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Stevia - A Natural Sweetener That's Calorie-Free

[Try a Natural, Non-Toxic, Calorie-Free Sweetener | The Scary Truth About Aspartame
[Wood Alcohol in Your Food | How Stevia Got Stonewalled by the FDA | Recommendations]
[Stevia As a Flavor Enhancer | Medicinal Uses | Hypoglycemic action]

[Cardiovascular Action | References]

Dr. Julian Whitaker's Health & Healing®
Vol 4, No 12 12/1994

This is a Tale of Two Sweeteners, full of sound and fury, signifying that the FDA has sold you and your kids to the drug companies again, and you are unwitting receptacles of a sweetener that has obvious toxicity. The FDA has blocked the use of a natural sweetener that is totally safe.

If you drink diet sodas or add Equal or NutraSweet to your coffee, listen up. These sweeteners contain aspartame, which was first approved by the FDA in 1974. That approval was rescinded because of two studies showing that the substance caused brain tumors in laboratory animals.

These studies were never refuted, and the additive was approved in spite of these studies, in 1981, and for soft drinks in 1983. According to National Cancer Institute data, there was an alarming jump in the incidence of brain tumors in 1983 - 1987. The estimated annual percent change (EAPC) rose from 2.1% to 8.1% in males, and from 2.1% to 11.7% in females. This could be related to the consumption of aspartame-sweetened products.

Aspartame has both potential and real toxicities. My associate editor, Jane Heimlich, wrote about the effects of aspartame in the January 1993 Health & Healing, and I have suggested alternative natural sweeteners such as Sucanat and honey.

However, there is a natural, non-caloric sweetener that is totally safe - stevia.

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Try a Natural, Non-Toxic, Calorie-Free Sweetener
Stevia is an herb that has been used as a sweetener in South America for hundreds of years. It is calorie - free, and the powdered concentrate is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is widely used all over the world. In Japan, for example, it claims 41% of the sweetener market, including sugar, and was used in Japanese Diet Coke until the company replaced it with aspartame to "standardize" worldwide. There have not been any reports of toxicity with stevia, which is consumed by millions of people daily.

The Scary Truth About Aspartame 
Not so with aspartame sweeteners, such as NutraSweet and Equal. As of February 1994, 6,888 cases of adverse reactions had been reported to the FDA. In fact, more than 75% of all non-drug complaints to the FDA are about aspartame. These complaints include headaches, dizziness, mood changed, numbness, vomiting or nausea, muscle cramps and spasms, and abdominal pain and cramps. There are also sizable numbers reporting vision changed, joint pains, skin lesions, memory loss, and seizures. Five deaths were reported to the FDA prior to 1987 as possibly attributed to aspartame. This is only a small fraction of the actual adverse reactions caused by aspartame. Most people would not associate the problem with it, and even if they did, only a small fraction of people or doctors would take the time to report it to the FDA. I estimate that for every reported adverse reaction, 10 to 100 go unrecognized or unreported, which would bring the number to 70,000 to 700,000 cases.

Ralph G. Walton, M.D., Chairman of the Center of Behavioral Medicine of the Western Reserve Care System, has published accounts of how the excitatory characteristics of aspartame could lower the threshold for and even cause seizures, mania, depression, or other psychological or central nervous system disorders. In one study, he demonstrated that people with a history of mood disorders had a significantly higher number of adverse reactions to aspartame than those with no such history. He estimated that considering everything that the substance could do, about 35% of the population is vulnerable to an adverse reaction to aspartame.

Even though many of these reports are anecdotal, they are quite credible, given the chemistry of aspartame. Brain/mood symptoms brought on by aspartame could easily be caused by the changes in brain chemistry triggered by elevated phenylalanine.

There have been numerous studies showing aspartame's safety. My complaint with these is that the studies used aspartame capsules rather than the commonly used form of aspartame mixed and stored in food.

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"Wood Alcohol" in Your Food
Even more significant, perhaps, is the role of methanol or methyl alcohol (also called "wood alcohol"), which makes up 10% of aspartame. The methanol is further broken down into formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), formic acid (a poison excreted by ants) and diketopiperazine (DKP, which causes brain tumors). Absorption of methanol is hastened if aspartame has broken down, as it does when it is heated, used in hot drinks or decomposed during prolonged storage. In Israel, people are warned not to consume large quantities of aspartame, and not to store products containing it in the heat. Incredibly, the FDA recently approved aspartame for baked goods!

Methanol is specifically toxic to the optic nerve, and caused blindness in people who drank "bootlegged" whiskey that contained it. The poisoning effects of taking methanol are cumulative.

