• Lori Turner

Wholesome Stevia Not So Sweet for The Allergy Prone

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

Wholesome Stevia Not So Sweet for The Allergy Prone by Lori Turner

Those of us who suffer from seasonal allergies know that over the counter allergy medicine is as common as a hungry Costco customer obliviously blocking the aisle with a shopping cart chowing down on free samples. I’m practically allergic to every pollen in Las Vegas, Nevada (where I live), making it impossible to enjoy the seasons without some sort of help from my very dear friends Allegra and Zyrtec. Allegra and Zyrtec (which used to require a prescription from a medical professional) have saved many people such as myself from rashes, hives, runny nose, coughs, sore throats, and breathing problems during the fall and springtime. It is imperative for me to take these medications so I can function and don’t receive death stares from people because of my incessant coughing in an elevator.

Eating healthy and staying fit has always been a lifestyle of mine, so when I had to divert from my errands and drive over to an urgent care clinic, I knew it had to be really bad. After a treatment of a steroid shot in the butt and 10 days of prednisone (a prescription steroid), I was on my way to feeling normal again. However, once I was done with my course of treatment, I went immediately back to rashes, and hives all over my face and neck. Strolling out into public where I was sure people were staring at my unfortunate blotchiness and beaming red face, I hid myself pulling the collar of my shirt up over my nose. Like that doesn’t draw attention to yourself! I couldn’t breathe, and my two best buddies, Allegra and Zyrtec weren’t doing their jobs. In my frustration, I made my coffee like I always do, stirred in my tiny bit of Stevia, and drank it. That was the morning Allegra and Zyrtec almost took me to the emergency room (ER).

Stevia is a sweetener derived from the leaves of a South American plant and is native to Paraguay. Historians believe it has been around since the 16th century and was cultivated by the indigenous people to sweeten tea. It is 100 times sweeter than a teaspoon of sugar, so very little is needed to make something taste sweet. It has no calories or carbs and can be beneficial for people trying to lose weight or those that have diabetes. According to www.steviabenefits.org, there are no known allergies to Stevia. Once studies came out for sucralose (made from chemicals and processed in a lab) suggesting that it may cause cancer in mice, people stopped buying products with these lab-created sweeteners and searched for “natural” alternatives. When Stevia arrived in America it was a “miracle”, because not only did it help people stay on track dietary wise, they could eat and enjoy sweet treats and baked goods without feeling guilty. Stores such as Wholefoods and Sprouts started to stock different kinds of brands and forms of Stevia on their shelves and the health food industry took notice. Today, Stevia is marketed as “improving health” and “wholesome” and is popular among those trying to eat more of a plant-based diet. It is available in a less processed green powder form (looks like the color of the actual plant leaf) or in a highly processed white powdered version that contains fillers. Other food manufacturers have put it into sports drinks, bread, milk, yogurt, protein powders, and just about everything else. Everyone is “eating it up” without any hesitation. Sounds wonderful until you are allergic.

Not many people are aware that Stevia belongs to the plant family known as Asteraceae or “Aster”. Flowers such as chrysanthemum (mums), daisy, marigold, and dandelions are all Aster’s. One particular invasive weed that grows everywhere, but most prolifically in southwest America (Arizona, Nevada, Southern California) known as “Ragweed” is also an Aster type plant. Ragweed is a common allergen among those with hay fever and its flowers can produce up to a billion grains of pollen each year. It effortlessly spreads via wind and can wreak havoc for months. If you are allergy-prone, it’s likely all these Aster pollens mixed with other pollens are having a big party and you have been gifted with watery eyes, itchy skin, and a runny nose.

According to https://suzycohen.com/articles/stevia_ragweed/, the genetic makeup (DNA) of the protein in the pollen from the Stevia flower is very similar to Ragweed’s flower. It is estimated that 23 million people are sensitive to Ragweed and are unknowingly eating it in plants, foods, and supplements. Some may not have an immediate allergic reaction, but I had no idea that the Stevia in my drinks, food, and environment were having a cumulative effect on me. After drinking half of my coffee with a micro scoop of Stevia, my lips immediately tingled and swelled, my throat started to close, and I was having a panic attack. My body obviously had accumulated enough allergens, and it threw me over the hump like a bad Wednesday morning.

After looking like my lips had been in an altercation, I immediately ran to my medicine cabinet and took some Benadryl. I shouted out for my husband, “I might need to go to the Emergency Room (ER)!” Luckily, the Benadryl took effect and l avoided passing out and incurring a very expensive ER bill. Once the panic attack stopped, I immediately turned on my computer and my research began. I stumbled upon Suzy Cohen’s article and blog which really made it very clear. Shockingly, I was slowly poisoning myself trying to be healthy and eat less sugar. According to our local newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, https://www.reviewjournal.com/life/health/allergy-sufferers-in-las-vegas-valley-can-blame-ragweed-1662583/ all those empty fields of green that usually don’t exist in Las Vegas, you guessed it, are filled with those annoying weeds. No wonder my best friends Allegra and Zyrtec slammed the door in my face.

I learned quite a bit from my Stevia “incident”, with most of it being quite informative and shocking. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers to label food items but the use of the word “natural” is considered to be too ambiguous, and therefore it is the responsibility of the consumer to read the label and know what is in the food item being purchased. If you have a busy life and are exhausted by the time you reach the grocery store like me, it becomes very daunting to turn over every can, plastic container, or box and read a long list of ingredients. Food manufacturers have the freedom to label anything “natural” when in reality it is only a gimmick for you to buy it. They also have the liberty of not having to list certain ingredients if there are only small traces of it. Shockingly, Stevia isn’t any different. I have nothing against Stevia. In fact, I enjoyed it very much and went through a mild depression because “wholesome” Stevia nearly landed me in the hospital. However, what I find frightening is how many millions of my co-allergists have no clue they are contributing to their allergies by eating and drinking foods with Stevia/Ragweed ingredients in them. At some point, like my good old friends Allegra and Zyrtec, they will reach a threshold and abandon you at your finest hour. It is essential to research any new or old product that claims to be “healthy” or “wholesome” and see what it really contains. I know I am getting some low doses of it in something I’m eating or drinking, but I stopped buying it altogether. I went back to good old organic Turbinado sugar and surprisingly feel better. I guess sugar isn’t so “evil” after all.