Stevia is a plant that is native to South America. It is probably best known as a source of natural sweeteners. In fact, native people in South America have used stevia as a sweetener for hundreds of years. But the leaves are also used to make medicine.
Stevia is used as a weight loss aid; for treating diabetes, high blood pressure and heartburn; for lowering uric acid levels; for preventing pregnancy; and for increasing the strength of the muscle contractions that pump blood from the heart.
In foods, stevia is used as a non-caloric sweetener and flavor enhancer. Stevia was originally available as a “dietary supplement” in the U.S. It wasn’t allowed as a “food additive” until 2008. That’s when the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status to rebaudioside A, one of the chemicals in stevia that makes it sweet. Stevia is also available as a sweetener in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Russia, Israel, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina.
How does it work?
Stevia is a plant that contains natural sweeteners that are used in foods. Researchers have also evaluated the effect of chemicals in stevia on blood pressure and blood sugar levels. However, research results have been mixed.
- High blood pressure. Some research suggests that taking 750-1500 mg per day of stevioside, a chemical compound in stevia, reduces systolic blood pressure (the upper number in a blood pressure reading) by 10-14 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) by 6-14 mmHg within one week of starting treatment. However, other research suggests that taking stevioside in doses up to 15 mg per kg per day does not significantly reduce blood pressure in patients with mild high blood pressure.
- Diabetes. Early research suggests that 1000 mg daily of stevioside, a chemical compound in stevia, might reduce blood sugar levels after meals by 18% in people with type 2 diabetes. However, other research suggests that taking 250 mg of stevioside three times daily does not significantly affect blood sugar levels or HbA1c (a measure over blood sugar levels over time) after three months of treatment in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
- Preventing pregnancy.
- Weight loss.
- Water retention.
- Heart problems.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of stevia for these uses.