Aloe vera is a succulent that has been used medicinally since ancient Egypt. Both the juice (a clear, odorless liquid from the inside of the leaf) and the gel (a yellowish, bitter taste) are believed to have medicinal properties.
Aloe vera juice is generally taken internally, while aloe vera gel is generally applied to the skin. The gel, also known as latex, contains a compound called aloin , which has a strong laxative effect. In fact, until 2002, aloe latex was used in over-the-counter laxatives, when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suspended its use due to concerns that it could cause cancer.
Aloe vera is commonly used in traditional medicine to treat skin conditions. In Ayurvedic medicine , it is believed to have a cooling effect that balances the deterioration of the pitta (heat) dosha. In traditional Chinese medicine , the bitter taste and cooling properties of the gel are believed to be beneficial for liver and intestinal ailments.
When applied topically, aloe vera gel has a hydrating and smoothing effect. Cosmetic manufacturers often take advantage of this property by adding aloe vera derivatives to makeup, moisturizers, soaps, sunscreens, shaving creams, and shampoos. There are even aloe vera facial wipes designed to reduce nose rubbing.
Also know as
- Burn the plant
- Elephant bile
- Kathalai (in Ayurveda)
- Lily of the desert
- Lu Hui (in traditional Chinese medicine)
Aloe vera gel is often applied to the skin to treat sunburns, burns, and eczema . It has a calming effect that can help treat genital herpes, poison oak, poison ivy, and skin reactions caused by radiation. Proponents argue that aloe vera can even speed up wound healing and reduce the severity of psoriasis .
When taken orally as a juice or dietary supplement, the laxative effects of aloe vera can help relieve constipation. Some also believe that it helps treat peptic ulcers , Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis . It has even been speculated that aloe vera can help normalize blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
For the most part, the evidence supporting these claims is mixed.
Burns and wounds
One of the most popular uses for aloe vera gel is to help heal sunburns, burns, contact dermatitis, and minor cuts and abrasions. The freshly extracted gel has a cooling effect that can relieve pain and itching for a short period of time. Another question is whether it can really speed healing.
The same results have been obtained in studies on the use of aloe vera in people with plaque psoriasis . A small Danish study of 41 adults with stable psoriasis found that aloe vera gel applied twice daily for a month was less effective than a placebo in relieving psoriasis symptoms.
Radiation skin reactions
Radiation-induced dermatitis (RID) is a common side effect of radiation therapy for cancer , characterized by redness, peeling of the skin, and frequent blistering and dermal atrophy (thinning of the skin). Research on the use of aloe vera in the treatment of NID is mixed.
A 2013 study from Iran evaluated the effects of aloe lotion in 60 people undergoing radiation therapy. After irradiation, a thin layer of lotion was applied to the middle of the irradiated skin area. After four weeks of treatment, the authors found that the aloe-treated areas had a lower degree of dermatitis than the untreated areas. The findings were somewhat limited by the wide range of cancers treated.
Other studies have not reached similar conclusions.
A phase III study from Australia evaluated the use of aloe vera cream in 225 women undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer. According to the report, the cream without aloe helped relieve pain and flaking of the skin, while the aloe cream had almost no effect.
More research may be needed to determine if aloe is more beneficial for treating certain areas of the skin or with certain doses of radiation. There is no evidence that ingesting aloe vera has any effect on people with EID.
Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a complex of digestive disorders consisting of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Of the two, ulcerative colitis is considered the more serious, with symptoms ranging from abdominal cramps and pain to rectal bleeding and bloody diarrhea.
An early study in England of 44 people with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis found that a 2: 1 dilution of aloe vera gel taken twice daily improved symptoms in most people after four weeks.
According to the researchers, nine people achieved a complete remission, 11 experienced an improvement in symptoms, and 14 reported a "response" to treatment.
A 2016 review in China came to similar conclusions, suggesting that aloe vera is more beneficial for people with prediabetes. In doing so, the authors addressed the generally low quality of the research and the lack of evidence for safety.
More research will be needed to determine if aloe vera is safe and effective in preventing the development of type 2 diabetes.
Possible side effects.
Topical application of aloe vera is considered safe. Side effects, if any, are usually mild and can include irritation and redness of the skin. Sometimes allergies can occur, especially in people allergic to garlic, onion, or tulips.
