Are you confused about all the things you're hearing about stevia--that it might be tied to infertility, genetic mutations, and more? It's all pretty scary stuff, but is it all true?
In this post, join me as I dig into all the research in this post to find out if Stevia Is Safe or if it's another one of those not-so-natural sweeteners that can sabotage your health.
Have you been reading posts about stevia safety and wondering, "Is Stevia Safe?" or "Is Stevia Bad for You?"
I've been using stevia for a long time - ever since I tried to get off of sugar.
We use powdered stevia extract, and I've even figured out a way to make Homemade Liquid Stevia Drops.
Stevia is a super sweet sweetener that doesn't feed candida, so it's used by many who want to have something sweet without the bad "side effects" of sugar.
I wrote quite a bit about stevia in this post - Stevia - What it Is and How to Use It" but essentially, stevia:
So what's not to love?
Well, after literally YEARS of using stevia, imagine my fear when I started reading post after post on the internet by other whole foodies either stating that they'd given up using stevia, or stating why they never used it in the first place, or claiming all sorts of problems with this herb.
The articles were questioning stevia safety and really sent me into a panic.
I was shooting emails back and forth with other sugar-free bloggers (including one of my faves - Ricki Heller) about studies we'd found on the internet appearing to highlight issues with my "sweetener of choice".
It's pretty petrifying when you hear that something you and your family have been using for years might have serious health consequences.
I wanted to ignore it.
But I had to know because I was for sure not going to be eating something that was likely or surely going to wreck my health.
I mean, if it wasn't safe, then what sweetener was I going to use?
So into the research I dove.
It took a long time, but today I am going to go through the claims of the other bloggers one by one so that you can see the conclusion that I came to and why.
I'll go through them one by one (hopefully I didn't miss any) so you can decide if you think they are a problem.
Is Stevia Safe?
Claims Against Stevia
- it can cause infertility
- has a hormonal structure
- it can act as a mutagen and cause cancer
- it taxes the adrenals
- causes hormone issues
- causes hypoglycemia
- lowers blood pressure
- has dangerous additives
- high in oxalates
- tastes bitter YIKES!!!!!
Before you go panicking and throw your stevia in the garbage, read on.
Here's where I need to start setting the record straight.
Concerns and The Truth About Stevia Safety
1. Stevia is often mixed with additives
Stevia sold in stores and online is sometimes mixed with fillers and flavor enhancers like:
- glycerine (I use this for low carb baking anyway and don't really have a problem with it as long as it's not made from GMO soy)
- the ubiquitous undisclosed "natural flavors"
I'm sorry but this is simply a ridiculous argument.
While bloggers who make this point about stevia safety are correct to point out that there are often unsavory things added to stevia, this is the equivalent of saying that we shouldn't eat meat because it's often mixed with nitrates, the cows are often fed antibiotics or it is made into hotdogs.
That would be Pure Stevia Extract.
Like I said, however, I don't really have a problem with glycerine and often I have called companies that have "natural flavors" on their label only to find that their flavorings were completely natural extracts only. So sometimes the "natural flavors" aren't so scary after all and it isn't necessarily a problem to buy stevia with additional ingredients - just do your homework.
Pay attention to the labels on the stevia you are considering buying. And the price.
If the price looks too good to be true, chances are that the stevia in question has fillers. On to the next argument.
2. Stevia is bad because it tastes bitter
Yes, some stevia is sub par.
Some is just bad and even pretty horrendous-tasting. But if you do your research, you can find great tasting stevia.
I have always loved NuNaturals, but I am now possibly on the hunt for a replacement as they've changed their formula. It's still pretty good but I have a thing about finding "the best" (like with essential oils). Of course, if you use too much stevia in baked goods and the like, you just might get a bitter aftertaste, but there are ways around that.
If you use less, or use stevia with other sweeteners, you can by and large avoid that problem.
Check out these posts for more info:
- Stevia - What it Is and How to Use It
- 6 Tips to Really Like Stevia - This one is written by a former stevia hater and has some GREAT tips for avoiding the bitter aftertaste.
I'm working on choosing some more brands to recommend to you - but it's taking awhile. Hang in there!
3. Stevia Causes Adrenal Problems
Is stevia safe for people with adrenal fatigue?
The argument here is that:
-you eat stevia
- your body expects glucose because it tastes something sweet
- your body lowers blood sugar (causing hypoglycemia) since it is clearing the way for glucose -your body sends cortisol and adrenaline to create sugar from your tissues. Thus you are causing stress on the adrenals by eating stevia.
I couldn't find any research to back this up. All I can say is that my adrenal issues are far better now, after years of eating stevia, than they were when I was eating sugar.
I just don't see enough evidence of this for it to merit giving up stevia. I do think that perhaps one could just not drink non caloric drinks with only stevia and make sure that stevia is consumed with other calories to mitigate any possible effect.
