There are nearly five hundred species of aloe, a type of plant that originated in southern Africa, near the Cape of Good Hope.
The use of aloe goes back in history. There are pictures of aloe plants on some Egyptian temples. The Greek physician Dioscorides wrote of its benefits to heal wounds and treat hemorrhoids.
Aloes now grow throughout Africa, around the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, and in many countries in South America.
The thick, juicy leaves contain two distinct products that are used medicinally and that need to be distinguished to avoid confusion.
One is the thin clear gel or mucilage that oozes from the middle of a broken leaf.
The other is a bitter latex, referred to as aloe vera juice, derived from the cells just under the surface of the leaf. Their compositions and uses differ.
**Active Ingredients**
Gel: mucopolysaccharides.
Latex: anthraquinone derivatives, mostly in the form of aloins, with smaller amounts of hydroxyaloins, aloe-emodin, and aloeresins.
**Uses**
Gel: The mucilage is used topically on wounds and burns to help them heal more rapidly.
Taken internally, it is considered a general tonic. Unfortunately, separation of the gel from the latex for commercial preparations is often incomplete, and the gel may end up with some laxative action due to inadvertent inclusion of latex.
It has been recommended for burns due to radiation, but like most of its uses this one is considered incompletely proved and controversial.
There is no harm in applying fresh gel from a broken leaf to a minor cut or burn, and many people find it soothing. But studies using commercial preparations have not consistently established benefit in speeding wound healing, and there are questions about their chemical stability.
In the test tube, gels from some species of aloe have antibacterial activity. A. vera, however, does not appear to kill many microbes.
In animal studies, injected aloe gel improved circulation and sped wound healing. Both injection and topical application were shown independently to reduce inflammation in animals. Aloe gel blocks bradykinin, which may be how it alleviates pain.
Latex: Aloe latex is a powerful laxative that irritates the intestine. We do not recommend using this product.
**Dose**
Gel: For external application, a little dab from a broken leaf will do you.
**Special Precautions**
Latex:
* Pregnant women must avoid aloe latex; use has been known to trigger abortion or premature birth.
* Nursing mothers should take this laxative only under medical supervision.
* Children must not take aloe latex.
* Women who are menstruating should not use aloe latex, as it may increase blood flow.
* Aloe latex may be very dangerous when there is an intestinal blockage and must be avoided in such cases.
* Aloe latex is not appropriate for people with intestinal inflammation such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, and it should not be taken by people with inflamed hemorrhoids.
* People with kidney problems should avoid aloe latex.
**Adverse Effects**
Latex: The most serious difficulties encountered with aloe latex occur at higher than recommended doses or when used for more than a few days.
This laxative herb causes the loss of potassium and other minerals, which over time can result in a loss of muscle tone of the intestine and diminished effectiveness. Frequent use may cause irreversible damage.
Large doses of aloe have caused bloody diarrhea, kidney damage, and even death.
The urine may take on a reddish color after taking aloe latex. This color is harmless; however, with the possibility of kidney damage from large doses or prolonged use, any persistent color in the urine may call for medical diagnosis.

**Possible Interactions**

Low potassium levels can be dangerous in a person taking a heart drug like Lanoxin.
Aloe latex might also be dangerous for anyone taking a diuretic that depletes the body of potassium (Lasix, HCTZ, etc.) because of the additive effect. It should be avoided in such situations.
Aloe latex could reduce the absorption of any pill taken around the same time because it cuts intestinal transit time so drastically.

Join Over 55,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

Each week we send two free email newsletters with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies and a preview of our award-winning radio show. Join our mailing list and get the information you need to make confident choices about your health.

