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Is stevia healthy and safe to use?

Stevia dangers
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(NaturalNews) It's been consumed for decades in Japan to help manage diabetes. Primal enthusiasts embrace it as a near perfect alternative to sugar. And health advocates love that it adds sweetness to food without the drawbacks of excess calories or the downfalls of artificial sweeteners. Stevia -- it's the darling of natural sugar substitutes.

Even so, a darker side has emerged, one that involves potential problems with insulin production, thyroid functioning and hormonal balance. Weight gain, blood sugar disorders and adrenal stress are a few of the suspected side-effects. It's a controversial topic, one that will most likely raise a few hackles in those who use the herb on a regular basis. The jury is still out, but several studies raise an important question: is stevia truly safe or are we simply fooling ourselves?

Insulin release and the stevia connection

Research published in the journal Metabolism found that in animal tests, a compound in stevia acts directly on pancreatic beta cells to secrete insulin. The team also discovered that stevia influenced the plasma membrane K+ adenosine triphosphate, indicating the extract assists in sensitizing cells to the effects of insulin. A decrease in cellular sensitivity to insulin is one of the main concerns with diabetic patients -- it's also a leading cause of obesity. With this study we have two aspects -- triggering the release of insulin and increased cellular sensitivity to the hormone, both of which can be helpful in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Another study had similar findings. Testing the influence of the stevia extract rebaudioside on mouse insulin release, the researchers found insulin was stimulated -- as long extracellular calcium ions (Ca2+) were present.

Even though triggering the release of insulin may be valuable for diabetic patients, does the same hold true for those with normal blood sugar metabolism? Kate Skinner, a licensed nutritionist and founder of Nutrition by Nature, believes stevia can be problematic:

"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 and muscle glycogen, or protein, or body tissue) to bring blood glucose back up. The whole process is stressful to the body. We don't want to be relying on raising blood sugar at the expense of skin health, muscle mass and immune function."

It's important to note that the excessive release of stress hormones also contributes to lower thyroid function, increased inflammation, slower metabolism and weight gain in the midsection.

Interestingly, the founder of Mark's Daily Apple, a primal lifestyle website, doesn't feel that using stevia is a cause for concern. In fact, he feels it can actually be beneficial:

"We can think about stevia as a Primal sugar alternative with some potentially therapeutic effects. Kind of like cinnamon or turmeric, we don't consume it for the calories or as literal fuel for our bodies, but for flavor, variety, and, possibly, the health benefits. It may induce insulin secretion, but it increases insulin sensitivity, reduces blood glucose (i.e., the insulin is doing its job), and does not increase appetite. It's been used by humans for hundreds of years and by diabetic patients in Asia for decades."

The debate continues. In the meantime, sourcing organic stevia extracts without additional additives -- and using the sweetener judiciously -- will help minimize any possible risks.









About the author:
Carolanne believes if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change. As a nutritionist, wellness coach and natural foods chef, she has encouraged others to embrace a healthy lifestyle of green living for over 13 years. Through her website www.Thrive-Living.net she looks forward to connecting with other like-minded people who share a similar vision.

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