Five Stevia Side Effects and Warnings
Stevia is a natural sweetener with proven health benefits. Stevia is sweeter than sugar and calorie-free, making it a healthy and natural sugar substitute. Despite the benefits, there are 5 stevia side effects and warnings associated with making the switch from sugar to stevia.
- Some Stevia Products Are Still Pending FDA Approval
The most alarming warnings surrounding stevia stem from the FDA. The FDA considers purified stevia extract safe. However, they have not yet approved whole-leaf or crude stevia as a food additive due to safety concerns. Some evidence suggests that crude and whole-leaf stevia are linked to negative impacts on cardiovascular systems, blood sugar control, kidneys, and reproductive systems. This means that stevia users should only purchase purified stevia extract.
The relative newness of stevia as a commercial sweetener poses additional concerns. Scientists have not had enough time to fully evaluate the effects of stevia over time. This means that at-risk individuals, like nursing mothers, should be cautious about using stevia while breastfeeding or during pregnancy. The effects of stevia on fetal development are not yet known, offering another potential concern for pregnant mothers.
- Allergic Reactions
If you have an allergy to chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies or ragweed, stevia might not be for you. Anaphylaxis is rarely reported by stevia users but those that do report it usually have a pre-existing allergy to one of these plants.
Allergic reactions are serious and possibly life threatening if left untreated. If you experience difficulty swallowing, hives, dizziness, wheezing, shortness of breath, weakness, or pale skin, you need to get medical treatment immediately.
- Upset Stomach And Headaches
Stevia can cause upset stomach and bloating in some users. The sweetener contains steviosides, which sometimes irritates the stomach and digestive tract. Feelings of mild nausea are not uncommon among stevia users along with uncomfortable bloating.
Stevia also is known to decrease appetite. The sweetener creates an artificial feeling of fullness. This makes it an effective weight loss sugar alternative. However as with any appetite suppressant, it is crucial that you ensure your body receives adequate nutrition. A healthy diet and exercise are just as important to a weight loss strategy as appetite suppressants.
Headaches are another common side effect associated with stevia. Headaches and mild dizziness could be caused by a drop in blood sugar. The FDA has ruled that stevia is safe for people with diabetes, however, the sweetener could increase the effects of diabetes medication. This causes blood sugar to drop lower than normal, contributing to feelings of dizziness and headaches.
- Mental Health Side Effects
Many people don’t connect their mental health with what they eat. This is a dangerous misconception. Foods are chemically based, and sometimes they compete for the same receptors as medications and our bodies’ natural chemicals.
Scientists are still studying the links between stevia and mental health. Preliminary evidence suggests that stevia might affect hormone and neurotransmitters production. These chemical signals play a large role in our mental health. Neurotransmitters like seratonin and dopamine directly impact mood regulation and our ability to feel happiness and satisfaction.
Stevia might slow the release of dopamine and seratonin. This is bad news for individuals suffering from anxiety or depression. Carefully monitor your moods if you have a history of depression or anxiety and take stevia. Seek professional help immediately and stop taking stevia if you notice drastic mood swings or increased feelings of depression and anxiety.
Stevia could also interfere with anti-psychotic medications. The New Encyclopedia of Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements, and Herbs suggests that stevia could compete for the same receptors as these medications, limiting their effectiveness.
- Medication Interactions
Mental health concerns aside, there are medications with documented drug interactions with stevia: lithium, diabetes medication, and high blood pressure medications.
Stevia can negatively interact with lithium. Lithium is used to treat psychiatric conditions like bipolar disorder and depressive disorders. Stevia could have a diuretic effect on the body (meaning it causes you to urinate more frequently). This leads to increased lithium levels in the blood, which causes serious side effects.
Diabetes medications carry similar risks. The FDA has ruled the sweetener safe for use by diabetics, but caution is still necessary. Stevia could cause abnormally low blood sugar by increasing the effetiveness of the medication. If you are taking a medication for your diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels carefully and consult your doctor.
Stevia appears to lower blood pressure in certain individuals. This is problematic if that individual is also taking a medication for high blood pressure. Dangerously low blood pressure leads to serious health concerns.
It is a good practice to check your medications for drug interactions any time you add something new to your diet. Grapefruit, for instance, interacts with many drugs. Talk with your pharmacist to see if stevia poses any risks for you.
Now that you know a little more about the risks and side effects associated with stevia you can decide if stevia is right for you. When in doubt, talk to your doctor or health care provider for additional advice.
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