Proven Health Benefits of Stevia
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a green, leafy plant that is native to South America.
It has been used for medicinal purposes for many centuries. The plant has also been bred for its strong, sweet flavor and used as a sweetener.
However, the refined stevia sweeteners used today often don’t resemble the whole stevia plant at all.
You can buy whole or crushed stevia leaves, but most often you are getting an extract (either liquid or powder), or a refined version of the plant’s isolated sweet compounds.
The two major sweet compounds that are isolated from the leaves are called Stevioside and Rebaudioside A. These two compounds are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar.
Here is an important point… most of the studies use stevioside, the isolated sweet compound. It would be hard to reach pharmacologically active doses of stevioside just by using stevia as a sweetener. It is only about 10% stevioside, by weight.
People often confuse stevia with another sweetener called Truvia, but they are not the same. Truvia is a blend of compounds, one of which is extracted from stevia leaves.
Studies Show That Stevia Can Lower Blood Pressure
Elevated blood pressure is a major risk factor for many serious diseases.
This includes heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.
Studies have shown that taking stevioside (one of the sweet compounds in stevia) as a supplement can reduce blood pressure.
Stevia May Lower Blood Sugar Levels and Help Fight Diabetes
Type II diabetes is currently one of the biggest health problems in the world.
It is characterized by elevated blood sugar in the context of insulin resistance or an inability to produce insulin.
Stevia has been studied in diabetic patients with impressive results.
Another study compared sucrose (regular sugar), aspartame and stevia. It found that stevia lowered both blood sugar and insulin levels after a meal, compared to the other two sweeteners (7).
Other studies in animals and test tubes have shown that stevioside may increase production of insulin, as well as make the cells more sensitive to its effects (8, 9).
Insulin is the hormone that drives blood sugar into cells, so this appears to be the mechanism behind the blood sugar lowering effects.
Other Health Benefits
Stevia has also been tested in animals.
One animal study found that stevioside decreased oxidized LDL cholesterol, indicating that it may help prevent heart disease (10).
Stevia has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, diuretic and immunomodulatory effects (11).
But definitely take all of this with a grain of salt. What works in rats doesn’t always work in humans.