Consider the unprocessed Stevia Rebunda to be a food with its own unique flavour profile and not just a sugar substitute.
The unprocessed Stevia herb can be a great part of various tea and tisane blends, and only very small portions are generally necessary.
Most Stevia products in the marketplace only contain certain stevia glycosides and are not representative of what Stevia truly is–a culinary and medicinal (primarily for regulating blood sugar) herb.
As I sip an admittedly delicious and refreshing President’s choice zero calorie strawberry mist, which boasts zero calories and not a single artificial flavour, the herbalist snob within me wonders how natural this thirst-quenching drink really is. You see, I use Stevia Rebunda regularly to sweeten teas, tisanes and an assortment of other drinks. But I do this using the whole herb. When it’s cut and sifted I tend to use a small amount–generally not more than 100mg depending on the bitterness of the brew, directly into the infusion blend as an ingredient. As a green powder, I’ll add no more than 1/4 tsp into a hot drink. What must be noted when Stevia Leaf is consumed like this is that it tastes like a herb. The whole leaf is often described as having a licorice-like aftertaste. The crude plant itself does not constitute an equivalent sugar substitute for this very reason.
Why then are there so many drinks, food products and sugar substitutes these days boasting of “natural Stevia extracts”? More importantly, how come so many of them have no bitter aftertaste?
There are several reasons for this, depending on the product in question. To President’s choice credit, only Stevia leaf extract is used for the sweetening of its “free and clear” line of zero calorie flavoured beverages. More precisely, however, only a specific glycoside found within stevia, “reb a”, has been extracted, accounting for a sweet but unbalanced profile of the stevia leaf.
Health Canada’s definitions and elaboration of Stevia and their extractives elucidates this issue.
Steviol glycosides, or purified steviol glycosides are regulated as food additives in Canada. See Health Canada’s list of permitted sweeteners for more details.
Common Names to use in the list of ingredients
As the common name “Steviol glycosides” is not listed in boldface type in column II of table B.01.010.1(3)(a) of the Food and Drug Regulations, a variety of other prescribed names may be used.
For naming purposes, the nine steviol glycosides are closely related structural analogues that all contain a steviol backbone. Rebaudioside A, Stevioside, Rebaudioside C, Dulcoside A, Rubusoside, Steviolbioside, Rebaudioside B, Rebaudioside D, and Rebaudioside F are the nine named steviol glycosides. Although these steviol glycosides are all producing similar physiological effects, if stakeholders wish to specify that they have a product with one of the specific steviol glycosides, they must clearly understand the molecular weight, chemical structure and mechanisms to identify that specific glycoside. Each specific steviol glycoside will have a different molecular weight based on the number of glucose molecules attached to this backbone. For example, Stevioside cannot be used synonymously with Rebaudioside A, as Stevioside refers to a sweetener that contains one less glucose molecule attached to its steviol backbone than Rebaudioside A.
Acceptable synonyms for steviol glycosides that may appear in the list
Acceptable synonyms (for Steviol Glycosides)
Purified Stevia Extract
Purified Stevia Leaf Extract
Stevia Leaf Extract
These steviol glycosides must contain at least 95% of the nine named steviol glycosides, and meet the JECFAspecifications
“Stevia extract” and “stevia leaf extract” have been used as common names for this sweetener in natural health products in Canada.
These steviol glycosides must contain at least 95.0% Rebaudioside A on the dried basis, and meet the FCCmonograph for Rebaudioside A.
Rebaudioside A is the common name for this specific steviol glycoside. Rebaudioside A, Reb A and Rebiana are recognized as acceptable names in the current FCCmonograph.
These steviol glycosides must contain at least 95% of Stevioside, Rebaudioside C, Dulcoside A, Rubusoside, Steviolbioside, Rebaudioside B, Rebaudioside D, or Rebaudioside F on the dried basis, and meet theJECFAspecifications
The name of each specific steviol glycoside (i.e.Stevioside, Rebaudioside C, Dulcoside A, Rubusoside, Steviolbioside, Rebaudioside B, Rebaudioside D, or Rebaudioside F) is acceptable if the steviol glycoside contains at least 95% of the named ccomponent.
This elaboration is a real doozy, isn’t it ? But it’s safe to conclude that the majority of the stevia sweeteners in the market are not, strictly speaking, 100% “natural” nor are they representative of the whole herb, which is my preference.
Now Foods claim that, despite no bitter aftertaste , their stevia extracts are closer to the true leaf in nature. This may be but remember that the pure leaf has micro and phytonutrients that most extracts lack . In the end, though, if you’re not as fanatical as I am and you’re looking for naturally sourced sugar free sweeteners as a way to reduce or eliminate added sugars in the diet, then many of these extracts are still a safe bet! But bear in mind this from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency: “Steviol glycosides are not considered to be a natural ingredient due to its significant processing and the types of solvents used for its extraction and purification. Claims which create the impression that the steviol glycoside itself is natural are not permitted.” Food for thought indeed.
