Stevia Side Effects - Is it safe? - The Living Well

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Stevia Side Effects – Is it safe?

There’s a lot of conflicting information in the health space, including with stevia. Inside this post, I share my real-life story with stevia side effects and answer the question, is it safe?

Nutrition is constantly changing. Fads come and go, and new foods come and go. It is easy to get caught up in the latest “health” craze and “super” foods out there. I’ve fallen short of this numerous times. 

Truthfully, there is no such thing as a perfect diet, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for one. One of the latest health foods that many have fallen into this category is stevia. Now, I’m not trying to say that it is wrong or something we should eliminate.

Many studies suggest that stevia has beneficial properties to the body. Some even showcasing how it can prevent tumor growth by reducing blood sugar levels. 

It has also been used in other cultures for centuries. 

Showcasing that we can’t lump all stevia into the same category. I’ll answer which forms of stevia are best at the bottom of this article. 

While stevia may be safe for a group of people, we must remember how one person reacts will be different from another. Some people will have negative stevia side effects. This is why body awareness is essential. Everyone’s body has different needs and requirements. Ultimately, your body will let you know if it doesn’t like something. 

The most important piece of advice I can give you: You be your own judge. You know your body best! If you do not react to stevia, by all means, continue to include it. But if your struggling with symptoms that never seem to budge, stevia could be a culprit. 

Listen to what your body is telling you and respond accordingly.

pitcher of water with lemons and basil
Photo by Melissa Walker Horn on Unsplash

our stevia side effect story:

Stevia, a popular zero-calorie, “natural” (that term is debatable) sweetener used by so many health-nuts today and at one time included me. I must admit there were some amazing perks to stevia. It dissolved easily in drinks and could even be used in baking. Minus a slight after-taste issue, it seemed to be a great alternative to sugar.

So we used it, and frequently for a while. 

I had found a “natural” lemonade sweetened with stevia instead of sugar that my oldest daughter loved. Naturally, I thought it was “healthy,” so I didn’t have to monitor how much she could tolerate.

I allowed one and potentially two packets of this lemonade a day. She really liked the taste and would prefer this to nearly any other beverage offered. Of course, it tasted sweet. 

This continued for a month or more, but as she continued to drink it, we noticed her frequently complaining of her legs hurting. Over and over, I would hear her say, “my legs hurt, mommy.” She was also becoming more sluggish, even falling asleep on a five-minute drive to preschool.

I asked google…

At first, I pushed it off as growing pains, but I started to get more concerned as the weeks continued. She complained daily of leg pain. She could barely keep herself awake – which was significantly different from the very high energy child we had once been dealing with. 

Naturally, I started to panic and asked Google what it could be. This was a big mistake and one I hope to prevent you from making. While Google had all of the apparent diagnosis down, I kept thinking and researching. 

Then one day, my mom stated the obvious. One the nutritionist should have picked up on. But sometimes, when things are right under your nose, it’s easy to miss them. She asked if anything had changed in her diet over the last few months. 

And at that moment, a light-bulb when off. The lemonade! 

After I made the connection, I started to dive into stevia. Something that had been on my mind to research further. Turns out the stevia was the culprit leading to the crazy exhaustion and muscle weakness my daughter was experiencing. 

We cut the lemonade and all stevia from her diet. In a matter of days, she was back to her usual high-energy self. 

I also noticed a difference in my brainpower. I had been having slight headaches off and on. Ironically it fell in line with the days I indulged in a stevia-sweetened drink. 

So I want to fill you in on my findings. Informing you stevia may not be as beneficial as everyone originally thought. 

It’s natural, but what are the stevia side effects?

First, let’s start here with the basics. Just because it is natural doesn’t mean it is safe. Technically, stevia is an herb. Which means it is natural and grown from the earth. However, like all herbs, they have powerful side-effects. Some positive and others negative. 

stevia taxes the adrenals:

Another response to stevia that some experience is hypoglycemia. Which is a leading reason it’s studied for use in diabetic patients. It could potentially help lower their blood sugar levels without excess insulin.

But in non-diabetic individuals, experiencing a sweet taste from food that is not going to provide glucose confuses our body’s sugar-handling process. Eating a sugar-free sweetener like stevia can trick the body into a state of hypoglycemia.

As Kate, from Nutrition by Nature states:

Stevia is “sweet” on the palate, so the body assumes it is receiving sugar and primes itself to do so. Glucose is cleared from the bloodstream, and blood sugars drop, but no real sugar/glucose is provided to the body to compensate. When this happens, adrenaline and cortisol surge to mobilize sugar from other sources (liver, muscle glycogen, protein, or body tissue) to bring blood glucose back up. 

