Can Stevia Help You Ward Off Type II Diabetes? A Review

Unfortunately, it is not even clear if you need the "white stuff", i.e. pure steviosides, whole leaves of leaf-extracts to maximize the anti-diabetic effects of stevia. What is clear, though, is that there's still a lot of research to be done.
"Can Stevia Help You Ward Off Type II Diabetes?" That's not just the title of today's SuppVersity article, it is also the research question of a recent paper by Esteves A.F. dos Santos from Farmácia Progresso (dos Santos. 2016). An interesting question with an obvious answer: if you replace sugar in your diet with stevia, it will help.

Now, you know that this would not be worth discussing in a SuppVersity article of its own. What is worth discussing, though, is that stevia contains "compounds and other substance obtained from stevioside hydrolyses" (dos Santos. 2016) such as isoteviol of which studies show that they can be used as 'active' diabetes treatments - meaning: they help, even if you take them on top of sugar / your regular diet.
You can learn more about sweeteners at the SuppVersity

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To understand how stevia may help you to ward off diabetes, you will first have to understand how the latter actually develops. In the previously references review, dos Santos writes about the consequences of life-style induced weight gain and concomitant increases in body fat and insulin resistance (IR):
Figure 1: Illustration of the etiology of type II diabetes from a secondary source (in dos Santos. 2016)
"After an initial increase of insulin production as a response to IR in peripheral tissue, pancreatic β cells no longer have the ability to control glucose homeostasis, leading to endocrine sys-tem imbalances. Under glucagon influ-ence, the liver contributes significantly in glucose homeostasis because liver makes the balance between capture / storage of glucose, via glycogenesis, and the release of glucose by glycogenolysis and gluconeogenesis. 
Constant, prolonged state of hypergly-cemia enables the formation of Advanced Glycation End-Products (AGEs). AGEs are responsible for the onset of diabetic complications, such as neurological and kidney complications (diabetic nephropathy), aging and cardiovascular complications: dyslipidemia, hyperten-sion, [etc.]" (dos Santos. 2016).
The previously referenced AGEs and the significant increase of reactive oxygen specimen (ROS), which leads to decreased levels of antioxidants enzymes, increase lipid peroxidation, will increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases and exacerbate the state of the disease, which has - at this point - started to self-propel its own progression.

If using stevia could break this vicious cycle, this would obviously be awesome!

Initial evidence that suggests that stevia could do what the subheading suggests, and decrease blood glucose levels comes from ... you guessed it: rodents. In a 4 week supplementation study, rats who were fed Stevia rebaudiana extract - combined with high-carbohydrate and high-fat diets - exhibited a sign. lower increase in glucose and worsening of their glucose tolerance in an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) - a result that was soon confirmed in human beings who ingested an infusion of 5 Stevia rebaudiana leaves for 3 days, every 6 hours (see Figure 2):
Figure 2: Effect of stevia leaf extract (5g) blood glucose of 16 healthy subjects on oral glucose tolerance test (Curi. 1986).
Similar results have been observed by Anton et al. (2010) who compared the effect of preloads of stevia with preloads of other sweeteners, such as aspartame or sucrose in obese and normal subjects. As the data in Figure 3 shows, these preloads, which were consumed by study participants 20 minutes before their test lunch and dinner meals, decreased postprandial insulin significantly.
Figure 3: Blood glucose response in man with preloads of either sucrose, aspartame or stevia (Anton. 2010)
Now, the obvious question we have to answer is: how did that work? There are different speculative and proven mechanisms that could contribute to the anti-diabetic effects of stevia:

