What is Stevia?
Stevia is a small shrub like perennial plant which belongs to the sunflower (Asteraceae) family. It is also known as Eupatorium rebaudianum, sweetleaf, honeyleaf and sugarleaf, and sweet herb of Paraguay. The leaves of Stevia are a source of natural zero-calorie sweetener which is considered sweeter than sugar (sucrose). It has been used in South and Central America , Japan and many other parts of the world as a sugar substitute and in the treatment of a number of health conditions for centuries. Initially the leaves of Stevia were consumed fresh or dried but eventually chemists isolated the glycosides called stevioside and rebaudioside from its leaves that give stevia its sweet taste. Stevia also contains phytonutrients, trace elements, minerals, vitamins and volatile oils which give Stevia its nutritional and medicinal properties. In 2008, FDA (The Food and Drug Administration) approved sweetener derived from the herb stevia as safe for use in foods and beverages. The steviols glycosides are now used in herbal supplements, foods and beverages, and as sweetening powders and syrups. Unlike other sweeteners, Stevia can be used in baking and cooking and its lesser amount is ample.
What are the Benefits of Stevia?
A number of studies show that Stevia can be beneficial in the treatment of many health conditions. Stevia is believed to have anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-glycemic, and anti-hypertensive properties which may help with hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, chronic fatigue, indigestion, upset stomach, heartburn, weight loss, cold and flu, gingivitis, tooth decay, cavities, dandruff and hair loss, brittle bones or osteoporosis, streptococcus, candidiasis, bacterial infections and skin conditions such as cuts, wounds, rashes, itchiness, blemishes, acne, seborrhoeic dermatitis, dermatitis, eczema, and wrinkles. It may also improve energy levels, strengthen immune system, stimulate mental activity, and may also help in withdrawal from tobacco and alcohol addiction.
Uses of Stevia
Dandruff and Hair Health
Stevia concentrate is believed to be beneficial for dandruff, dry scalp, and dull, dry and thin hair. People have noticed stronger, dandruff-free and rejuvenated hair after the regular use of Stevia. Simply mix 3-4 drops of Stevia concentrate into your regular shampoo and wash as normal. Also, after shampooing, using stevia tea as a conditioner and rinsing it out after 5 minutes can help retain natural hair colour and strength.
Studies show that Stevia may stabilize blood sugar levels, increase insulin sensitivity, may even promote insulin production by promoting the pancreas health, discourage glucose absorption in the blood, and inhibit candidiasis - a yeast infection that flourish with sugar. Stevia is a great low carb, low sugar and low calorie sugar alternative and the steviol glycosides are not metabolized by the body and are excreted in the urine without getting accumulated in the body. A Study also suggests that Stevia may inhibit the craving for sweet and oily or fatty foods. Drinking tea made with crushed raw Stevia leaves, or with its extract or tea bags two to three times daily may help with hyperglycemia. To make Stevia tea, heat - not boil one cup of water and let a tea bag or 1teaspoon of its leaves steep in it for 5 -7 minutes. Drink it hot or cold. Or 3-4 drops of Stevia extract can be added to warm or cold cup of water. Also stevia can be used as a natural alternative to any other artificial sweetener being used.
Study shows that antibacterial properties of Stevia may help with gingivitis, cavities, tooth decay and mouth sores. It may suppress the development and reproduction of infectious organisms in the gums and teeth, inhibit the growth of plaque and may improve overall oral health. People who have used Stevia as a mouthwash has reported significant decrease in gingivitis and other mouth infections. Simply gargling with Stevia mouthwash and brushing with Stevia added toothpaste may be beneficial. To make Stevia mouthwash, add 3-4 drops of Stevia extract in half a cup of lukewarm water or steep half a cup of tea with its leaves or teabag and gargle three to four times daily especially in the morning and at night. For toothpaste, mix 2 drops of Stevia extract to the regular toothpaste.
Heartburn and Indigestion
People in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia have been using Stevia tea to soothe upset stomach, heartburn, and to improve indigestion and gastrointestinal function. Drinking Stevia tea after every meal may serve as a digestive aid and relieve heartburn and stomach pain.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
A few longer term studies done over a period of 1 and 2 years show that stevia may lower elevated blood pressure levels. Simply drinking Stevia tea twice daily may help stabilize the blood pressure levels.
A study performed on chickens shows that by adding Stevia leaf powder to chicken feed it significantly increased calcium metabolism in the chickens and had 75% decreased eggshell breakage. A patent application for possible Osteoporosis treatment with Stevia suggests that stevia may help promote absorption of calcium in the body and help improve bone density. Suggested remedy is to make Alfalfa and stevia tea by steeping Alfalfa herb and Stevia half teaspoon each for 5-7 minutes. Drink it two to three times daily. Adding vitamin D powder to the tea or taking its supplements can be beneficial too.
Recent medical research suggests that low at carbohydrates, calories and sugar Stevia may be beneficial in weight management. One preliminary research suggests that Stevia may interfere with the functions of hypothalamus and may aid weight loss by curbing the hunger sensation. Hypothalamus is a part of the brain which controls hunger, thirst and fatigue along with its other functions. Anti-glycemic activity of Stevia may also control blood glucose levels which is one of the major causes of weight gain. Stevia works as a tonic to increase energy levels in people battling for weight loss. Suggested remedy is to drink one cup of Stevia tea or mix 10-15 drops of Stevia concentrate in one cup of cold or warm water. Drink it 15 minutes before every meal.
Wrinkles and Other Skin Conditions
Stevia is believed to be a remarkable healing agent for skin disorders. Its antioxidant, antibacterial and antiseptic activity may help with wrinkles, skin blemishes, dermatitis, eczema, acne outbreaks, scarring, rashes, itchiness and chapped lips. A small amount of Stevia concentrate applied directly onto the affected skin may promote the healing process. To smooth out the wrinkles, before going to bed, apply a paste made by crushed Stevia leaves or its liquid concentrate evenly all over the face and let it dry for fifteen to twenty minutes. Wash and pat dry your face and apply a few drops of extra virgin coconut oil on the face and leave it on over night to benefit from its antioxidant effects.
What are the Side Effects of Stevia?
There are not any reported side effects of Stevia when taken in moderation. Based on intensive global researches and scientific reports, The World Health Organisation (WHO) of the UN and Food and Drug Administration of the US had approved the use of Steviol glycosides as safe and has established an acceptable daily intake of 4mg per kg of body weight. However, if you are taking any medication for diabetes or hypertension, due to its anti-glycemic and anti-hypertensive activity supervised Stevia consumption is advised. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your physician before using Stevia therapeutically.
Where and How to Buy Stevia
Stevia is available at organic grocery and herbal food stores in the form of raw dried leaves, white or green powder, sugar tabs, granulated or crystalline sugar, concentrate, and flavoured and nonflavourd liquids. When buying Stevia look for Stevia rebaudiana because it is considered the best type and the FDA approved steviol glycosides are extracted from this genus in the whole Stevia family.