Aloe vera gel should not be used to treat severe burns or wounds. Get immediate medical attention if you have a deep cut, large or severe burn.
Oral Aloe Vera
There remain serious concerns about the long-term safety of aloe vera when taken by mouth. Aloe vera extracts have a strong laxative effect, causing diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and potentially serious potassium loss.
Severe potassium loss can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, and irregular heartbeats ( arrhythmias ). Long-term use of aloe vera, especially undiluted aloe gel, can cause permanent kidney damage.
Several animal studies have shown that whole leaf aloe extracts can cause colon cancer. Aloin, which gives aloe latex its yellowish color, is believed to be responsible for this carcinogenic effect.
Discolored aloe vera (in which the aloin leaks out of the gel) is believed to have a low risk of cancer, although more research is needed to confirm this.
The safety of aloe for people with liver and kidney disease has not been established. Just in case, don't take aloe vera internally if you have liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, intestinal problems, heart disease, hemorrhoids, or an electrolyte imbalance.
Due to the lack of safety studies, aloe taken by mouth should not be used by children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers.
Aloe vera can cause certain drug interactions when taken by mouth. In some cases, it can block the action of the co-administered drug. In other cases, it can enhance the effect of the drug, causing side effects to appear or worsen. Others can still deplete potassium stores.
Talk to your doctor if you intend to take oral aloe and take any of the following medications or supplements:
- Medications for diabetes, including insulin.
- Diuretics ("water pills") such as Lasix (furosemide).
- Heart rate medications such as digoxin.
- Laxatives and stool softeners
- Licorice root
- Oral or injectable steroids.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, Advil (ibuprofen), or Celebrex (celecoxib).
It is often necessary to divide drug doses over two to four hours to avoid interactions. In other cases, a dose adjustment or drug change may be necessary.
Topical aloe vera may also improve the absorption of topical steroid creams, increasing the risk of skin atrophy and damage.
Dosage and preparation
There is no standard dose of aloe vera. Effects and risk of side effects may vary based on your age, weight, and current health.
Topical aloe preparations range in concentration from 0.5 to 99 percent. There is no evidence to suggest that lower doses are less effective than higher doses.
Oral aloe comes in a variety of forms, including capsules, softgels, powders, and juices. Supplement dosages range from 100 to 10,000 milligrams. Higher doses carry a higher risk of side effects. For safety reasons, limit yourself to the lowest possible dose. Several clinical studies have used more than 500 milligrams per day.
Although aloe vera gels are designed for topical use, some manufacturers sell cold-pressed oral gels. These foods (often referred to as "undiluted," "whole leaf," "clean filter") are thicker and more viscous than aloe vera juice and are generally sold in gallons for digestive health.
If you decide to use an oral gel preparation, use it for no more than 10 days and stop immediately if you experience any side effects.
What to look for
Aloe vera products are approved for cosmetic use or as a dietary supplement. They are not intended to cure any medical condition and are not tested for quality or safety.
Since various aloe vera supplements are certified by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or similar certification bodies, stick with well-known brands that have been on the market for a long time. You should also choose supplements that have been certified organic under US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations.
If you decide to use an aloe vera medication for medical reasons, first speak with your doctor to determine if you have a medical condition or if you are taking any medications that may contraindicate treatment. If you buy a cold-pressed oral gel, choose only those that have been discolored and from which most of the aloin has been removed.
Frequently asked questions
This may not be the best idea. If you consume or ingest aloe vera and are allergic to latex , you may experience a reaction that ranges from mild skin rashes or hives to a stuffy nose or shortness of breath. In rare cases, aloe latex can cause a life-threatening bodily reaction known as anaphylaxis .
With clean hands, cut one of the leaves at the base of the plant, place it cut side down in a glass for about 10 minutes to allow the latex, a yellowish resin, to drain off. Remove the blade from the glass, remove the thorns growing on the sides of the blade, then use a vegetable peeler to remove one side of the skin and expose the clear gel inside. Scoop out the gel and store it in a clean container.
Plant it in potting soil for cacti and other succulents. Keep aloe vera in bright, indirect light. Allow the top third of the soil to dry out before watering to prevent the roots from rotting.