Aloe vera is a tropical plant cultivated for medicinal uses, food, beauty products, and as a decorative plant. It is also known as burn plant, lily of the desert, and elephant’s gall. Aloe vera grows to about 2 feet tall with thick, spiky green leaves. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), aloe vera’s use can be traced back 6,000 years to early Egypt, where this versitile “plant of immortality,” was presented as a funeral gift to pharaohs.
Due to its anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and soothing properties, aloe vera has been used throughout history for a multitude of ailments. Today, aloe vera is often used straight from the plant, in a clear gel, as aloe latex, or as aloe juice.
Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera gel is primarily used topically as a remedy for skin conditions such as wounds, burns, frostbite, psoriasis, rashes, itching, hair loss, dandruff, canker sores and cold sores. A 2014 study also showed aloe vera to be an effective alternative to chemical-based dental rinses to alleviate bad breath, relieve swollen gums, and prevent plaque build-up.
Although aloe vera is primarily used topically, it may also be taken orally for conditions including osteoarthritis, bowel diseases, constipation and fever. At one time the FDA regulated aloe latex as over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives, but in 2002, the FDA required that all OTC aloe laxative products be removed from the U.S. market or reformulated because the companies that manufactured them did not provide the safety data necessary for continued approval. Off label use as a laxative is still common, however.
There is also preliminary evidence that aloe vera may also be helpful in reducing the risk of lung cancer or tumor growth, improve chemotherapy effects, and reduce cholesterol. More studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness of these therapeutic uses.
Because aloe vera contains an anti-inflammatory compound called B-sitosterol, juices containing aloe vera gel dissolved in water or fruit juice are increasingly being used to soothe acid indigestion. A safe amount to consume is ¼ cup of gel dissolved in ½ cup water or juice. Larger doses could work as a laxative, so don’t over do it.
A 1996 study published in Phytomedicine also showed that aloe vera juice can help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
For dosing recommendations, visit the Mayo Clinic’s site which has dosing information for both adults and children: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/aloe/dosing/hrb-20058665.
Possible Adverse Health Effects
- Topical use of aloe vera is considered to be safe.
- People with diabetes who use glucose-lowering medication should be cautious if also taking aloe orally because it may lower blood glucose levels.
- People with Crohn’s disease or colitis should be aware that abdominal cramps and diarrhea have been reported with oral use of aloe latex.
- A 2010 National Toxicology Program study found that oral consumption of nondecolorized whole leaf extract of aloe vera caused carcinogenic activity in rats.
- There have been a few reported cases of acute hepatitis in people who took aloe vera orally. However, according to the FDA the evidence is not definitive and more study is needed.
Although there are many proven benefits to using aloe vera, in general it’s always a good idea to discuss any complementary or integrative health approaches you are using with your doctor. This will help ensure your care is managed safely and appropriately.