One important thing to note is that those who make this claim appear to be of the mindset that candida is not caused or aggravated by sugar consumption. I beg to differ.
Yes, candida is a complex issues, but yeast DEFINITELY feeds off of sugar. Just bake some homemade bread to see how it works and it's plain as day.
4. Stevia Can Cause Hypoglycemia
Is stevia safe for hypoglycemics?
Another concern brought up about stevia safety is that is causes hypoglycemia. This is tied into the adrenal issue cited above.
Let me tell you this. I had hypoglycemia (I diagnosed myself -- my doctor missed it) and I had it bad.
I went completely off sugar at that point and started eating a bunch of stevia. More than I ever had before.
My hypoglycemia is gone.
Now, does that mean someone else couldn't have an odd reaction to stevia that might cause hypoglycemia? Of course, it doesn't mean that. If you are concerned, check your blood sugar after consuming stevia. Everyone is different.
There are some studies showing that stevia helps control hyperglycemia, but that may or may not mean that it causes hypoglycemia. Note this study, for example, that found that stevia did not cause hypoglycemia.
5. Stevia Causes Infertility and Miscarriages
Is stevia safe for use in pregnancy?
One of the main concerns about stevia safety is that it affects fertility.
There is information floating around the internet that there are studies showing that stevia caused infertility in rats, and there's also talk that stevia has been used in Paraguay for contraception.
Well, we can put this issue to rest. There have been several studies showing contraception issues with stevia, but they have all been debunked.
Of course, I completely agree with the author of the above-referenced post. If you think stevia is causing issues with your fertility, stop using it. Just the stress of that questioning might be enough to cause issues for you.
6. Stevia Doesn't Support Glycogen Synthesis
The argument here is that your body needs glucose to function but basically this is the same argument of hypoglycemia and adrenal issues.
However, in one post the additional argument was made that your body needs glycogen to convert inactive thyroid hormone T4 into active thyroid hormone T3.
The thinking here is that if you are using stevia instead of fruit and natural sugars, then you won't have sufficient glycogen. I don't know enough about this but I have been doing a lot of reading about the effects of low carb diets on thyroid and adrenal health and I think it's worth thinking about.
Basically, however, I don't think that this argument necessitates giving up stevia, but it does mean that we ought to consider making sure that we have sufficient carbs in our diets. This post from Body Ecology and this one from Chris Kresser go into great depth regarding these low carb / adrenal / thyroid issues.
This study, in fact, shows that stevia helps with glucose tolerance. This study as well suggests that stevia can help balance blood sugar. If that is the case, then concerns about stevia safety as it relates to glycogen synthesis would seem to be invalid.
7. Stevia is really a hormone is disguise
Several bloggers mentioned that stevia is synthesized in the same pathway as 2 plant hormones, and that it ends up being structurally similar to those hormones.
Again, this is something that I could not find anything about on the internet. And just because something is synthesized in the same way or is structurally similar to hormones, that doesn't mean it is a hormone. Take NaCl for example.
Salt is fine to eat and we sprinkle it on food all the time. HCl, however, is stomach acid and we would do damage to ourselves if we sprinkled it on our food. (I take HCl as a dietary supplement as mentioned here, but you would cause serious damage to your teeth and esophagus if you sprinkled it on your food.
Just because something is similar to something else doesn't mean that it has the same qualities as that thing. I did, however, read a very detailed article on stevia safety that stated that it isn't that stevia is synthesized in the same way as gibberellin and kaurene but that the plant is making kaurene and can either make gibberellin or stevia. Sadly, that article is now no longer on the internet.
So that puts this argument into question for me. I haven't dug into this enough, but I do think I feel at peace enough to not worry about it.
8. Stevia is High in Oxalates
Is stevia safe for those avoiding oxalates?
One of the bloggers initially wrote about stevia safety and was concerned that it is high in oxalates, but she later removed that from her blog post.
However, since it was initially there, I am going to address it. Oxalates are naturally occurring substances in foods, but some people are very concerned about reducing them in their diet.
Those with kidney stones, hypercalciuria, etc. I personally know some bloggers who are very concerned about oxalates so I looked into this. My thinking is this. Even if stevia were high in oxalates, the amount of stevia used is so small that it doesn't amount to much and should not be a concern since oxalates are everywhere.
Also, most high oxalate foods have lots of nutritional benefits so it's important to not risk poor nutrition by limiting your diet too much. In this case, better to reduce your sugar intake for a very minimal risk regarding oxalates.
Additionally, there's evidence that gut bacteria play a big part in whether or not you will have oxalate issues. This post on the gut brain axis can be of help, or this post on finding a good low-histamine probiotic can as well.
Now - just when you thought you'd heard enough, to make things a little more interesting, I am going to throw 2 more arguments into the ring:
9. Stevia Can Cause Mutagenic Reactions and Cancer
I read in several places that stevia can cause mutations and even cancer. Scary stuff.
