ROCKVILLE, Md. A study into possible health effects associated with stevia, a natural, calorie-free herb used to make sweetener being researched for use in U.S. food production, concluded that the additive is safe. The study is expected to be published next week online, sources said.
A Web journal called Food and Chemical Toxicology is slated to publish findings from the study, funded by Cargill. Cargill and Coca-Cola are working towards gaining U.S. regulatory approval for a sweetener extracted from the South American herb, branded Truvia.
In the 1990s, the FDA denied stevia for use as an additive, stating that there was not enough evidence to prove its safety. However, it was approved later to be sold as a dietary supplement.
Some reports, dating back to 1985, have said that stevia can cause mutations in the livers of rats and potential fertility problems for men. Coke and Cargill have disputed these claims and insisted that their new product is much different from unrefined forms of stevia used in early testing. The companies are moving to go ahead with product development and distribution in countries that have approved stevia for use, such as Brazil, China and Japan.
Though some countries have reportedly banned stevia, a recent report by the World Health Organization said there were no major toxicity risks associated, but also said more studies should be done on the health effects on people with hypertension and diabetics.