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Sweetening with Stevia

Apr 29, 2017

This sweet treat may be future aid in diabetes treatment.

Stevia is a plant native to Paraguay that is used as a calorie-free sweetening alternative. Steviol glycosides, the sweet component of the stevia plant, is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. It can be used in sweetening or baking, obtaining the desired taste and reducing the amount of sugar consumed. The health benefits claimed by stevia supporters have been vast, such as aiding in weight control, reducing hypertension, reducing the risk of pancreatic cancer, and even reducing blood glucose.


Taste perception in type II taste receptor cells relies on the activity of transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily melastin member 5 (TRPM5) and stevia components are known to stimulate TRPM5. An important factor in perceiving bitterness, sweetness, and umami taste, TRPM5 activates afferent signaling to the brain via ATP and is also present in insulin-producing beta cells. Researchers noticed that TRPM5 expression in the small intestine is inversely related to blood glucose concentration and that those with a polymorphism in TRPM5 were likely to have disturbed insulin secretion, elevated plasma glucose, decreased insulin sensitivity, and lower glucagon-like peptide 1 levels.  Based on this, it was hypothesized that TRPM5 has the potential to be a new target for diabetes treatment.

To see how stevioside affected glucose intolerance, researchers fed mice a high fat diet (control group) or a high fat diet with the addition of stevioside for approximately 20 weeks in order to stimulate the development of diabetes. Mice included in the study had a similar age, weight, and glycemic profile at baseline. After 20 weeks, blood glucose levels were taken 2 hours after a glucose challenge. Mice in the high fat only diet had blood glucose levels as high as 300 + 53 mg/dl, whereas the mice fed stevioside in addition to the high fat diet had plasma glucose levels of 200 + 70 mg/dl (P=0.04). Researchers also noticed that mice lacking the TRPM5 expression did not have the same glucose lowering benefits as those with the TRPM5 expression.

A similar study was conducted to determine the anti-diabetic effect of low dose stevioside in mice. The study used male mice given 20 mg/kg/day of steviol or 20 mg/kg/day of saline for 10 days. The mice were further divided into groups based on administration or no administration of: oral glucose tolerance test using 500 mg/kg of glucose, an adrenaline administration blood glucose test using 0.2 mg/kg of adrenaline, and an alloxan administration test using 150 mg/kg of alloxan. Mice given only saline had significant increases in blood glucose levels (8.10 ± 0.95 to 10.0 ± 1.16 mmol/l; P < 0.05), whereas mice given the stevioside solution did not have significant increase in glucose levels (9.22 ± 1.13 to 9.85 ± 1.32 mmol/l, P < 0.05) compared to values before glucose testing. When tested with adrenaline, both groups had similar increases in glucose levels. Mice in the alloxan group that were treated with stevioside had a statistically significant lower rise in glycemia than mice that were treated with saline only (P <0.005). This study allowed researchers to conclude that low doses of steviol may have some beneficial anti-diabetic properties.

Although studies are still needed in humans, this research opens up the potential for new diabetes treatment and prevention.

Practice Pearls:

  • Steviol has the potential to be a target for treatment and prevention of diabetes mellitus.
  • When given stevioside, mice on high fat diets had lower glucose rates than those not fed stevioside.
  • Compared to mice not given steviol, mice fed steviol had protective effects from increases in glucose.



Nichols, Hannah. “Stevia: Health Benefits, Facts, Safety.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, Web

Philippaert, Koenraad, Andy Pironet, Margot Mesuere, William Sones, Laura Vermeiren, Sara Kerselaers, Sílvia Pinto, Andrei Segal, Nancy Antoine, Conny Gysemans, Jos Laureys, Katleen Lemaire, Patrick Gilon, Eva Cuypers, Jan Tytgat, Chantal Mathieu, Frans Schuit, Patrik Rorsman, Karel Talavera, Thomas Voets, and Rudi Vennekens. “Steviol glycosides enhance pancreatic beta-cell function and taste sensation by potentiation of TRPM5 channel activity.” Nature Communications 8 (2017): 14733. Web.

Ilić, Vladimirka, Saša Vukmirović, Nebojša Stilinović, Ivan Čapo, Milan Arsenović, and Boris Milijašević. “Insight into anti-diabetic effect of low dose of stevioside.” Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy 90 (2017): 216-21. Web.

Priscilla Rettman, BS, PharmD Candidate 2017, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine – GA Campus