One recent “viral” email making the rounds claims that the natives of Paraguay have used the intense sweetener stevia as a contraceptive and that it can cause infertility. This raises suspicions because primitive societies are known for performing fertility rites so that women will reproduce. Primitive societies generally would never do just the opposite and seek a contraceptive method.
The FDA works hand in glove with the sweetener manufacturers, also warns that a supposed infertility effect is ascribed to stevia (with no data to back this claim), and has so far refused to assign it the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) designation.
I have been translating patents relating to sweeteners for about 35 years and it would be hard to maintain that I am not a specialist on this subject. Interestingly, while patents relating to aspartame and sucralose (artificial sweeteners sold, for ex, as NutraSweet or Equal and as Splenda) often mention the known untoward effects of these substances, none of the patents (Japanese, German, Chinese, French, etc.) that I have translated mention any health drawbacks of stevia. If you try to tell a Japanese, for example, that you think stevia is unsafe, they will think you are insane. Their medical profession does its homework and would never fail to report any untoward side effects of stevia if there were any.
Stevia is a natural sweetener whose sweet principles (stevioside and rebaudioside) are the only intense sweeteners in nature without an off-taste. (Licorice, for ex, is also a natural sweetener but its sweet principle glycyrrhizin has a peculiar off taste. Non-intense sweeteners, or bulk sweeteners, are generally sugar alcohols such as xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, etc., and we aren’t discussing them here).
Stevia is a plant that grows to about a foot or more and its leaves are sweet. I have grown it myself to sweeten my coffee.
It is indigenous to Paraguay and the natives have been using it as a sweetener for years.
It is grown in various parts of South America, Asia and elsewhere, and is marketed in various countries. I believe it is available in the U.S. but the FDA refuses to classify it as GRAS. This is highly unusual because almost all natural substances that have been used for centuries in any country are automatically classified as GRAS by the FDA unless the native people who have used it have reported side effects. No Guarani Indians have issued such reports and they have used it for centuries. Further, according to the EUFIC, stevia sweeteners are approved for use in many countries including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China, Russia, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Malaysia.
So why might the FDA be out of step with the world?
Well, both Splenda and Nutrasweet / Equal are sold by American companies (JW Childs, Boston, and Merisant). In the case of Splenda, there is a British component in a joint venture, namely, Tate and Lyle, but Johnson & Johnson also sells it.
On the other hand, aspartame, which is known to be harmful to phenylketonurics and actually carries an FDA warning to that effect, is listed as GRAS by the FDA.
This is very suspicious to me.
Here is what Wikipedia says, raising more suspicion.
In 1991, after receiving an anonymous industry complaint, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeled stevia as an “unsafe food additive” and restricted its import [THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS. AN ‘ANONYMOUS’ COMPLAINT DOES NOT MERIT SUCH A RESPONSE! — DON],. The FDA’s stated reason was “toxicological information on stevia is inadequate to demonstrate its safety.”
Since the import ban in 1991, marketers and consumers of stevia have shared a belief that the FDA acted in response to industry pressure. Arizona congressman Jon Kyl, for example, called the FDA action against stevia “a restraint of trade to benefit the artificial sweetener industry”. To protect the complainant, the FDA deleted names in the original complaint in its responses to requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Stevia remained banned until after the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 forced the FDA in 1995 to revise its stance to permit stevia to be used as a dietary supplement, although not as a food additive – a position that stevia proponents regarded as contradictory because it simultaneously labeled stevia as safe and unsafe, depending on how it was sold.
Early studies prompted the European Commission in 1999 to ban stevia’s use in food in the European Union pending further research. In 2006, research data compiled in the safety evaluation released by the World Health Organization found no adverse effects. Since 2008, the Russian Federation has allowed stevioside as a food additive “in the minimal dosage required”.
In December 2008, the FDA gave a “no objection” approval for GRAS status to Truvia (developed by Cargill and The Coca-Cola Company) and PureVia (developed by PepsiCo and the Whole Earth Sweetener Company, a subsidiary of Merisant), both of which use rebaudioside A derived from the Stevia plant. However, FDA said that these products are not Stevia, but a highly purified product [THAT IS NONSENSE. STEVIA IS NEVER SOLD IN UNPURIFIED FORM. IT TASTES TOO BITTER FOR THAT. IN FACT, IN THE BUSINESS, STEVIA SWEET PRINCIPLES ARE SIMPLY CALLED STEVIA. THIS IS JUST AN EXCUSE FOR THE FDA TO WRIGGLE OUT OF ITS ORIGINAL BAN ON THE PRODUCT!–DON]. In 2012, FDA posted a note on its website regarding crude Stevia plant: “FDA has not permitted the use of whole-leaf Stevia or crude Stevia extracts because these substances have not been approved for use as a food additive. FDA does not consider their use in food to be GRAS in light of reports in the literature that raise concerns about the use of these substances. Among these concerns [NOTE: BASED ON AN ANONYMOUS REPORT, AS STATED ABOVE BY FDA. THAT IS OUTRAGEOUS BEYOND BELIEF–DON] are control of blood sugar and effects on the reproductive, cardiovascular, and renal systems.”
So how has this stevia scare affected me personally? Right now, I am now sipping ice tea sweetened with stevia.