could be very beneficial about it is actually mentioned in the article. The fact that it lowers blood sugar can be a bad thing for some diabetics, certainly, but people with Type 2 diabetes would actually benefit from a sweetener that naturally lowers blood sugars and so would people who are heading towards diabetes.

Don't mess around with it as a medication, of course, but if you just have a few leaves occasionally then I don't see what the harm would be.

KoiwiGal

@clintflint - I don't know if I believe that any companies were trying to discredit stevia, because I've tried it straight from the plant and it's actually not that great. It has a much worse bitter aftertaste than the artificial sweeteners (which are bad enough) and I'm not sure I believe it would have ever been that popular.

The other thing is that you have to refine it in order to get it to be of any use as a sweetener anyway. If you just put the leaves into hot water or whatever, it doesn't soak the sweetness into the drink, it stays in the leaves. So it wouldn't really work as a substitute for sugar without quite a lot of processing, which is definitely something they could patent if they were inclined to do so.

I don't think the dangers of stevia are any greater than with any other plant, but I also don't think it's that great as a sugar substitute.

clintflint

I heard that the cancer they found was in rats that had been given the equivalent of what would be pounds of stevia per day for a human. I heard that the companies that were selling artificial sweeteners were basically trying to figure out a way to discredit stevia because it was going to be so much cheaper to produce and there was no way to copyright the plant.

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