Stevia is a kind of sweetener derived from the leaves of an herb in the sunflower family. Though it has been commonly used in South America for decades, it is just now gaining popularity in the United States. It was first marketed in the US as an herbal supplement, but after much controversy, it was recently approved as a food product. Partly because of the controversy that swirled around the herb when it was undergoing FDA approval, many people wonder if it in fact has negative side effects.
There are four commonly reported short-term side effects of stevia:
1. Bloating or nausea
Some consumers have reported feelings of nausea or mild bloating after using the sweetener. Along with those symptoms, some users experience gas as well.
Dizziness has been reported by some stevia users, though it does not appear to last long.
3. Muscle Pain
Some users of the sweetener have reported mild muscle pains after consumption.
Numbness is another oft-reported side effect of stevia consumption.
Special Warnings for Use
These side effects appear to be short-term and cause only slight discomfort. However, to be on the safe side, certain populations should refrain from using stevia until more data is established. This includes pregnant or breastfeeding women and people with ragweed allergies, since the stevia plant is in the same family as ragweed, daisies, and other flowers.
Stevia also appears to lower blood pressure in some populations, so it should not be used by people who already have low blood pressure. There is also some evidence that stevia lowers blood sugar, so it should be used with care by diabetics or anyone with difficulty controlling blood sugar levels.
Is It Safe?
It should be reiterated that stevia has been designated as a safe product. The research that formed that final verdict was based upon ingestion of 1500 mg of stevia per day for two years. The long-term side effects are debatable and vary depending upon which research studies you read. Some studies indicate that there are no lasting side effects. Others have indicated that steviol, one of the chemicals in stevia, has been successfully converted into a mutagenic compound, which can cause cancer. However, even that study has come under fire from other groups that state that the trials were poorly performed and the results manipulated. Obviously, more reliable long-term study is needed to find a definite answer.
For many people, stevia is the best way to go: it's all-natural and since it's 300 times sweeter than sugar, you only need to use a tiny bit to get the same effect. However, since it is a product that is relatively new to the US, if you have any questions about its safety and impact on your health, you may want to consult with your healthcare provider. She will be able to advise you on which sweeteners are best for your particular situation.