When I began my health journey with nutrition, I was skeptical. Could giving up gluten, dairy, and sugar really make a difference? I mean really? If these foods were that problematic, I would have certainly learned about them in pharmacy school, right?
Well, much to my surprise, three days within giving up gluten, dairy, and sugar, my bloating, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome vanished! “This can’t be…” I remember thinking to myself. Why did I not know about this??
I often speak of going gluten and dairy free—this can be incredibly helpful for Hashimoto’s as 88% and 80% of people feel significantly better, respectively. But sugar can also be a major issue!
87% of people feel better sugar free! After the initial withdrawal, most people see benefits in mood, energy, and weight!
In my past life, I would put three teaspoons of sugar in my tea. My brother would look at me in disgust and say: “This stuff will make you sick, Izabella. You need to cut out the sugar.”
I knew he was right—sugar can contribute to a yeast overgrowth, lowered immunity, blood sugar issues, weight gain, diabetes, and a whole host of health problems—but I was a sugar addict, and it was devastating to think that I would have to let go of this old friend and not have any sweetness in my life.
So I had to find a bridge to help me off the sugar.
I knew that artificial sweeteners were toxic from papers that I read in pharmacy school. NutraSweet, Equal (aspartame), and Splenda (Sucralose) have been connected to triggering Hashimoto’s. Dr. Isaac Sachmechi, a professor at Mount Sinai, reported that two of his patients saw a complete remission of Hashimoto’s after quitting artificial sweeteners.
I transitioned to honey and actually carried around little jars of honey with me everywhere I went. That seemed to work well until one of the jars ended up spilling inside of my purse 🙂
I knew I had to find something more practical, and so I decided to give Stevia a try.
At the time when I began to use Stevia, the research I found was mostly good. However, there have been some new studies, concerns, and questions from readers that have surfaced that I’d like to address.
What My Readers Are Saying about Stevia
Over the last few years, I’ve worked with quite a few women who suffer from varying degrees of hypothyroidism. What comes up time and time again is that there are widely diverse reactions to the foods we eat. Many of us with Hashimoto’s are experimenting with new recipes with unfamiliar ingredients as we try to address our many autoimmune symptoms. We are also paying greater attention to our bodies and, of course, we are all as unique as snowflakes! So naturally, we have a lot of questions about specific ingredients.
Lately, what has come up in many conversations with my readers and clients is Stevia. Everyone wants to know: is it good or bad for those of us with Hashimoto’s?
One very concerned reader was certain that Stevia was causing her insomnia and bladder irritation. She was getting up to go to the bathroom more frequently and this was really hurting the quality of her sleep. Her mother was the only person that could relate and mentioned that she should stop using Stevia. Sure enough, she read all the labels on her supplements and in her pantry and cleaned house. She stopped baking with Stevia —and then she was able to sleep like a baby!
Let’s break down exactly what Stevia does when it enters our body and how it may help or hurt a person, depending on the current state of their health. Very few studies have been done on its direct link to hypothyroidism, and no studies with Hashimoto’s, so it does take some digging and connecting dots.
What, Exactly, Is Stevia Anyway?
Stevia is classified as a nonnutritive sweetener (NNS) among a group defined as low – and no – calorie sweeteners (LNCS). Unlike like other LNCS in this group such as saccharin (Sweet N Low) and aspartame (Equal), Stevia is natural and is often organic. It is derived from the plant Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, or “honey leaf,” which contains the sweet-tasting compounds known as steviol glycosides. (1) Stevia is 200-350 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar), but unlike sugar, Stevia contains no calories.
The History and Regulatory Status of Stevia
Stevia originated in Brazil and Paraguay and has been used by indigenous people as a food sweetener and a medicine for hundreds of years (2). Stevia was first approved for use in the United States as a dietary supplement in 1995 and was later accepted as a sweetener in 2008. Stevia was also introduced as a sweetener in the EU in 2011, as well as in Canada in 2012.