A pilot, George E. Leighton, experienced such sever blurred vision while flying that he couldn't even read the instrument panel and barely averted a crash landing. This occurred two hours after he inadvertently drank two cups of aspartame-sweetened hot chocolate. He has consumed no aspartame since, nor has he had any blurred vision. Other pilots had seizures which they are convinced were caused by aspartame, and have lost their licenses as a result.

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How Stevia Got Stonewalled by the FDA
Stevia, on the other had, is not only non-toxic, but has several traditional medicinal uses. The Indian tribes of South America have used it as a digestive aid, and have also applied it topically for years to help wound-healing. Recent clinical studies have shown it can increase glucose tolerance and decrease blood sugar levels.

Of the two sweeteners, stevia wins hands down for safety. Yet your children guzzle excitatory chemicals laced with methanol.

Stevia gained popularity in this country in the 1980's as a safe sweetener. Celestial Seasonings, one of the world's largest herbal tea companies, used it as a flavoring in many of the teas. In 1986, without warning, the FDA came into their warehouse and seized their stock of stevia. No reason was given for seizure; the company was simply told they could not use it in the teas.

In 1991 the FDA banned stevia, claiming that it was an "unsafe food additive," even though it is available in many other countries. The obvious reason for the seizure and the ban on stevia was to prevent it from competing with aspartame. [Following the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Safety Act (DSHEA) in 1994, Stevia is once again available in the U.S.]

Frankly, I don't let aspartame into my house - children live there. If you do drink or eat products that contain aspartame, by all means avoid the heated ones, and that includes adding Equal to a hot drink. And never drink large quantities of aspartame, as you might with iced tea on a hot day.

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Life With Stevia: How Sweet It Is!  Nutritional and Medicinal Uses
By Daniel Mowrey, Ph.D.

©1992, Reprinted with permission

Stevia As a Flavor Enhancer
There are three distinct traditions of stevia use. The first is for flavor enhancement; the second is as an herbal tea. The third is medicinal. The primary impetus for the development of stevia science was the discovery by Bertoni that the herb possessed an extraordinary sweetness. A good quality leaf is estimated to be 30 times sweeter than cane sugar, or sucrose.

The active constituents of stevia are considered by the world's leading food scientists as the "sweeteners of the future." Therefore, every new development in the area of stevia research is anxiously awaited and thoroughly analyzed when it appears. Countries in which the currently used artificial sweeteners are on the brink of being banned are desperately trying to find new, safe, non-caloric sweeteners. And in other countries, firms that hold exclusive rights to currently used sweeteners are extremely fearful of the advent of new, safer sweeteners, over which they will have no control. For these firms, the emergence of a totally natural, non-patentable sweetener is the ultimate horror. Stevia, whether these firms like it or not, will one day have a dramatic impact on all countries of the world. The necessary forces simply need to be properly aligned, the raging fury of mega-monstrous companies firmly bridled by caring governments, and the supply of stevia raised to meet the enormous demand.

Steviosides and rebaudiosides are the principal constituents of diterpene glucosides with differing sugar molecules attached, as found in the leaves of the stevia plant. Extracted, they are currently being used as sweetening agents in several countries, including Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Israel, Uruguay, Brazil, and Paraguay. In Japan, commercialization of stevia was very rapid, beginning with the ban of artificial sweeteners during the 1960's. In 1970 the Japanese National Institute of Health began importing stevia for investigation, and by 1980 it was being used in hundreds of food products throughout the country. 1

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Medicinal Uses
Carrying the above thought a step further, there are many very legitimate reasons for using stevia as a medicinal food. In spite of the prominence stevia has obtained as a flavor enhancer, it contains a variety of constituents besides the steviosides and rebaudiosides, including the nutrients specified above and a good deal of sterols, triterpenes, flavonoids, tannins, and an extremely rich volatile oil comprising rich proportions of aromatics, aldehyde, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes.2 These and other, as yet unidentified constituents, probably have some impact on human physiology and may help explain some of the reported therapeutic uses of stevia.