  1. BL
    Reply

    I have read the many comments listed above about aloe vera, the gel part AND the leaf. I am not sure if the aloe vera we all can grow as houseplants to use for burns- which REALLY works – is chemically the same as the huge plants from Africa, which I have seen e.g. at Whole Foods, likely imported from Africa, which has a very hard leaf covering the gel.
    Do you have any clinical data about the chemicals present in the gel and the skin, and their effect on humans?
    I have had years of stomach trouble, and am almost out of the 300 mg capsules of Lanzoprazole I have been taking one a day. I also use 10 mg Famotidine tablets, before evening meals, because the Lanzoprazole does not last 24 hrs. I have read the warnings about long-term use of these medications and want to quit taking the stuff. I am almost 80 yeas old and can ill afford bone loss!
    What I would like to lose is the reflux, the chronic injury to my vocal chords, and bloating discomfort that I am still suffering, in spite of the medications. What can you tell me about which aloe vera product to use. Is it ok to use the houseplant gel or a piece of the whole leaf? I am hoping to receive your advice and thank you for your time and research,
    BL
    People’s Pharmacy response: Don’t use the whole leaf, as the outer part contains a latex that is laxative in nature and rather harsh. It may be difficult to get just gel with none of the outer leaf from your houseplant. In addition, we have not found any studies showing that this helps heartburn.

  2. John Robert Metcalf
    Reply

    It’s like parsley, willow, rosemary, & basil you keep it around in a pot & use as needed.
    Be careful, herbs are drugs- just god originated, and can be misused.

  3. paul
    Reply

    Just an update to my post of several years ago. I now recommend only ‘inner filet’ of the leaf, not whole leaf as resent studies have shown that the latex in whole leaf is a problem. I see you warning of latex, but not to the HUGE boost to the immune system, or it’s seemingly very powerful anti-inflammatory properties. And, I suspect that as with ASA there will be revelations doing long term longitudinal studies that show a decrease in tumor creation since one of the immune system chemicals it produces is Tumor Necrotic Factor (TNF) – a chemical which seems to slow or kill the unregulated formation of blood vessels necessary for the formation of soft-tissue tumors.
    I still recommend either brown glass bottles, or the plastic laminate (proprietary) used by Lilly of the Desert and perhaps a FEW other companies though I have not spoken to them personally which keeps out both light and oxygen, as MOST plastics allow the migration of oxygen (and other gasses) through them, thus destroying the active ingredients (witness the large 1.75 liter plastic bottles of carbonated drinks left on a shelf for many months to a year: they have either collapsed because the CO^2 has migrated out of the bottle, or the beverage inside is flat for the same reason).

  4. mary t
    Reply

    I have been taking nexium for over three years to date. (HEARTBURN). I heard on Dr. oz programme that the aloe vera is good for same. I start using it on Saturday May12, 2012 and I have good results no more heartburn.

  5. Mary
    Reply

    I am currently in Mexico. A pharmacist here gave me some nopal capsules for blood sugar and it did seem to help.
    Later on I have been taking capsules of aloe vera with nopal cactus. Not sure what the ratio is. I do find the combo works better than straight nopal. I have not tried straight aloe vera of this product that is also available. This product does not have additives or preservatives of any kind.
    I take 2 capsules with meals 3 x a day and it assists with both blood sugar levels plus helps me avoid constipation.

  6. TruthCkr
    Reply

    Fresh aloe from a cut leaf is by far the best thing I’ve ever used for any kind of skin healing–burn, sunburn, cut or abrasion. It’s truly amazing and helps skin heal without scarring.

  7. Clare
    Reply

    I would just like to say “Thank You” for your great herbal helps at the People’s Pharmacy website! I am an avid researcher of herbal folk remedies, and I use them in the form of 100% pure organic essential oils as well. I am grateful to have come across this website. Many thanks!
    Clare