There was a lot of press several months back, as well as recently a few days ago, about a lawsuit filed against Cold FX. In fact, my mother even called me a few days ago about how she saw on the news that “cold fx doesn’t work.” She stated this as a fact. As for me, I simply want to get to the facts. I will admit, however, to being skeptical about the merits of this lawsuit. First, a brief primer on what Cold FX is and what it is supposed to do. I referenced this supplement a while back on my posting on cold and flu management. In it, I cited that Cold FX can reduce cold symptom severity and duration and that it appears to act prophylactically against future colds but not necessarily an initial one. The company itself, Valeant pharmaceuticals, describes Cold FX as such: COLD-FX is a highly purified ChemBioPrint® product derived from the roots of North American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Each capsule contains 200 mg of CVT-E002TM, an extract of polysaccharides that has been shown in laboratory and clinical studies to boost the immune system.…It helps to reduce the frequency, severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms by boosting the immune system.
I read John Green’s interview in Maclean’s magazine and he’s not presenting any type of ‘smoking gun”. He is citing one particular study that he alleges shows that cold fx is actually worse than a placebo. The company disputes this and is making the claim that this study has been misinterpreted and that the placebo superiority was only in reference to a “runny nose”. Until all the studies are made available to the public, it’s impossible to know the truth. I will say this, though, just because a litigant alleges something in court does not make it true. Also, it’s the rule rather than the exception for all studies of a particular product, be it a herb or a synthetic drug, to have uniformly positive results. For better or for worse (actually for worse) drug companies often “bury” studies that don’t support the efficacy of their products while promoting the ones that do. But if there are more clinical trials that have positive as opposed to negative outcomes than that is a great sign. American Ginseng is supposed to work gradually. As an adaptogen it helps fight the cold and perhaps the flu virus through homeostasis and through gradual buildup. To my knowledge Valeant never made the claim that it cures the cold or offers immediate relief. As of now I believe that this person was not misled by the company but was simply under the false impression that the product offered a quick-fix. Again, the evidence for Cold FX points to reduced cold-symptom severity and duration as well as for preventative maintenance after the first cold. And if that is all Valeant is claiming then the claims are not outlandish or fraudulent.
Despite my seeming praise for this product, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of “patented extracts” that are not truly representative of a herb’s nature. I’ve brought this up in other variances before. True American Ginseng has many healthy qualities that complement its immune-boosting properties, qualities that this extract just may lack, such as b-vitamins and nutritive carbohydrates. It’ also true that supplement manufacturers often make egregious marketing claims and help contribute to a “quick-fix” culture in the alternative medicine industry. When it comes to herbs, though, there are no quick-fixes. Treatments for ailments can still be potent, but are also innate and balanced. Herbs will often “nudge” the body to heal itself through the right course of action but will not dictate a desired response.
Eventually the truth will come out one way or another and I acknowledge my own biases on this matter as a herbalist. As of now, though, it looks like the litigant is being extremely selective in citing damning evidence to suit his argument. To put it another way, I think he’s fishing for a case. In the end, consumers should do their own research and draw their own conclusions without relying on brief recaps from the news that don’t explain the a story in-depth. That’s just my two cents.
As promised, here is the final part of the abridged thesis. Kanna has enormous antidepressant potential that, in my opinion, can rival anything the pharmaceutical industry has to offer, but that does not mean this plant does not have its own share of side-effects (all herbs do) more research is definitely needed.
Side-effects and non-herb contraindications
As noted, there are cautions that must be met when combining Kanna with many herbs, although there is great utility for certain combinations. The plant has some side-effects that should be taken into consideration. One of the most notable side-effects is anorexia, the clinical term for a general loss of appetite. Remember that the Khoikhoi and San used to chew this herb during long hunts in part to quell hunger and thirst. This side-effect may actually be useful to counter drugs that increase appetite as a side-effect or as a diet-aid for people who eat due to constant hunger, although its effectiveness for emotional eating such as in eating out of boredom is still in question. Some people with depression have a poor appetite and/or are underweight to begin with, so additional weight loss can be a problem. Another important caveat is that paradoxically, high amounts of Kanna might worsen certain symptoms of depression, perhaps less so pertaining to melancholy but certainly in regards to listlessness and anhedonia (lack of pleasure generally as well as in activities that normally trigger pleasure). The crude unfermented leaf and root can have high levels of oxalic acid, a substance that can produce moderately high allergic reactions presented as irritation to the eyes and nasal passageways in a similar vein as ragweed. Fermentation significantly reduces the amount of oxalic acid present but the crude plant nonetheless still will contain at least small amounts of this substance which could be irritating to sensitive individuals (Ratch, Kindle Location 22109).
Also of note is one of the reasons Kanna is used–insomnia management. As already described based on the experiences of others and synergistic considerations, Kanna can at first be stimulating before becoming sedating, making the timing of the dose very important to help ensure a good night’s rest. Otherwise Kanna may cause insomnia and not alleviate it.