The safety studies that allowed Stevia to be approved as a sweetener concluded that Stevia is non-toxic, non-mutagenic, and non-carcinogenic. (5) That said, there are other potential adverse reactions one can have to a substance.
Is there Anyone Who Might Benefit from Using Stevia?
The majority of the studies to date have come to the conclusion that those with diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity can benefit from using Stevia.
- A study done in March 2015 suggests that it is “good for diabetic patients because it is calorie-free, non-toxic and cannot be oxidized.” In this study, diabetic rats were given different doses of Stevia. Those at the higher dose had lower blood glucose levels over time. Stevia increases insulin secretion without any glucose being introduced to the blood stream. This allows for the insulin to reduce high glucose levels. This will also help lower complications for people with diabetes. (Read more about Hashimoto’s, blood sugar and diabetes.) (2)
- In another study, it was proven that Stevia also has antioxidant properties in people with diabetes because of its “free radical scavenging”, reducing the presence of potentially toxic chemicals within our bodies (5).
- Stevia is also known to have a positive effect on hypertension, reducing blood pressure. Scientists found that giving Stevia over time will result in dilation of blood vessels, leading to a lowering of blood pressure. This effect is from long term use of Stevia and is seen after 40-60 days of use (at least in rats). (12)
Additionally, Stevia may help with suppressing Borrelia Burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease—a potential Hashimoto’s trigger—at least in a petri dish! (Here’s more information about Lyme as a trigger.) 
There is anecdotal evidence that Stevia has anti-cancer and anti-diarrheal qualities, but more studies need to be done on this. The number and quality of studies done are not adequate to come to a conclusion on those benefits. (12)
Can Stevia Affect Our Hormones?
There are not many studies on how Stevia effects thyroid hormones, and I’ve never seen any issues with it clinically. I’ve only found two studies that evaluated the effect of Stevia on thyroid hormones. The good news is that Stevia does not seem to have any effect on thyroid hormones (at least not in rats or chickens).
However, Stevia may affect other hormones…
Varanuj Chatsudthipong & Chatchai Muanprasat note multiple studies that analyze Stevia’s effect on fertility. In one study they cite that rats who were fed high doses of Stevia over two months did, in fact, show a decrease in fertility. In yet another study done on hamsters, Stevia toxicity existed when administered in high doses to the hamsters and their fetuses. (11)
Another study found that Stevia can shrink the seminal vesicle of male rats. As semen is partially produced by the seminal vesicles, this may play a role in fertility. (12)
If you have Hashimoto’s, you likely have some degree of adrenal dysfunction—this is a very important root cause that most people need to address. Adrenal dysfunction manifests as fatigue, weight gain, irritability, moodiness, lowered immunity, and even have trouble sleeping. Read about how your adrenals may be sabotaging your health!
The main factors that can cause/exacerbate adrenal dysfunction are stress, inflammation, lack of sleep, and blood sugar imbalances—especially hypoglycemia.
Because Stevia can lower blood sugar, this could potentially exacerbate blood sugar imbalances, and in turn, hypoglycemia.
While no Stevia studies have been done on people with hypoglycemia, low blood pressure, or Addison’s disease, anecdotally, some individuals have reported that Stevia can make their blood sugar drop more, weakening the adrenals.
Additionally, people with adrenal issues often have low blood pressure—the dilation effect of Stevia on blood vessels can potentially exacerbate this.
As a pharmacist, I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out appropriate medication use. My training is in evaluating the pharmacology of a particular substance and learning about how it could affect the human body. I’ll say the same things about Stevia that I would about most things with medicinal properties: whether it’s good or bad depends on the person.
On one hand, Stevia can help people lose weight, improve diabetes, lower high blood sugar, lower high blood pressure, has anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties, and can even help people with Lyme disease! Stevia definitely seems to be a better alternative to sugar!
But if you are someone with adrenal fatigue, low cortisol, low blood sugar and low blood pressure, or you are trying to conceive, you may want to avoid Stevia, especially long-term use. Though I have no evidence that occasional or short term use would pose a problem at the moment, there is a school of thought that any sweeteners, in general, may cause insulin releases and a stress response in the body.
