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Stevia and Diabetes

From - 2008-10-27

The figures are alarming by any measure.

Nearly 24 million Americans have diabetes, an increase of over 3 million in just two years. That translates to about 8% of the U.S. population that is affected mainly with Type 2 diabetes. Even more alarming, roughly 57 million people are pre-diabetic, a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet to be classified as diabetic.

Diabetes is a disease wherein the body does not produce or use insulin properly. Type 1 Diabetes is when the body does not produce insulin, the hormone needed to convert sugar (or glucose) and starches into energy for use. Type 2 Diabetes, the most common form, is when the body does not produce enough insulin. Type 2 Diabetes is worsened by obesity, lack of exercise and a poor diet. There are no known cures for diabetes.

Voluminous studies have linked diabetes and heart disease and its attendant complications such as stoke, hypertension, high cholesterol and heart attacks. The most severe complications also include blindness, kidney failure, nervous system damage, lower limb amputations and diabetic coma.

This social epidemic also carries a heavy economic burden. The American Diabetes Association reported that as of 2007, the total annual economic cost of diabetes was estimated at $174 billion. Medical expenditures were estimated at $116 billion, including $27 billion for direct diabetes care and $58 billion for complications arising from diabetes. A person with diabetes spends $13,243 yearly in health expenses to manage this disease.

Despite the daunting statistics, diabetes is preventable or can be delayed. The single greatest factor that can prevent the onset of diabetes is lifestyle modification. That means people who lose weight, exercise regularly, and maintain a proper diet can delay or even prevent the onset of diabetes.

The key to managing diabetes is control of blood sugar, or glucose levels. Controlling what the body takes in can have a significant effect in regulating the blood sugar. The latest research shows that carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels the same way. So it is not the type of sugar per se, but the number of carbohydrates in the food that matters.

It is not a sin to crave for sweets. The practical solution for diabetics is to use calorie-free sugar substitutes that contain no carbohydrates. Calorie and carbohydrate-free sugar substitutes will not raise blood glucose levels. Artificial sweeteners help people regulate sugar intake by metabolizing energy more slowly, ensuring more stable blood glucose levels. However, despite containing artificial sweeteners or a Sugar-free seal, some foods can still affect blood glucose because of other carbohydrates in the food.

Studies have shown that artificial sugar substitutes may also disrupt with the brains ability to discern sweetness and calories. These sugar substitutes interfere by making the body unable to count calories based on sweetness, thus making people more likely to overindulge. So, ironically, artificial sweeteners could be helping obese people gain more weight.

Of all the natural sugar substitutes, the South American herb stevia presents the best case against artificial sweeteners. First, it is natural, native to Paraguay and used by the Guaran Indians as a natural sweetener for centuries. Now, stevia is cultivated in Central and South America, Mexico and East Asia including China. Second, over 200 extensive studies have been conducted on this herbal sweetener attesting to its safety, non-toxicity and ability in managing diabetes.

Stevia was discovered to have anti-diabetic properties such as helping to lower and control blood sugar levels and improve muscle tone. Stevia does not affect blood pressure or increase the levels of blood sugar. In fact, a Brazilian study noted a decrease in blood sugar levels of people who took stevia. The key benefit of stevia is it stimulates the release of insulin and normalizes blood glucose levels. It can also be used as a therapy to hyperglycemia and has demonstrated anti-microbial, antibacterial and anti-yeast activity.

Japan is the largest consumer of stevia with annual consumption worth $200 million, or 40% of the sweetener market. Stevia was introduced in Japan in 1970. Australia, New Zealand and Canada have recently approved stevia as a dietary supplement. Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, Korea, Germany and China have been huge stevia consumer for years. Latin American countries apply stevia to help regulate glucose levels in Type 2 diabetes.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration classify stevia as a dietary supplement.


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