  8. Audrey V
    Reply

    I have had ulcerative Colitis for more than 20 years, with many numerous painful flair up. My doctors would put me on Asacol that would take on average o2-3yrs to get under control. But this time I would be anemic, tired and felt as if I was run over by a Mack truck, my joints hurt so bad that I could hardly move, and I was in my late 20’s.
    The last two brought with it I made up my mind not to take any medication, but to drink 8oz of Aloe Vera Juice daily, 4 oz in the morning and 4oz before bedtime. Within the 1st-2nd month I did not notice and changes, but at the end of the 3rd month all my symptoms were gone.
    I drank it for 1 year additional and then deceived to use myself as a example and I went off it for one year and my UC came back with a vengeance. I started one again, this time it took 4 months to get under control. Once it is gone I drink the 8oz for an additional year then went down to 4oz a day as maintenance.
    I have told many of my clients who have chrones, UC and IBS and they have tried it with the same success. I really believe in the Aloe Vera Juice and as people to give it a chance.
    Medication is fine if it helps, but for me the difference between 2-3ys vs. 3-4 months to get it under control is a miracle. Aloe may not taste great at first, but after the 2nd or 3rd jug, you really don’t taste it any more. You can find Aloe Vera Juice at Wal-Mart for $7.96 a gal and it will last you 15days (8oz) or 30 days (4oz). I suggest trying it. I was skeptical but I now and a firm believer.

  9. Tom
    Reply

    I use the broken leaf juice/gel for insect bites that itch and irritate, and within a couple of minutes the itching recedes, and about 5 minutes later it’s gone altogether. When I need it, I just go outside and cut a leaf. It works the best of anything I’ve used, bought or harvested. Great on sunburn too. I call it the miracle plant.

  10. Becky
    Reply

    What?! I am so confused!!! I have drunk Aloe Vera Juice for literally years! An iridologist/herbalist recommended its use to me over 9 years ago when I was dealing with some stomach issues, and I did not receive a warning about taking it too long, taking too many doses etc. I feel wonderful and see it as a general tonic in my daily routine.
    I do see that there are big price ranges in commercial Aloe Vera Juice, from the 8.00 a gallon at Wal Mart to about 8.00 a Qt. for some brands. I have wondered why. The more expensive brand says ‘no anthroquinone’, uses only one particular species of plant and distills the juice through a ‘secret’ process. I have generally bought the cheaper brand.
    If it shouldn’t be taken more than two weeks, I would be dead right now! (One commenter here said “too much will kill you”). Or course I always have a plant or two on hand for burns, scrapes etc. I really could use some more input here if anyone can help educate me or send me to a website that has more info.

  11. jeanne
    Reply

    My husband had cancer at the base of his tongue 20 years ago. During his 7 weeks of radiation on his neck he drank 2 oz. in orange juice every day.
    Went back to work as a boilermaker out in the sun and heat. Never once did his neck turn red, burn or hindered his swallowing. He swears to this day drinking aloe was all to blame.

  12. PJ
    Reply

    I have used the aloe vera plant for MANY years. I use it on burns, as a face cream, and I had cut my hand on a table saw one time – a very bad cut on my thumb, and did not have any insurance at the time to run to the emergency room. I wrapped it up with an aloe leave split open on top of the cut. Kept it that way until the only thing left of the leaf was the thin outer skin. Repeated this process several times over the next couple of days. It healed up nicely and no trip to the hospital.
    It is one of the best natural healing ointments around. The actual plant leaf works so much better than any of the stuff they sell in the drug stores. Although the ones that have aloe juice listed within the first 3 ingredients work pretty good in a pinch.

  13. JM
    Reply

    Have used the aloe vera plant for burns and sunburn for years. It is the only thing that really works. A close neighbor friend who worked on a surgical floor at a prestigious NY hospital left a cold cup of water in a microwave. When she returned to retrieve the cold water, someone thought they were doing her a favor and heated the water. She didn’t realize this and when she went to retrieve the water she stuck her thumb into the scalding water.
    The doctor’s put some ointment on it and told her she had a second degree burn and would probably be scarred as a result. When she came home that night she was in a lot of pain. I had her soak her thumb in aloe gel and it took the pain and heat out of the burn. I wrapped aloe leaves on the burn and secured it with gauze and told her to keep it on all night. When she awoke the next morning she was pain free and all of the redness and puckered skin was gone. She continued to apply the aloe gel until the thumb was healed. She never scarred and you would never know that she had a severe burn.