Hypoglycemic action
It is probably the presence of the steviosides themselves that has produced dozens of empirical and semi-controlled reports of hypoglycemic action. Paraguayans say that stevia is helpful for hypoglycemia and diabetes because it nourishes the pancreas and thereby helps to restore normal pancreatic function.3 In semi-controlled clinical reports one also encounters this action. Oviedo, et. al., reported a 35.2% fall in normal blood sugar levels 6-8 hours following the ingestion of a stevia leaf extract.4 Similar trends have been reported in humans and experimental animals by other workers.5,6 These kind of results have led physicians in Paraguay to prescribe stevia leaf tea in the treatment of diabetes;3 similarly, in Brazil, stevia tea and stevia capsules are officially approved for sale for the treatment of diabetes.2

However, it is important to note that stevia does not lower blood glucose levels in normal subjects. In one study, rats were fed crude extracts of stevia leaves for 56 days at a rate of 0.5 to 1.0 gram extract per day. These procedures were replicated by another team of scientists.7,8 Neither group observed a hypoglycemic action. Similar negative results have been obtained by other observers.9 Then there is research in which the findings show trends toward hypoglycemic action, but are inconclusive.10,11 In at least one of these studies, alloxan-diabetic rabbits were used. The authors felt the results supported an anti-diabetic action, but the results were transient at best.

To date, the experimental research on the effects of stevia on blood sugar levels in human patients with either diabetes or hypoglycemia is sparse. The general feeling in the scientific community is that the mild acting nature of the plant and its total lack of toxic side effects argues against the need for extensive and expensive research programs.

However, many of the anecdotes reporting a definite and significant blood sugar lowering action in diabetics, and a pronounced exhilarating effect in hypoglycemics, are sound enough to justify considerable experimental work in the area. Perhaps, when this missing piece to the puzzle is supplied, we will then have a better understanding of how stevia works - why, for example, many diabetic humans experience a profound lowering of blood sugar levels following the ingestion of several cups of stevia tea (24-32 oz.) during the course of a 24 hour period.

Cardiovascular Action
A good deal of experimental work has been done on the effects of stevia and stevioside on cardiovascular functioning in man and animals. Some of this work was simply looking for possible toxicity, while some was investigating possible therapeutic action. In neither case have significant properties been found. When any action at all is observed, it is almost always a slight lowering of arterial blood pressure at low and normal doses, changing to a slight rise in arterial pressure at very high doses.12 The most curious finding is a dose dependent action on heart beat, with a slight increase appearing at lower doses, changing to a mild decrease at higher doses. In neither instance is the result remarkable, and it is extremely doubtful that humans would experience any effect at normal doses.13 The long term use of stevia would probably have a cardiotonic action, that is, would produce a mild strengthening of the heart and vascular system.

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1. Fujita, H. & Edahiro, T. "Safety and utilization of stevia sweetener." The Food Industry. 22(22), 1-8, 1979.

2. Reviewed by Kinghorn, A.D. & Soejarto, D.D. "Current status of stevioside as a sweetening agent for human use." Economic and Medicinal Plant Research, Volume 1, Wagner, H., Hikino, H. and Farnsworth, N.R. (eds.) Academic Press, New York, 1985, pp. 1-51.

3. Soejarto, D.D.,, Econ. Bot., 37, 74, 1983.

4. Oviedo, C.A.,, "Accion hipoglicemiante de la stevia rebaudiana Bertoni (Kaa-he-e)." Excerpta Medica, 208, 92-93, 1971. (International Congress Series).

5. Alvares, M.,, Abstract Pap., Semin. Bras. Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni 1st, 1981, p. XIII.I.

6. Suzuki, H.,, "Influence of oral administration of stevioside on levels of blood glucose and liver glycogen of intact rats." Nippon Nopei Kagaku Kaishi, Tokyo, 51(3), 171-173, 1977.

7. Akashi, H. & Yokoyama, Y. "Dried-leaf extracts of stevia. Toxicological test." Shokihin Kokyo, Tokyo, 18(20), 34-43, 1975.

8. Lee, C.K.,, Hanguk, Sikp'um Kwahakhoe Chi, 11, 224-6, 1979.

9. Usami, M.,, Horm. Metab. Res., 12,705, 1980.

10. Piheiro, C.E. & Gasparini, O.T. Abstr. Pap., Semin. Bras. Stevia rebaudiana, 1st, 1981, pp. XV.I-XV.IV.

11. Boeckh, E.M.A., "Stevia rebaudiana (Bert.) Bertoni: clinical evaluation of its acute action on cardio-circulatory, metabolic and electrolitic parameters in 60 healthy individuals." Third Brazilian Seminar on Stevia Rebaudiana (Bert.) Bertoni, (Summaries), Angelucci, E. (Coordinator), July, 1986, pp. 22-23.

12. Machado, E., Chagas, A.M. & Reis, D.S. "Stevia rebaudiana (Bert.) Bertoni in the arterial presure of the dog." Third Brazilian Seminar on Stevia Rebaudiana (Bert.) Bertoni, (Summaries), Angelucci, E. (Coordinator), July 1986, p. 11.

13. Boeckh, E.M.A. op.cit.


Reprinted with the exclusive permission of Wisdom Natural Brands, Inc.

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