Thankfully, one of the posts on stevia safety did clarify that the studies that appeared to demonstrate these risks were in the minority and that the amounts of stevia fed to subjects were quite high so they are typically discarded in discussions questioning stevia's safety.
This study is one showing that stevia consumption does not cause genetic problems. From the study:
these substances do not pose a risk of genetic damage following human consumption.
And here is this study with a similar conclusion.
Furthermore, in one study that is often cited regarding mutagenic reactions to stevia, the synthetic chemical structure of stevioside is being examined rather than the stevia leaf itself (aka rebaudaside A, M, etc.). The study is suggestive and not conclusive.
Also, they stated in the study that the topic needs to be studied more.
Finally, this study was done in 1985, which was before machinery, isolation, and extraction techniques were very different than they are today so that needs to be taken into account as well.
10. Stevia Can Cause Allergic Reactions
Is stevia safe for those with ragweed allergies?
I thought for a period of time that I was allergic to stevia.
I would use it and thought I was having sinus and eye symptoms from it. Over time I did a bunch of trials and errors and finally came to the conclusion that I am not allergic to it.
Boy, was I thrilled. Please do note that stevia is related to daisies, chrysanthemums, ragweed or marigolds.
It's possible that if you are allergic to these plants that you might have a cross-reaction to stevia.
But that is not the case for everyone and I am proof positive of that. Bottom Line - Anyone can be allergic to anything.
Remember The Boy in the Plastic Bubble? That boy was allergic to basically everything!
If you are allergic to one thing, that doesn't mean that you are allergic to everything that is related to that thing.
You can either avoid the food or address internal issues that are causing your immune system to overreact, or both. But just because stevia might cause allergies in some is not a reason to avoid it. Make sure you read the next section which addresses another possible cause for reactions to stevia.
11. Stevia is Sometimes Processed with Chemicals
Is stevia safe for those concerned about toxic ingredients?
I didn't see this on any other blogs, but I will bring this into the ring myself.
Some stevia producers use chemicals to produce their stevia extract. For that reason, I only choose stevia from companies that do not use chemicals for processing their pure stevia extract. For more on the stevia that I use, you can see this post on How to Use Stevia.
If you are having reactions to stevia, you might wish to contact the manufacturer to see how they process their stevia.
If the manufacturer is using clean processing then concerns about stevia safety regarding processing toxicity are unfounded.
12. Stevia Can Cause You to Eat More Sweets
A reader commented that I should add this to the list - that sweeteners like stevia can cause your body to expect glucose and therefore you end up craving and eating more as a result. Apparently, this happens particularly in those who are sugar-sensitive.
This would apply to all low carb sweeteners and not just stevia - the same with many of the negative claims here. I have read about this before but I haven't experienced this. In fact, I think I crave sweets more and eat more sweets if I eat the "real sugars".
13. Stevia Is Bad for the Liver
This is a recent addition to the list of concerns. A friend of mine on Facebook shared about the dangers of Splenda and mentioned that she uses stevia. One of her friends shared that her herbalist told her that stevia causes problems if you have liver disease.
Of course that had me worried so I started investigating.
I couldn't find anything backing up that claim. In fact, I did find a study showing that stevia actually reduces the accumulation of fat in the liver of obese mice. (source)
14. Negative Effects on the Nervous System
A reader shared an article with me stating that stevia contains compounds (beta-caryophyllene and caryophyllene oxide) that may depress the activity of your central nervous system. This really perplexes me. I recognized those terms as being beneficial terpenes so I decided to see what they were referring to.
The answer? I have no idea.
In fact, beta-caryophyllene is known to have protective effects on the nervous system. So odd, eh? (source)
And caryophyllene oxide has also been shown to have loads of benefits as well (source). I did find one study talking about the potential for some depressing activity of these terpenes (which I assume is the source of this information) but it's not appropriate to evaluate a substance based on one small part of it. For example, you wouldn't say that an essential oil is bad because it has one of these terpenes in it.
The same article made a lot of other claims, none of which had links to any sources verifying the information.
So...is stevia safe?
If you are concerned about stevia's safety, here are my basic final thoughts. I think that there are numerous benefits to using stevia and I also think that the concerns are largely unfounded.
For those of us struggling with candida, blood sugar issues (like diabetes and insulin resistance) or trying to eat a low carb diet, I think there is likely no better thing to put in your cuppa (whether it's coffee or this coffee substitute), or homemade sugar-free lemonade.
Or even bake with. Because life without brownies is hard, right?
Basically, my answer to the question, "Is Stevia Safe?" is "yes!"
Now that you are likely feeling better about stevia and we've answered the question "Is Stevia Safe?", again, here are some other helpful posts about stevia:
3. Homemade Liquid Stevia Drops (which you can now happily make knowing that your stevia is likely not a health risk at all!)
What do YOU think?
Do you use stevia? Will you keep using it?