Stevia rebaudiana is a South American plant used to make low- or zero-calorie sweeteners.
To date, there’s no clear evidence that stevia causes cancer when used in appropriate amounts.
A 2017 review analyzed 372 studies of non-nutritive sweeteners. The researchers found that studies investigating the effects of these sweeteners is lacking, noting the need for more.
The stevia plant is cultivated in many countries for use as a sweetener. Stevia is the generic name for sweeteners made with extract from the Stevia rebaudiana leaves. These products are available in liquid and powder form under brand names such as Pure Via, SweetLeaf, and Truvia.
Stevia is known by a few other names. These include caa-ehe, kaa he-he, honey leaf, steviol, and sweet herb of Paraguay.
Continue reading as we explore the research on stevia and any possible links to cancer.
Concerns about stevia and cancer may stem from research that showed a slight genetic toxicity in high amounts.
In a 2002 study, a high level of steviol was shown to have a weak mutagenic activity. The amount was equivalent to what one might use in 3,000 cups of coffee. In ordinary amounts, the genetic toxicity of stevia “can be regarded as negligible and safe,” wrote the study authors.
According to the American Cancer Society, stevia appears to be safe when used in moderation.
So, what’s an appropriate amount of stevia?
Some studies suggest that stevia might even be helpful in preventing or fighting certain cancers. For example:
- In a 2013 study, researchers found that steviol glycoside derivatives had a toxic impact several cancer cell lines. These included leukemia, breast, lung, and stomach cancer.
- A 2012 study of a glycoside found in stevia plants suggested it may help speed up the death of cancer cells in a human breast cancer line.
2006 studyindicated that stevia has anti-inflammatory effects.
2002 animal studysuggested that stevia has anti-tumor properties.
Still, research on stevia is limited. More studies specific to links between stevia and cancer are needed.
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On the other hand, whole-leaf stevia and crude stevia extracts aren’t considered GRAS. They aren’t FDA-approved for use in food. These products may contain other ingredients and may affect:
- blood sugar control
- the kidneys
- the cardiovascular system
- the reproductive system
Stevia may interact with drugs intended to treat hypertension and diabetes.
In animal studies, stevia didn’t affect fertility or pregnancy outcomes, but research on humans is lacking. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, stevia glycoside products may be consumed in moderation. Steer clear of whole-leaf stevia and crude stevia extracts while pregnant or nursing.
Some people have mild side effects from consuming stevia. These can include stomach fullness or nausea. It’s important to remember that stevia blends can contain other sweeteners that can cause similar symptoms. The same may be true of foods and drinks that contain stevia.
Stevia is a low- or no-calorie high-intensity sweetener and sugar substitute. When used wisely, it may help you take in fewer calories while enjoying something sweet. You have to be careful, though. A sweet tooth satisfied by stevia may encourage you to eat more sweet foods.
Stevia doesn’t accumulate in the body.
You might find packets of stevia on restaurant tables and store shelves. Stevia can also be found in many other products you eat. If you’re eating products marketed as low calorie, check the ingredients list to see what type of sweetener was used.
Currently, there’s no evidence linking stevia to cancer when used in normal amounts. Some research suggests it may even have some health benefits. A number of studies stress the need for more research into the potential benefits and risks of stevia.
Stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts should be used with caution, especially if you have a preexisting health condition, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or take prescription medications. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about stevia.