In part 3 of my abridged Kanna thesis I detail the anecdotal experiences of other people, primarily in a recreational context, as well as Kanna’s interactions with certain other herbs.
How have some people experienced this herb? One of several places to read “self-reports” is through a site called “erowid.” These experiences are entirely anecdotal and there is no way to confirm their accuracy. However, multiple reports from vastly different users lead to similar conclusions.
From “Red” (smoked, 1.75g): “It was like I drank a six pack or had a few shots of whiskey. No dizziness or anything, just a fairly relaxed calming sensation. My heart rate was slowed and I enjoyed just sitting down and watching tv for the rest of the night (Red, accessed 2015-08-05).”
From “Psychonaut”: “ It’s a really nice subtle substance for after a hard days (sic) work, when one just wants to relieve tension or stress. It’s very effective in elevating mood, as well as a really useful de-stressing agent. (Psychonaut, accessed 2015-08-05)”
From “Yagesan”: “…Shallow, mellow, light, dreamy, happy (Yagesan, accessed 2015-08-05)”
Records from other sources include the following:
Some (people) reported euphoria as well as a feeling of meditative tranquility. Several users felt that the relaxation induced by ‘kougoed’ enabled one to focus on inner thoughts and feelings, if one wished, or to concentrate on the beauty of nature. Some informants reported heightened sensation of skin to fine touch, as well as sexual arousal. A senior traditional African healer, not previously exposed to ‘kougoed’, tried it and announced that it ‘relaxes the mind’ and one’s body feels ‘light’ the following day (“Psychoactive constituents of the genus Sceletium N.E.Br. and other Mesembryanthemaceae: a review”, accessed 2015-08-07).”
OK, so here is, as promised, part 2 of my abridged thesis on Kanna. This part explains its mechanism of action pertaining to anxiety, depression and insomnia and also touches upon the recently published research. I hope you find it informative!
Sceletium Tortuosum contains a variety of alkaloids that help to explain its mechanism of action including demethylmesembranol, delta-mesembrine, mesembrine, mesembrenone, mesembrenol and 4′-O-demethylmesembrenol (“SCELETIUM Monograph”: Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, accessed 2015-08-07). Of these, Mesembrine especially (but not exclusively) has been confirmed to be a potent selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). This quality means that it inhibits the reuptake of Serotonin to receiving neurons in the brain.
Serotonin is strongly associated with mood, appetite and anxiety regulation. Many—although not all—people with mood disorders, and depression in particular, are thought to have low levels of serotonin in the brain or at the least, an imbalanced ratio of serotonin pertaining to other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and GABA. SRI reuptake inhibition allows for serotonin to stay in the synapse for longer periods of time enabling a person to benefit from its needed effects for a long enough duration to make a therapeutic difference. Patrick Holford of New Optimum Nutrition of the Mind explains how antidepressant therapy works pertaining to neurotransmitters:
The reason this entry will be especially elaborate is because it’s actually an abridged version of my thesis I submitted before I became a Master Herbalist. This herb has a lot of potential to treat a variety of mood and sleep disorders, but there’s also a lot of misinformation out there. I have tried to cut through the hype and give a balanced view on both the scientific literature and folkloric uses. Because this was originally a thesis paper, I’m going to be dividing this into parts since there’s so much content to cover. Needless to say, the same can be said for any of the herbs I have posted about; sometimes my entries can be quite brief and there’s tons of information out there that can be super useful. Just for starters, remember to please check out the blog-roll of suggested resources and sites!
It is time to investigate novel antidepressants from the herbal kingdom. More herbal options should be made available to those with depression and anxiety disorders such as OCD. Indeed, the World Health Organization estimates that major depression is the “fourth most important cause worldwide of loss in disability-adjusted life years, and will be the second most important cause by 2020. Depression affects an estimated 121 million people worldwide (Stafford et al. p.531, 2008).”
Sceletium Tortuosum, commonly known as Kanna, appears to be a promising and effective herbal treatment for such mood disorders, either on its own, as part of a synergistic formula with other herbs or (possibly with more carefully conducted research) an adjunct to synthetic antidepressants such as SNRIs like Cymbalta or Effexor.
Last year, I detailed my experiences with Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) while under medications with sedative properties–namely Remeron. As I wrote at the time, I found the mixture to be contraindicated due to excessive sedation. For the last few months I have been off all synthetic medications. Curious, I decided to trial Ashwahandha again. This is what I have observed.
Again, Ashwaganda is very anti-anxiety and anti-stress. I think it serves as an excellent contrast to Rhodiola (Rhdiola Rosea). I referred to Rhodiola as a “stimulant adaptogen”. Conversely, I think it’s accurate to call Ashwagandha a “hypnotic adaptogen” or, more generally, a “Nervine Adaptogen” [nervines can refer to stimulants such as Cola Nut but more typically refer to gently sedating herbs such as Valerian (Valeriana officianlis, wallichi, etc.) or Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)].