Stevia has become a longtime mainstay on health food store shelves as an alternative to sugar, and is sold in liquid and powder form. Last December, after many years of treating the herb as if it were an illegal drug, FDA finally declared stevia safe for use in foods and beverages and a number of companies, including beverage giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi, are working to integrate the no calorie sweet herb into novel new beverage applications. More recently, stevia also went mainstream with the debut of alternative sweeteners like Cargill’s Truvia (made from erythritol andrebiana, the “best tasting part” of the stevia leaf) and McNeil Nutritionals’ Sun Crystals (a blend of stevia and pure cane sugar).
Most recently, DSM Nutritional Products of Basel, Switzerland, filed a patent launching stevia in an entirely new direction: as a cognitive health ingredient. According to the company’s patent filing, “Stevia extracts may boost brain function and tap growing interest in natural ingredients for cognitive health.”
“A number of years ago we identified cognitive health and mental performance as areas of increasing consumer interest,” commented Kevin Prudence, DSM’s new business development manager. “Our R&D department therefore set out to identify compounds and extracts derived from foods that might prove be active in these areas. Extracts from stevia came up positive in this screening and further research has provided additional positive evidence. Patents have been filed by DSM to protect these discoveries.”
The patent protection, which extends to more than 100 countries, including U.S., European and Chinese markets, covers rebaudioside A, B to F, and other steviol glycosides, indicating that the compounds pose the ability to enhance cognitive function via their interaction with a specific receptor (NMDA receptor) in the brain that boosts synaptic transmission, or chemical brain signal. The company supported evidence of these benefits with in vitro and in vivo animal studies.
Insofar as the company’s intentions, the patent filing alluded to the formulation of a soft gel capsule and a non-baked cereal bar. “The present invention relates to a novel nutraceutical composition or food additive comprising Stevia extract or its constituents, such as steviol and stevioside, as active ingredient(s) to improve cognitive functions, such as learning, memory and alertness, as well as relieving psychosocial pressure,” the filing stated.
“There is an increasing interest in the development of compounds, as well as nutraceutical compositions that may be used to improve learning, memory and alertness, in both elderly and young people.
“Thus, a compound or nutraceutical composition which enhances NMDA receptor function and enables improvements in learning, memory and alertness would be highly desirable.”
“As the development of the ingredient form to be commercialized is currently ongoing, it is too early to speculate which consumer product applications would be most suitable,” commented Mr. Prudence. “However it is our goal that the ingredient form(s) we commercialize be suitable for use in supplements as well as functional foods/beverages.”