As I mentioned above, stevia isn’t going to affect everyone’s blood sugar the same way or to the same degree. Some will not experience the blood sugar drop, while others may. Those who do see a rise in stress hormone leading to the hypoglycemic effect tend to experience headaches, muscle cramps, and uncontrolled fatigue. 

As Lauren from Empowered Sustenance states:

The frequent release of the stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) in response to the Stevia-induced hypoglycemia can be damaging to our adrenal glands and overall health. These stress hormones are designed for the fight-or-flight response, not when eating a meal. The consequences of increased cortisol include a suppressed immune system, increased inflammation, increased abdominal fat, and lower thyroid function. 

stevia has a hormonal structure:

Stevia also contains chemicals responsible for the sweet taste of stevia. These are known as the steviol glycosides. There are at least ten different steviol glycosides present in the stevia plant. The purified version or manufactured form of stevia often isolates one or two of these steviol glycosides. 

Steviol glycosides are structurally very similar to certain plant hormones (gibberellin and kaurene). This means that stevia has a hormone structure. This hormone-like structure can act as a mutagen, meaning stevia can change the genetic material, usually of DNA, increasing the frequency of mutations. 

Regardless of whether stevia causes genetic mutations, we should still take caution in this, especially those with an autoimmune disease in which hormones dramatically impact disease development and progression.

stevia feeds our sweet addiction:

Let’s be honest, our sweet tooth doesn’t need any additional help. More sweet flavors only enhance our addiction to sweet foods. The more our body gets a taste for sweet foods, the more difficult it is to adjust to a normal lifestyle, where real food fulfills that sweet tooth. 

What we know, stevia is really sweet, making natural sources of sweetness incomparable and unsatisfying. 

The big idea: If you use stevia regularly and don’t experience negative consequences, go ahead and keep using it but do it in moderation. Even though it doesn’t have “calories,” it is still sweet, making it potentially addictive. Most importantly, listen to your body! It knows more than any health claim on the market. 

The best form of stevia. 

If you don’t react to stevia, know there are good options and poor options like all things. The safest form of stevia includes whole dried stevia Leaves and Sweet Drops Stevia. This is a pre-made stevia tincture that comes in various flavors. 

Steer clear of the white powdered substance you can buy at the store or anything that contains additional processed ingredients. If you use stevia, make sure it’s in the whole leaf form—the only form studied in researched and used for thousands of years in other cultures. 

**It’s fair to say my daughter was not consuming a natural form of stevia. Therefore, the stevia side effects could have been from a bad form.

I will end this post with Mayo Clinic’s advice towards stevia:

“Because of stevias blood-sugar-lowering and blood pressure-lowering potential, the sweetener Stevia should be evaluated first on an individual basis, before being regularly used by anyone suffering from hypoglycemia or general glucose tolerance problems. Feedback has been mixed, with stevia being well tolerated by some, but less so (i.e. aggravated low blood sugar symptoms) by others. There are stevia side effects that we must be aware of. Pay attention to how your body responds.”

Additional Resources

Atteh JO, et al. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2008 Dec; 92(6):640-9.

Schardt, David. Stevia a Bittersweet Tale.

Brusick DJ. A critical review of the genetic toxicity of steviol and steviol glycosides. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 Jul;46 Suppl 7:S83-91.

Mazzei Planas G and Kuć J. Contraceptive properties of Stevia rebaudiana. Science. 1968 Nov 29;162(3857):1007.

Melis MS Effects of chronic administration of Stevia rebaudiana on fertility in rats Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1999 Nov 67(2):157–161

Melis MS. Chronic administration of aqueous extract of Stevia rebaudiana in rats: renal effects. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1995. July 47(3):129–134

Oliveira-Filho RM et al. Chronic administration of aqueous extract of Stevia rebaudiana (Bert.) Bertoni in rats: Endocrine effects. General Pharmacology: The Vascular System. 1989. 20(2):187–191

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  1. Hi. I have been struggling with pain in my legs and feet. Also tingling and stinging in my legs and feet also. Sometimes it feels like I’m being stuck in my feet with a hot electrified needle. I have used Stevia, the white powder form for about 3 years now. I never thought the problems I’ve been experiencing was the Stevia. Not until I read your article. Thank You for opening my eyes to this. I actually thought I had become grain intolerant.

  2. I think dried stevia leaves are better, what’s your opinion?

  3. Edwina Sloan says:

    I am having a lot of pains in my thighs. This is fairly new but I have been using stevia for years. Could this be related?

    • Payton Schirm says:

      It certainly could. It’s definitely something that can build up over time as your body continues to react to the stevia. It is worth leaving out to see if the symptoms subside. Keep me posted!

  4. karen smith says:

    I am one of those people who find the effects of Stevia intolerable. There are so many products I would like to take but for the Stevia. Cannot find any counter measures but maybe lemon or iodine. No confirmation of this. Does anyone have knowledge and would agree to help me ?

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