  14. J. L.
    Reply

    I have used aloe vera gel on my face as a moisturizer for years and find it leaves my skin smooth and soft. I have been diagnosed to have acne rosacea and was given a number of sample products by a dermatologist. Nothing worked as well as aloe vera gel. I buy it at any drug store with no color or scent added.
    I have never taken it internally and don’t think I want to try that! But I will give the mustard at bedtime for leg cramps a chance. I have a friend who has been using it for years with great success. We both have the cake of soap under the bottom sheet and I must admit that I seldom have restless legs anymore. Thank you for your column and radio program.

  15. paul
    Reply

    The URL above is PubMed, a part of the most comprehensive data base in the world if you are doing research — when I had laryngeal cancer — call it 20-25years ago there were 7 articles – on ‘aloe vera’ and ‘cancer’ – doing the same search today give me 189 hits, which is odd, it’s been in the thousands — probably them just refining it a bit Aloe Vera is one of those truly amazing drugs we don’t even begin to understand — like Aspirin and Green Tea.
    Here is why someone growing a small plant who says –“Oh i have some Aloe Vera, it’s Great! Let me get you some.” only have good intentions.
    1) you need it by the ounce (generally)
    2) you need it in brown glass bottles (light and oxygen break down the active chemicals)
    3) the dose to result is dose dependent. that means the more you take the more it will do. I have not yet seen an upper limit.
    I Have always had high cholesterol problems. Generally over 300 is normal for me. my long story short is when my doc wanted to put me on a statin, I asked for 6 weeks. I went from over 300 — (320? 330?) to 101 in six weeks by building to a dose of 5 ounces BID. DOWN went my bad, up came my good, and my good-bad ratio is around 0.8.
    cold coming on – hit the aloe vera and while symptoms are generally too late to treat a viral infection, in two -3 days I was find an most faculty were still out sick.
    as always talk to your real doc about taking it – most will say it can’t do much harm to a hearty endorsement. But remember — BROWN GLASS JARS – and it takes time — herbs are very powerful — VERY powerful – but they take time to build up.
    and just as a little can be good, too much can kill you, or using longer than a week or two can kill you– so be sure you do your research. I’m only writing because I’m often known as the Aloe Vera Kid — and have pushed it as an immune system booster ever since I had a total larynjectomy – surgery in August, back to work teaching at a college and university in September and it took that long because I had good reason to stay away from faculty meetings and do-nothing political fight for power department meeting.
    You want MY idea of a get on dosing schedule?
    1 ounce AM 1 ounce PM for a week
    1 ounce AM 2 ounces PM for a week
    2 ounces AM 2 ounces PM for a week
    2 Ounces AM 1 noon 2 ounces PM for a week
    Use whole leaf juice, brown glass bottles, but it will soften your stool so move up as you are comfortable.
    When I had my radiation, when I ran out my throat would get swollen and scratchy — this calmed it down – helped cool it too.
    When I had my surgery — it helped me heal so fast that my doc who thought maybe I’d tak in a year and maybe, but probably not teach in another year was amazed t see me teaching just a few days over a month from the surgery.
    Studies say it doesn’t help much with radiation – and maybe it doesn’t — there is a lot to be said for placebo studies, but I’d swear I could tell when I was doing it and when I wasn’t — and healing wounds — some show it speeds them up, others show that it slows it down — and some show it goes slow at first then fast at the end. Don’t know what to believe, except very few people who have had their vocal cords removed are teaching and lecturing within about a month of surgery.
    — paul —

  16. sc
    Reply

    My husband had ulcers. He cut off fresh aloe leaf and ate it right away. Within a couple of weeks his ulcers were healed. However the taste was not a big hit. He found later on that the fresher the aloe is when eating it the greater the benefits.

What Do You Think?

Share your thoughts with others, but be mindful of protecting your own and others' privacy. Not all comments will be posted. Advice from web visitors is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. In posting a comment, you agree to our commenting policy and website terms and conditions.