How is stevia metabolized by the human body?

All sweeteners are metabolized differently in the human body. Often comparison of stevia, with artificial and other sweeteners, can be misleading as that difference is not made clear.

Let’s first look at how sugar is broken down in the body. When digesting sugar, the pancreas produces insulin to break it down which keeps blood sugar levels in check. In diabetics this is especially problematic due to a deficiency in the insulin production, an insufficient digestion of sugar which then leads to elevated blood sugar levels.

Stevia metabolizes differently. The body does not react to stevia as it does with sucrose from sugar so there is no insulin production; the steviol glycosides passes unchanged through the body (as opposed to sugar) down to the colon where the glycoside is removed in stages by hydrolysis, resulting in the formation of steviol.

Metabolizing stevia in the human body

The steviol is transported via the blood to the liver where it reacts with glucuronic acid to form steviol glucuronide. The steviol glucuronide ends up in the kidneys and is excreted in the urine. There is no accumulation in the body of steviol glycosides. Everything that is put into the body is expelled through urine and feces.

A short rundown of the main differences between Sugar, Aspartame (a popular artificial sweetener) and Stevia

  • Sugar leads to an increase in blood sugar levels and the pancreas produces insulin to break down the sugar. Excess ingestion can lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes problems, etc
  • Aspartame affects serotonin levels and therefore the feeling of hunger in the body. The purpose of being calorie-free can thus be questioned as it can lead to an increase in calories from other sources. Research suggests a multitude of other adverse effects; carcinogenic, neurotoxin, etc
  • Stevia has no accumulation in the body and research demonstrates promoted insulin production.

References and more detailed information:

Effects of Stevioside in Diabetic Rats

Rebaudioside A Stimulates Insulin Secretion

World Health Organization: Safety Evaluation of Certain Food Additives

Effects of Stevia, Aspartame, and Sucrose on Food Intake, Satiety, and Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Levels