If you’re struggling with your adrenals and using Stevia, this may be something to consider removing. Stevia is found in many supplements and protein powders, so be sure to check labels if you want to do a real trial (note: the Rootcology AI Paleo Protein is Stevia free and hypoallergenic).
Alternative sweeteners may include honey, maple syrup, Xylitol, or trehalose. Honey and maple syrup are natural but may contribute to Candida and blood sugar issues. Trehalose is an interesting option because it can accelerate tissue repair, but like Xylitol, both can exacerbate small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, a common issue that’s present in Hashimoto’s. Additionally, please note that some researchers have found that trehalose may feed the Clostridium difficile (C. diff.) bacteria; thus if you are struggling with an overgrowth of this gut bacteria, this sugar may not be appropriate for you.
If you haven’t read Hashimoto’s Protocol yet, in it, you will find more detail on how to not only take away things that may be harming you, but it also tells you what you should add back in that will nourish you back to good health! If you’ve been reacting to Stevia, definitely take note of the Adrenal Recovery Protocol!
- Magnuson B, Karakostas M, Moore N, Poulos S, Renwick A. Biological fate of low-calorie sweeteners. Nutrition Reviews. 2016;74(11):670-689. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuw032.
- Chen T, Chen S, Chan P, Chu Y, Yang H, Cheng J. Mechanism of the Hypoglycemic Effect of Stevioside, a Glycoside of Stevia rebaudiana. Planta Medica. 2005;71(2):108-113. doi:10.1055/s-2005-837775.
- Theophilus P, Victoria M, Socarras K et al. Effectiveness of Stevia rebaudiana whole leaf extract against the various morphological forms of Borrelia burgdorferi in vitro. European Journal of Microbiology and Immunology. 2015;5(4):268-280. doi:10.1556/1886.2015.00031.
- Boonka Wwan C, Ao M, Toskulkao C, Rao M. Specific Immunomodulatory and Secretory Activities of Stevioside and Steviol in Intestinal Cells. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2008;56(10):3777-3784. doi:10.1021/jf072681o.
- Shivanna N, Naika M, Khanum F, Kaul V. Antioxidant, anti-diabetic and renal protective properties of Stevia rebaudiana. . 2013;27(2):103-113. doi:10.1016/j.jdiacomp.2012.10.001.
- Shukla S, Mehta A. Comparative phytochemical analysis and in vivo immunomodulatory activity of various extracts of Stevia rebaudiana leaves in experimental animal model. Frontiers in Life Science. 2014;8(1):55-63. doi:10.1080/21553769.2014.961615.
- Daneshyar M, Geuns J, Willemsen H et al. Evaluation of dietary stevioside supplementation on anti-human serum albumin immunoglobulin G, Alpha-1-glycoprotein, body weight and thyroid hormones in broiler chickens. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. 2011;96(4):627-633. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0396.2011.01188.x.
- Payne A, Chassard C, Lacroix C. Gut microbial adaptation to dietary consumption of fructose, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols: implications for host-microbe interactions contributing to obesity. Obesity Reviews. 2012;13(9):799-809. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789x.2012.01009.x.
- Pepino M, Bourne C. Non-nutritive sweeteners, energy balance, and glucose homeostasis. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2011;14(4):391-395. doi:10.1097/mco.0b013e3283468e7e.
- Brown R, Rother K. Non-Nutritive Sweeteners and their Role in the Gastrointestinal Tract. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2012;97(8):2597-2605. doi:10.1210/jc.2012-1475.
- Roberts A, Munro I. Stevioside and related compounds: Therapeutic benefits beyond sweetness. Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2009;122(3):e1-e2. doi:10.1016/j.pharmthera.2009.03.005.
- Oliveira-Filho R, Uehara O, Minetti C, Valle L. Chronic administration of aqueous extract of Stevia rebaudiana (Bert.) Bertoni in rats: Endocrine effects. General Pharmacology: The Vascular System. 1989;20(2):187-191. doi:10.1016/0306-3623(89)90013-x.