Naturally Sweet and Healthy – The Wonders of Stevia

Stevia (STEE-vee-uh) is an outstanding, sweet tasting herb that has remarkable health promoting qualities. The sweetness of Stevia is largely due to its complex stevioside molecule that is composed of glucose, sophorose and steviol. A second compound called rebaudioside, which is present in Stevia, also contributes to Stevia’s sweetness. Stevia has a taste that is unique and has been described as very sweet with a slight licorice, almost bitter aftertaste. Generally, high quality Stevia contains very little of this bitterness. The sweetness of Stevia is much different than the sweetness of other natural sweeteners, sugar, or artificial sweeteners, but it is delicious. For some people the taste may require some “getting used to,” but most people quickly develop a taste for it.

Stevia is a South American shrub whose leaves have been used for centuries by native peoples in Paraguay and Brazil to sweeten their yerba mate and other stimulant beverages. The stevia plant belongs to the Compositae (sunflower family of plants). Centuries ago, Natives of Paraguay used the leaves of this small, herbaceous, semi-bushy, perennial shrub to sweeten their bitter drinks. Originating in the South American wild, it could be found growing in semi-arid habitat ranging from grassland to scrub forest to mountain terrain. The plant made its way to Pacific Rim countries where in recent decades it became cultivated domestically, used in its raw leaf form and now is commercially processed into sweetener.

If you’ve ever tasted stevia, you know it’s extremely sweet. In fact, this remarkable noncaloric herb, native to Paraguay, has been used as a sweetener and flavor enhancer for centuries. Stevia is a natural, non-caloric, sweet-tasting plant used around the world for its pleasant taste, as well as for its increasingly researched potential for inhibiting fat absorption and lowering blood pressure.

Stevia is about 300 times sweeter than sugar in its natural state, and much more so when processed. Its medicinal uses include regulating blood sugar, preventing hypertension, treatment of skin disorders, and prevention of tooth decay. Other studies show that it is a natural antibacterial and antiviral agent as well. Stevia is actually good for you! On top of that, it is calorie and carbohydrate free. Stevia is a great sweetener choice for diabetics, those watching their weight, and anyone interested in maintaining their health.

Topically, Stevia has excellent healing capabilities. If placed on a cut or scrape, it stings initially followed by a significant reduction in pain and accelerated healing with no scarring. Whole leaf Stevia extract can be used as a facial mask by smoothing the dark liquid over the entire face, allowing it to dry for 30-60 minutes, then rinsing. This will help tighten the skin, smooth out wrinkles and heal skin blemishes and acne. This has been reported to be effective when used on seborrhea, dermatitis and eczema, as well. Stevia is also beneficial for the hair and scalp; good results have been obtained by adding Stevia concentrate to shampoo, and also applying concentrate to the hair after shampooing, allowing it to remain on the hair for a few minutes, then rinsing.

Stevia is also able to perform a number of other beneficial tasks. For example, it has been shown that Stevia may enhance moods and increase energy levels and mental alertness. What’s more, it is also been shown to stop the growth of bacteria in the mouth is responsible for the production of acids that are responsible for gingivitis and cavities.

In recent years, Stevia has made its way to the Far East. In the 70’s and 80’s Stevia was developed as a sweetener/flavour enhancer which has since been used widely for this purpose in Japan, China, Korea, Israel, Brazil and Paraguay. It has been embraced in Japan, where it’s used in soy sauce, sweet pickles and soft drinks. In Japan, Diet Coke has been sweetened with Stevia.

The products in which Stevia has been used include soft drink, ice cream, cookies, pickles, chewing gum, tea and skin care products. In Japan about 40% of the sweetener market is stevia-based. The main producers of stevia are Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Korea, Brazil, Malaysia and Paraguay.

The cosmetic industry also employs the use of Stevia in many of the available skin care products. It has been shown to reduce skin blemishes when applied topically. Stevia also relieves stomach discomfort.

There are no symptoms of deficiency but everyone can benefit from the use of Stevia. Populations that may benefit from the use of Stevia include: diabetics, the obese, the elderly, children, and athletes.

Diabetics, individuals with blood sugar problems, or the obese, may benefit from supplementing with Stevia due to its ability to regulate blood sugar.

Individuals suffering from hypertension may also benefit from the use of Stevia. It has been shown that in cases of high blood pressure Stevia has the ability to act as a vasodiolator, thus helping to lower hypertension.

In the late 1980s an “anonymous firm” lodged a “trade complaint” with the FDA about Stevia when it started to surface in the United States. One company using stevia was the Celestial Seasonings herbal tea company. They were ordered by the FDA to stop producing tea “adulterated” with Stevia. Traditional Medicinals, another tea company, had their inventory of Stevia teas confiscated during an unexpected FDA raid and were told the tea would be burned.

Why did the government treat Stevia like a controlled substance? FDA documents call Stevia a “dangerous food additive” even though the safety of Stevia has been widely tested for many years by scientists in Japan. The FDA will not reveal who made the “trade complaint” (despite the Freedom of Information Act) though many suspect that it was the makers of the artificial sweetener Aspartame (aka “Nutrasweet”) trying to fend off competition, as the artificial sweetener is very profitable.

To judge from the extensive measures the FDA has employed to keep Americans in the dark about Stevia, one might assume it was some type of dangerous narcotic. But, in fact, no ill effects have ever been attributed to it, although it has been used by millions of people around the world, in some locales for hundreds of years.

So adamant has the FDA remained on the subject, that even though Stevia can now be legally marketed as a dietary supplement under legislation enacted in 1994, any mention of its possible use as a sweetener or tea is still strictly prohibited.

