Stevia - a South American herb - is commonly used to sweeten natural foods in place of sugar and is regarded as being a healthy sugar alternative because it is virtually calorie free, extraordinarily sweet and tooth-friendly. However, safety testing has been somewhat worry some regarding fertility risks. Stevia has a long history of use in South America as a sweetener for tea.
Multiple applications to approve stevia for use in food products in the USA have been rejected by the FDA which is why stevia *is* available in health food stores but is not available as a sweetener in supermarkets. In 1994 the FDA stated:
"We don’t have enough data to conclude that the use [in food] would be safe"
Studies to date have highlighted a number of possible reproductive problems from regular stevia use; when male rats were fed high doses of stevia daily (1) - for 22 months - researchers discovered that sperm production was reduced as was the weight of seminal vesicles which produce sperm. When female hamsters were fed large amounts a stevia derivative they also suffered reproductive effects producing smaller litters and smaller offspring (2). These studies have led to concerns that regular stevia use may play a part in infertility.
Canada and the EU also don’t feel comfortable with widespread stevia use even though there are no reports of adverse effects to date. Critics claim that the lack of adverse effects so far are because countries that do consume stevia do so in minute quantities; stevia is used as a sweetener in pickles in Japan and as previously stated to sweeten in tea in South America. If stevia was approved for use as a sweetener in the US we would be consuming vast quantities of the stuff on a daily basis - long term - given the US predilection for sweetened food. Even bread is ‘sweetened’ in the US, which is horrifying to Europeans, we do ‘sweet’ in a BIG way.
Until further studies have been performed it may be wise to make sure that stevia is not a part of your daily diet; check the herbal teas that you use and natural products such as whey protein blends and other shake mixes and bars.
This article is intended for informational purposes only and is NOT intended to diagnose, offer treatment or replace medical or nutritional advice for which you should consult a suitably qualified physician or dietitian.
1 J. Food Hyg. Soc. Japan 26: 169, 1985.
2 Drug Chem. Toxicol. 21: 207, 1998.
Ref. April 2000 Nutrition Action Health Letter