  • one study showed that Stevia rebaudiana will inhibit the pancreatic enzyme alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase and thus the breakdown of carbs in the intestine (Adisakwattana. 2010),
  • Figure 4: Effects of Stevia extracts on glucose transport activity compared to the effect of insulin. SH-SY5Y (a) and HL-60 (b) cells were treated with steviol glycosides (1 mg/mL), with 100 nM insulin (I), with steviol glycosides and insulin simultaneously, or 1 mM standard compounds (StReb, StStev | Rizzo. 2013).
    stevia rebaudiana extracts may also act similar to insulin and are equally effective in increasing glucose uptake,because the co-treatment with insulin and stevia extracts increase glucose uptake significantly higher than the increase due to insulin alone (Rizzo. 2013), , similar results were reported by Akbarzadeh et al. (2015) in STZ-induced diabetic rats
  • various studies provide evidence for the anti-oxidant effects of stevia and respective extracts, which will - in view of the inflammatory nature of type II diabetes - obviously contribute to its anti-diabetic effects
  • at least one study shows that isostevial, one of the stevia glycosides, appears to work part of its magic via activating the PPAR receptor alpha (Xu. 2012)
Whether there is one specific agent that is responsible for the previously listed effects is still debated. Among the "suspects" are primarily steviol glycosides for which anti-hyperglycemic effect has been observed in doses ranging from 5 mg / kg to 200mg/kg (González. 2014)
Is stevia even safe? You will be surprised to hear that, but the safety of the chronic consumption of stevia, the "natural sweetener", cannot be guaranteed (see possible ill effects on fertility). While studies in adult hypertensive patients show that it is "likely safe" when taken orally (250-500mg stevioside) thrice daily for up to two years, scientists argue that it could be "possibly unsafe, [...w]hen taken [by] children, or pregnant or lactating women or for periods longer than two years, due to insufficient available evidence" (Ulbricht. 2010). The same goes for its use by patients with hypotension, hypocalcemia, hypoglycemia, or impaired kidney function. In view of what we know about the possibility of allergy/hypersensitivity to other members the daisy family (Asteraceae/ Compositae), one may also suspect that allergic reactions, which have not been reported in the literature, yet, are not likely.
More specifically, these compounds have been observed to offset "the glucagon hypersecretion by pancreas α cells that's usually caused by prolonged exposure to fatty acids, and changed genes expression responsible for the metabolism of fatty acids" (dos Santos. 2016). They have also been shown to increase the glucose uptake of pancreatic cells, thus rendering them more sensitive to (small) changes in blood glucose levels; and Gonzalez et al. found them to be capable of increasing proinsulin mRNA concentration and insulin in pancreas INS-1 cells - with the result being a sign. increase the content of insulin in cells.
Figure 5: Glucose (left) and lipid (right) levels in rodents after 14 days on a high fat diet w/ different amounts of isosteviol in the diet - the effects are sign., but the effect size is small (Xu. 2012)
Of the various steviosides, dos Santos highlights isosteviol, a stevioside hydrolyzate, in particular, because it has been shown to have especially pronounced influence on glucose metabolism (Xu. 2012) in a 14-day rodent study in which the animals were fed high-fat chow and the oral administration of  isosteviol orally administrated at doses from 1 to 5 mg/kg/day led to a statistically significant decrease in insulin levels, accelerated glucose clearance and improved insulin sensitivity while simultaneously lowering total and LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL - not bad even if the effect size is relatively small, right?
"The mechanism underlying these effects may be related to the expression of PPARα, since this has changed in the treatment with isosteviol. Furthermore, the pretreatment with isoteviol improves antiapoptosis factor Bcl-2 expression and inhibits the NF-kB expression, and increases SOD and GSH-PX activity. Isosteviol has anti-inflammatory effects, which may possibly be related to hypoglycemic effect and the ability to change lipid profile" (dos Santos. 2016).
Unfortunately, the results Xu et al. presented 4 years ago still await confirmation in human studies. The same goes for the first stevia based anti-diabetes "drugs" which seek to increase the bioavailability (in serum) of steviosides by bioconjugating them on biodegradable Pluronic-F-68 copolymer based PLA nanoparticles by the means of nanoprecipitation (Barwal. 2013). These studies exist, like a recent study by Kassi et al. who introduced low glycemic load snacks based on Stevia to a low calorie diet in patients with metabolic syndrome and found this to be a safe and highly efficient means to "further reduc[e] BP [blood pressure], fasting glucose, ox[idized] LDL and leptin compared to a hypocaloric diet alone, decreasing, thus, further the risk of atherosclerosis and DMT2" (Kassi. 2016) - as part of a regular diet and in place of high sugar foods, stevia is thus the most effective.
Figure 6: One of the few long(er) term studies in (diabetic) humans found no effect of 1g rebaudioside on glycemia (Maki. 2008) - so, don't get too excited about stevia being the new metformin.
So what's the verdict then? Well, I guess you won't be happy if I say that more research is, as usually, necessary. Dos Santos is yet right that "Stevia rebaudiana is a good option to be included in the group of nutraceuticals", in view of its "action and its main compounds (stevioside and rebaudioside A) concerning glycaemia control, diabetes consequences, and early development of IR" (dos Sanots. 2016).

In as much as it can be considered a "medicinal herb," though, its safety of and necessity of higher dosages, as well as the exact mechanism of action require further investigation. Whether it makes sense to develop sustained released, high bioavailability 'stevia drugs' does yet appear questionable to me. - in particularly, because isosteviol "is not subject to intestinal hydrolysis and has shown results as therapeutic agent for type 2 diabetes and its consequences" (dos Santos. 2016), without being chemically / molecularly altered - using "regular" stevia and that to replace sugar does therefore still appear to be the best 'anti-diabetic' use for this sweetener which is up to 150 times sweeter than sugar, heat- and pH-stable, and not fermentable | Comment on Facebook!
  • Adisakwattana, Sirichai, et al. "Evaluation of α-glucosidase, α-amylase and protein glycation inhibitory activities of edible plants." International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 61.3 (2010): 295-305.
  • Akbarzadeh, Samad, et al. "The Effect of Stevia Rebaudiana on Serum Omentin and Visfatin Level in STZ-Induced Diabetic Rats." Journal of dietary supplements 12.1 (2015): 11-22.
  • Anton, Stephen D., et al. "Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels." Appetite 55.1 (2010): 37-43.
  • Barwal, Indu, et al. "Development of stevioside Pluronic-F-68 copolymer based PLA-nanoparticles as an antidiabetic nanomedicine." Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces 101 (2013): 510-516.
  • Curi, R., et al. "Effect Of Stev/A Reba Ud/Ana On Glucose Tolerance. In Normal Adult Humans." Braz. j. med. biol. res (1986).
  • González, et al. "Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni: a potencial adjuvant in the treatment of diabetes mellitus." CyTa – Journal of Food 12.3 (2014): 218- 226.
  • Kassi, Eva, et al. "Long-term effects of Stevia rebaduiana on glucose and lipid profile, adipocytokines, markers of inflammation and oxidation status in patients with metabolic syndrome." (2016).
  • Maki, K. C., et al. "Chronic consumption of rebaudioside A, a steviol glycoside, in men and women with type 2 diabetes mellitus." Food and Chemical Toxicology 46.7 (2008): S47-S53.
  • Rizzo, Benedetta, et al. "Steviol glycosides modulate glucose transport in different cell types." Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity 2013 (2013).
  • Ulbricht, Catherine, et al. "An evidence-based systematic review of stevia by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration." Cardiovascular & Hematological Agents in Medicinal Chemistry (Formerly Current Medicinal Chemistry-Cardiovascular & Hematological Agents) 8.2 (2010): 113-127.
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