In 1995 the FDA reversed their decision to ban Stevia, but only halfway. Stevia can now be sold as a “nutritional supplement” but not as a sweetener in the United States. This is also the case in the European Union, and the World Health Organization is pressuring other countries to follow suit.

Benefits
• non-caloric sweetener
• inhibits fat absorption and lowers blood pressure
• regulates blood sugar levels

Natural Therapy for Maintaining Healthy Blood Pressure

One of the more common treatments for high blood pressure are ACE inhibitors. When your kidneys detect low blood pressure, they release an enzyme called renin, which stimulates the formation of a protein called angiotensin I. Angiotensin I is then converted by the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) in the lungs to a very potent chemical called angiotensin II. Angiotensin II is a powerful blood vessel constrictor that causes muscles surrounding the blood vessels to contract, resulting in narrowing of the blood vessels. This narrowing of the vessels increases pressure in the vessels and can result in high blood pressure .

The ACE Inhibitors block the action of the angiotensin-converting enzyme in the lungs so that angiotensin I is not converted into angiotensin II. This allows blood vessels to remain widened, which results in lowering of the blood pressure. ARBs block the action of angiotensin II itself, so that vessels dilate, making it easier for the heart to pump blood, and results in lower blood pressure .

The natural bioactive casein hydrolysate tripeptides in Melaleuca’s ProStolic™ act as a natural blocker to the formation of angiotensin II. Also included in this proprietary blend is pomegranate juice powder, which inhibits activity of the angiotensin-converting enzyme as well. A third ingredient is passionflower extract. Although researchers don’t know exactly how passionflower works, they believe that flavonoid and alkaloid compounds in the plant regulate the neurotransmitters in your nervous system that reduce anxiety. One of these flavonoids in particular, chrysin, helps to calm your central nervous system and lower your blood pressure.

Combined with the proprietary blend of tripeptides, pomegranate juice powder and passion flower extract, ProStolic™ also contains potassium and calcium to provide a well-rounded natural remedy to help promote healthy blood flow and naturally maintain healthy blood pressure, but without the side effects so common with medications.

Tripeptides are formed when milk casein is broken down into smaller pieces. Several different peptides have been studied, but a significant amount of research has determined that the tripeptides Isoleucine-Proline-Proline (IPP) and Valine-Proline-Proline (VPP) have the most supportive evidence for their efficacy, safety and bioavailability The natural bioactive hydrolyzed casein (a combination of tripeptides IPP and VPP) is an active ingredient included in the proprietary blend in Melaleuca’s ProStolic™. These tripeptides are derived from nonfat milk casein, and have been clinically proven to help maintain healthy blood pressure. Most studies show that blood pressure is lower after 2 weeks of daily consumption of IPP and VPP, and reach a stable level after 4-6 weeks.

Like the mechanism of action of the commonly prescribed ACE Inhibitors, the natural action of tripeptides block the formation of Angiotensin II, which normally causes the blood vessels to narrow. But that’s where the similarity ends. Studies show that IPP and VPP tripeptides accomplish the blockage of Angiotensin II without the side effects so common in ACE and ARB medications. In 2001, an 8-week placebo-controlled, double-blind study was conducted on 30 people with mild or moderate hypertension. Results of the study showed a significant decrease in blood pressure of IPP and VPP test subjects, but no change was seen in the placebo group. In addition, no adverse reactions such as dry cough, digestive tract symptoms or abnormal changes were observed.

Nutritional Supplements: Adding To Your Health?

Nutritional supplements refers to a wide range of products that are designed to enhance your health, improve athletic performance, or otherwise affect your physical or mental well being. These can include vitamins, sports supplements, weight loss products, teas, herbs, and anti-oxidants. Nutritional supplements can be found in almost all health food stores and many traditional stores as well.

Throughout history, nutritional supplements have been used to treat a wide range of ailments and to improve health. Many traditional medicines come from what may be considered supplements. Perhaps one of the most common forms of nutritional supplement is the vitamin. Many people take multi-vitamins, and doctors often recommend such use. Some vitamins can be risky if taken in excess, however, so an awareness of the safety of such vitamins is essential. An excess of Vitamin A, for example, can lead to liver damage and other unpleasant side effects. Consult with a doctor before taking anything vitamin supplements.

Other popular supplements are used in sports, where they are used to enhance performance and speed recovery. Many supplements used for these purposes cause debate as to effectiveness, and some have been pulled from the shelves. Ephedrine is one recent example. Used in many weight loss products, ephedrine caused serious heart problems for some users and is now a regulated substance. Creatine is another supplement of possible unknown side effects. Some people claim that it causes liver damage, while others say that it is safe when used appropriately.

One of the most important things to know about nutritional supplements is that they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is why many product claims on packaging labels and advertising materials include the message, “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration” or something similar. Because supplements are not regulated, the manufacturing, processing, and packaging methods can vary a great deal from one product to another. When using supplements, be sure to research the company and choose a reputable supplier. The safety of supplements may also be unknown due to the lack of regulation. Again, careful shopping is necessary.

Many producers and users of supplements claim that they are safe because they are natural or made from “all natural” ingredients. While this may seem like a logical claim, consumers must use their best judgment when considering the use of supplements. Many substances found in nature are not safe, and are in fact toxic, poisonous, and even deadly. After all, poison ivy is “all natural,” but you likely won’t want to rub it all over your skin, even if a great sales pitch tried to convince you that it’s the best moisturizer around.

Some nutritional supplements can be useful and aid your health. Just as with any consumable, careful shopping and research is essential to your good health. If a claim seems too good to be true, it likely is. Be aware of product pitches and use good judgment before purchasing and using any nutritional supplements. Buy supplements from a reputable company and manufacturer, and when in doubt, consult a physician before beginning a supplement routine.