Aloe Vera

What Is Aloe Vera?

Aloe vera is gel from the leaves of aloe plants. People have used it for thousands of years for healing and softening the skin. Aloe has also long been a folk treatment for many maladies, including constipation and skin disorders. Modern-day research into aloe vera's benefits is mixed, with some evidence showing it can cause cancer in lab animals.

There are no foods that contain aloe vera, so it must be taken in supplement or gel form.

Some forms of aloe vera are safer to take than others, and chronic use is discouraged.

Aloe Vera Uses

Research backs up the ancient use of topical aloe vera as a skin treatment, at least for specific conditions. Studies have shown that aloe gel might be effective in treating skin conditions including:

There’s also strong evidence that aloe juice, which contains latex, taken by mouth is a powerful laxative. In fact, aloe juice was once sold in over-the-counter constipation drugs. But because aloe’s safety was not well-established, the FDA ordered in 2002 that over-the-counter laxatives containing aloe vera either be reformulated or removed from store shelves.

Aloe vera gel taken orally (by mouth) seems to help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. It may also help to lower cholesterol. The results of aloe vera studies for other medical conditions have been less clear.

How much aloe vera should you use?

Creams and gels with aloe vera vary in dosage. Some creams for minor burns have just 0.5% aloe vera. Others used for psoriasis may contain as much as 70% aloe vera. As an oral supplement, aloe has no set dose.

For constipation, some use 100-200 milligrams of aloe juice -- or 50 milligrams of aloe extract -- daily as needed. For diabetes, 1 tablespoon of the gel has been used daily. High oral doses of aloe or aloe latex are dangerous. Ask your doctor for advice on how to use aloe.

Aloe vera harvesting

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It’s easy to find aloe vera at the store. If you want to grow your own aloe vera plant, here’s how to collect the gel:

  • Cut an outer leaf close to the stem and rinse it.
  • Place on a cutting board, rounded side up.
  • Use a knife to peel off skin around the edges.
  • Then use the knife to slide the gel off the remaining skin.
  • Puree or mash it.
  • You now have aloe vera gel.

Aloe Vera Risks

Talk to your doctor before using it. Researchers warn against the chronic use of aloe vera. But if the aloe product is free of aloin -- an extract of the plant that has been found to cause colorectal cancer in rats -- it may be OK as a topical remedy for sunburn. Aloin is found between the outer leaf of the aloe plant and the gooey stuff inside.

  • Side effects. Topical aloe vera might irritate your skin. Oral aloe, which has a laxative effect, can cause cramping and diarrhea. This may cause electrolyte imbalances in the blood of people who ingest aloe for more than a few days. It can also stain the colon, making it hard to get a good look at the colon during a colonoscopy. So avoid it for a month before having a colonoscopy. Aloe gel, for topical or oral use, should be free of aloin, which can irritate the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Risks. Do not apply topical aloe vera to deep cuts or severe burns. People allergic to garlic, onions, and tulips are more likely to be allergic to aloe. High doses of oral aloe are dangerous. Don’t take oral aloe if you have intestinal problems, heart disease, hemorrhoids, kidney problems, diabetes, or electrolyte imbalances.
  • Interactions. If you take any drugs regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using aloe supplements. They could interact with medicines and supplements like diabetes drugs, heart drugs, laxatives, steroids, and licorice root. The oral use of aloe vera gel may also block the absorption of medicines taken at the same time.

Given the lack of evidence about its safety, aloe vera supplements should not be used orally by children and by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on July 15, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Longe, J., ed. The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, second edition, Gale Group, 2004.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: “About Herbs: Aloe vera.”

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Herbs at a Glance: Aloe vera.”

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: “Aloe.”

Natural Standard Patient Monograph: “Aloe vera.”

National Toxicology Program: ''Aloe vera.'' 

David Kiefer, MD, research fellow, Department of Family Medicine, University of Wisconsin; clinical assistant professor, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona, Tucson.

University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Riverside: “Aloe Vera Isn’t Just for Sunburns Anymore.”

Randomized Controlled Trial: “Efficacy and Safety of Aloe Vera Syrup for the Treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: A Pilot Randomized Positive-Controlled Trial.”

International Journal of Dental Hygiene: “Efficacy of aloe vera mouthwash versus chlorhexidine on plaque and gingivitis: A systematic review.”

PubMed: “Effects of Aloe vera cream on chronic anal fissure pain, wound healing and hemorrhaging upon defection: a prospective double blind clinical trial.”

University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture: “Plant of the Week: Medicine Plant (Burn Plant).”

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