The leaves and root extracts of stevia, a native South American plant, have been used as a natural sweetener in South America for hundreds of years. Marketed as a sugar substitute, stevia products appear in many foods. Research in the role of stevia root extract suggests it assists in controlling diabetes and high blood pressure. While there are benefits to using stevia root extract, there may be side effects as well. Individuals with specific health concerns may want to consult with a doctor before using any stevia root products.
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In some individuals, stevia root extract produces gastrointestinal upset including nausea, indigestion and bloating. Dizziness may accompany these symptoms, and in cases of extreme sensitivity, muscle pain, loss of strength and numbness may also occur.
Low Blood Pressure
Studies conducted into the use of stevia root extract in patients with high blood pressure have not proved conclusive, but the research indicates some of stevia's chemical components may lower blood pressure, according to a Taipei Medical College study published in the British Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine in 2000. Individuals who already experience issues with low blood pressure may also experience a dangerous decrease in both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Those with low blood pressure should consult a doctor or health care provider before using a stevia root product.
Because it is derived from a similar plant, the use of stevia root extract may cause an allergic reaction in individuals who have a history of sensitivity to ragweed and similar plants. Included in this group are plants in the asteraceae/compositae family such as marigolds, daisies and chrysanthemums. Typical allergy symptoms include runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, eye irritation and sore throat. In cases of extreme sensitivity, asthma attacks, headaches, chronic nasal inflammation and difficulty sleeping may also occur.
Low Blood Sugar
Research by the National Standard Research Collaboration at Massachusetts General Hospital has suggested that several of the chemical components in stevia root extract may play a role in lowering blood sugar levels and impair blood sugar control. As a result, stevia root extract may decrease blood sugar in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Coupled with diabetes medication, stevia root may cause blood sugar levels to drop too low. Individuals with diabetes should discuss using products with stevia root extract with their doctor or health care provider, and monitor their blood sugar carefully while using stevia root extract or other related sweeteners.
Large doses of stevia root extract may have an adverse effect on the renal system. It can impair kidney activity, as well as the passage of arterial blood to the kidneys. Sodium excretion and urinary flow may also be affected. Individuals who suffer from kidney disease should consult with their doctor before using products with stevia root extract.