Yes, it is true that Stevia does indeed affect gut bacteria. But the real question is how does it affect it and how much?
Does this mean you should stop mixing in Stevia with your coffee or tea in the morning? Should you throw out your Stevia and go pick up some raw sugar from the supermarket instead?
In this article we're going to take a better look at the real effect Stevia has on gut bacteria.
Stevia is made from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, which is native to South America and has been used for more than 1,500 years (says some sources). It is natural source of extreme sweetness and 0 calories, which sounds pretty awesome right?
I mean, who doesn't want a natural 0 calorie sweetener? That sounds like the holy grail, to be able to sweeten food and beverages without adding any calories. It's like you get all the sweet goodness without all of the bad side effects, or so you would think. And it is around 200-400 times sweeter than table sugar!
However, Stevia isn't all rainbows and unicorns. The effect it has on gut bacteria makes it not the healthy choice that everyone believes this.
Studies Show It Kills Good Bacteria
A 2014 study published in Letters of Applied Microbiology tested the sweetening compounds contained in stevia against 6 different strains of Lactobacillus reuteri and found that they inhibited the growth of all of them.
Now this is just one type of bacteria, but it also is one of the most notable good bacteria in your gut and has many benefits, which is why you often see it in probiotics and why it is found in high concentrations in breast milk.
Lactobacillus reuteri strains have been shown to inhibit pathogenic microbes and also help reduce inflammation, making them protectors of the immune system and overall health.
So this study showing that these particular strains of bacteria have been inhibited by Stevia is nothing to be taken lightly.
A more recent study published in 2018 in the PLOS One journal found that non-nutritive sweeteners, such as stevia, alter the microbiota in the gut by having a bacteriostatic effect. What this means is that they inhibit bacterial growth.
This study showed that they had this type of effect on intestinal baceria, E. coli, and gut bacteria from the phyla Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. So not only can inhibit the growth of good bacteria, but also harmful bacteria like E. coli.
Other Side Effects
If you have ever consumed Stevia you may have noticed symptoms such as…
Not everyone experiences such symptoms, but Stevia has been known to irritate the stomach and cause such unwanted side effects.
It can also potentially lead to a "leaky gut", which often comes from overly-processed foods that the body doesn't really see as being food. What happens here is the Stevia doesn't get digested properly and irritates the gut, which can eventually lead to a weakened lining and some of the food particles leaking into the bloodstream.
Stevia... It Might Not Be The Healthiest Choice
Stevia it is often marketed as being a healthy natural alternative to sugar, but as you can see it is probably not as healthy as you have thought.
100% Natural? Not Really...
With Stevia being sold under brand names like Stevia In The Raw, it sounds like some raw natural sweetener. However, this name is misleading to say the least.
Normal Stevia products that you buy at the local superstore are not "raw". The leaves of the Stevia plant are processed using ethanol and the 2 compounds responsible for the intense sweetness that Stevia provides, stevioside and rebaudioside A, are extracted.
So no... it is not 100% natural nor is it raw. The compounds that are responsible for the sweet taste are natural, but calling it all 100% natural is misleading.
Is Getting 0 Calories Really Worth It?
One study found that people who substitute sugary drinks for drinks sweetened with stevia are more likely to eat more sugar at other points in the day.
In other words, if you consume Stevia to avoid eating sugar, at some point in the day you are probably going to consume more sugar to make up for the deficit brought on by your consumption of Stevia. Now of course if you are disciplined and well aware of the food you are eating, you can avoid this, but most people sweetening their foods/beverages with Stevia for health reasons probably don't pay that close attention.
Interesting right? Many of those using this 0 calories sweetener to avoid the calories just end up eating more calories from some other source of sugar.
And if this is the case then what is the point of it in the first place?
I mean let's be honest here, Stevia does not taste that great and although it is a powerful sweetener, it leaves a strange taste that not too many people are fond of.
Should You Stop Using Stevia?
Look, every food out there has upsides and downsides. The bottom line here is that, while Stevia does appear to have more downsides than people originally thought, there is much more research needed to really come to a concrete answer on this.
The studies done on this particular subject are limited.
So don't go throwing out all your Stevia in the cup board, just maybe use it a little less.
*If looking to improve your gut flora and overall health, here is a great article on foods good for gut flora.