A prickly plant with a gooey center has become a multibillion dollar industry. Aloe vera — also called the miracle plant, plant of immortality, and plant of life — has been touted as medicine for innumerable ailments. Now commonly available as drinkable juice, its popularity continues to blossom. But is it really all it’s cracked up to be?
Use of aloe stretches back at least 6,000 years to ancient Egypt, where it was buried with pharaohs and rumored to be part of Cleopatra’s beauty regimen. In more recent times, it still has something of a mythic standing. People claim it helps heals burns, clean teeth, and even prevent cancer. Unfortunately, most of these claims are scientifically unfounded.
Aloe Vera Plant Uses
Topical uses of aloe vera have not been found to produce any significant side effects, and creams used to treat, psoriasis, genital herpes (in men), and dandruff have met some success in clinical settings. One of the most popular uses for aloe is on burns. This idea originated from studies in the 1930s where aloe was used on skin after radiation exposure. These days, consumer confidence in aloe as a sunburn treatment is high but scientific evidence is mixed. Also, some people have found success applying aloe to treat cellulite.
Aloe Vera Juice Benefits
Oral uses of aloe vera, such as drinking aloe vera juice, are a little more disconcerting. People ingest aloe for a variety of reasons. It has been advertised to help with weight loss, ulcers, constipation, diabetes, and general health. Not only are none of these uses strongly supported by science, but the ingestion of aloe has been linked to some worrisome health problems.
Aloe Vera Side Effects
There have been reports of abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and drops in blood glucose resulting from ingesting aloe. A two-year study by the National Toxicology Program also found carcinogenic activity in rats that ingested non-decolorized, whole leaf aloe extract. Follow-up study is needed and animal results don’t always indicate what occurs in humans, but the study is still worth knowing. It is also suspected that one specific element of the aloe, called Aloin, is what triggered the tumor development. Aloin is filtered out of aloe that has been decolorized.
For a time, aloe was available in over-the-counter laxatives, but those were taken off the market in 2002 due to a lack of safety data. In particular, the FDA’s concerns were fueled by an apparent tolerance people developed to the products, which caused them to take it in increasing amounts.
The general recommendation for aloe use is that it’s okay on your skin and but not internally. More research on ingestion needs to be done to check for both effectiveness and safety. If you still swear by the juice, consult your doctor about your aloe use and keep a critical eye on emerging aloe research.