Herbal Awareness ~ Stevia
The Food and Drug Administration approved Stevia as a healthy (because it does not contribute sugar to the diet) “natural” sweetener, although very little has been studied about Stevia’s (Stevia rebaudiana) contraceptive component.
That should not come as a surprise because, well, if Stevia is an effective contraceptive, then pharmaceutical companies will not gain profit from investing in research. Additionally, they stand to lose money especially among those looking for a more natural alternative to sweet without the calories.
My primary concern is not that Stevia is an under-studied herbal contraceptive alternative for those seeking birth-control measures. My concern lies in the fact that couples desiring to conceive who are making dietary and lifestyle changes in preparation for a much-wanted child, may be thwarted in their efforts by the consumption of Stevia. Stevia causes both male and female infertility.
Historically, among the Indians in Paraguay, where Stevia is a native weed, the plant is not used as a sweetener but as a common contraceptive.
The glycosides in Stevia are very similar structurally to certain plant hormones. When the plant is manufactured (or “purified”), one of the ten balancing hormones (eight of these are sweet) becomes isolated from the others. Although some studies say that this is safe, other studies suggest that these plant glycosides having this hormone structure can act as a mutagen and at very high concentrations, increase the risk of cancer. Although most people, will not ingest these processed forms of Stevia in great enough quantities for this to be of concern, it may be significant enough to impair those with autoimmune disease. In this case, the outside influence of hormones can potentially speed disease development and progression.
One study on the contraceptive properties of Stevia in 1968 (there’s not much, folks) performed on adult female rats whose fertility was proven, gave them a decoction (strong tea) of the herb. It was found to decrease fertility for at least 50 to 60 days even after they stopped ingesting it. 1
Another study done in 1999, asserts that tested prepubescent male rats on a mere 60 days of an aqueous extract (basically, a strong tea) resulted in a decrease in the final weight of the testis, seminal vesicle, and cauda epididymidis (the tube that connects a testicle to a vas deferens in the male reproductive system.) The Stevia solution also lowered the fructose content of the male sex glands and decreased the epididymal sperm concentration as well as a marked decreased their testosterone level. 2 These are major changes in very young male rats. There is no information regarding whether these changes are completely reversible when use is discontinued. I would expect that traditionally Stevia was not given to young children as they do not procreate. So what are we doing to our kids by allowing them to consume foods and beverages containing Stevia? We really have no clue how Stevia affects young developing males, or females for that matter. Most of us never knew it had contraceptive actions.
Traditionally, Stevia was used as a contraceptive agent by females. It was not used as a food (sweetener) as we, in our modern culture have decided it can be used. The Stevia plant has been sweet for thousands of years, but we with our burgeoning intellect decide we can ‘fake out’ our ravenous sweet tooths with it. This information is something to chew on. Or maybe not. The fact that this plant has such a bitter aftertaste might actually be its redeeming quality. Perhaps we should take heed.
Holistic Health Practitioners and Herbalists need to be aware of all of the herbal actions of Stevia in order to recommend appropriate dietary changes and remedies for their clients. From the limited amount of sometimes conflicting information, there is not much to pull from. I would give much credence to how this plant was used historically. When an herb is well-known in an entire culture for a specific effect and is utilized as such for hundreds of years, even though modern society has not yet studied it out, we ought to use wisdom in our recommendations.
We know that the natives used Stevia’s aerial parts to make teas for consumption. Our modern culture processes it, bleaches it white, and does who-knows-what to the plant even to the isolating of plant constituents – just like a pharmaceutical and still has the audacity to call it “natural”. We have no real knowledge how those changes affect the herbal properties. Me, I would skip them and just use the leaves – or avoid anything labeled Stevia entirely, especially if you – a male or a female – want to have a baby.
Seriously, when we crave sweets that much it is an indicator that something systemic going on the body. It will not be corrected by consuming alternative sweeteners as a substitute. To get free from the cravings there are other steps required.
If you have questions, please post them below. If you desire a personalized consult for this or other health-related issues, please feel free to schedule an initial consult or a free 15-minute Discovery Session HERE. I would like to assist.
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The Herbs & The Bees, LLC, or its staff do not diagnose or prescribe. Our purpose is to provide information, products and suggested wellness programs to those who will share responsibility for their personal well-being. Our services are not a substitute for medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please consult a licensed physician.
References & Resources:
Stevia Image Source: https://pixabay.com/en/stevia-leaf-sugar-plant-sweetness-74187/
Population, Resources, Environment: Issues In Human Ecology by Paul R. and Anne H. Ehrlich