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Medicinal Uses

Carrying the above thought a step further, there are many very legitimate reasons for using stevia as a medicinal food. In spite of the prominence stevia has obtained as a flavor enhancer, it contains a variety of constituents besides the steviosides and rebaudiosides, including the nutrients specified above and a good deal of sterols, triterpenes, flavonoids, tannins, and an extremely rich volatile oil comprising rich proportions of aromatics, aldehyde, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes.12 These and other, as yet unidentified constituents, probably have some impact on human physiology and may help explain some of the reported therapeutic uses of stevia.

Hypoglycemic action.

It is probably the presence of the steviosides themselves that has produced dozens of empirical and semi-controlled reports of hypoglycemic action. Paraguayans say that stevia is helpful for hypoglycemia and diabetes because it nourishes the pancreas and thereby helps to restore normal pancreatic function13 In semi-controlled clinical reports one also encounters this action. Oviedo, et. al., reported a 35.2% fall in normal blood sugar levels 6-8 hours following the ingestion of a stevia leaf extract.14 Similar trends have been reported in humans and experimental animals by other workers.15-16 These kind of results have led physicians in Paraguay to prescribe stevia leaf tea in the treatment of diabetes;13 similarly, in Brazil, stevia tea and stevia capsules are officially approved for sale for the treatment of diabetes.12

However, it is important to note that stevia does not lower blood glucose levels in normal subjects. In one study, rats were fed crude extracts of stevia leaves for 56 days at a rate of 0.5 to 1.0 gram extract per day. These procedures were replicated by another team of scientists.17-18 Neither group observed a hypoglycemic action. Similar negative results have been obtained by other observers.19 Then there is research in which the findings show trends toward hypoglycemic action, but are inconclusive.20-21 In at least one of these studies, alloxan-diabetic rabbits were used. The authors felt the results supported an anti-diabetic action, but the results were transient at best.

To date, the experimental research on the effects of stevia on blood sugar levels in human patients with either diabetes or hypoglycemia is sparse. The general feeling in the scientific community is that the mild acting nature of the plant and its total lack of toxic side effects argues against the need for extensive and expensive research programs.

However, many of the anecdotes reporting a definite and significant blood sugar lowering action in diabetics, and a pronounced exhilarating effect in hypoglycemics, are sound enough to justify considerable experimental work in the area. Perhaps , when this missing piece to the puzzle is supplied, we will then have a better understanding of how stevia works - why, for example, many diabetic humans experience a profound lowering of blood sugar levels following the ingestion of several cups of stevia tea (24-32 oz.) during the course of a 24 hour period.

Page 6 Cardiovascular