logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera has a long tradition as a medicinal plant. The leaves contain a clear gel that soothes irritated skin. Their latex is a harsh laxative.

Aloe vera is a popular houseplant with medicinal potential. 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 of aloe vera 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. Some people find it useful for easing the itch of mosquito bites.

Taken internally, it is considered a general tonic. Researchers are investigating its potential against metabolic syndrome (Phytotherapy Research, Aug. 28, 2019). 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 the inadvertent inclusion of aloe vera 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. Aloe 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 vera latex is a powerful laxative that irritates the intestine. We do not recommend using this product as a laxative. In the future, however, medicinal chemists may be able to harness the anthroquinones to fight certain cancers (Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry, Aug. 8, 2019).

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.

Regular ingestion of Aloe vera whole leaf extract may be carcinogenic (Journal of Environmental Science and Health. Part C, Environmental Carcinogenesis & Ecotoxicology Reviews, April 2, 2016). 

Possible Interactions:

Low potassium levels can be dangerous in a person taking a heart drug like digoxin (Lanoxin).

Aloe latex might also be dangerous for anyone taking a diuretic that depletes the body of potassium (furosemide, 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.

Rate this article
star-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-empty
3.7- 11 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Citations
  • Shakib Z et al, "Aloe vera as an herbal medicine in the treatment of metabolic syndrome: A review." Phytotherapy Research, Aug. 28, 2019. DOI: 10.1002/ptr.6465
  • Deitersen J et al, "Anthraquinones and autophagy - Three rings to rule them all?" Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry, Aug. 8, 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.bmc.2019.115042
  • Guo X & Mei N, "Aloe vera: A review of toxicity and adverse clinical effects." Journal of Environmental Science and Health. Part C, Environmental Carcinogenesis & Ecotoxicology Reviews, April 2, 2016. DOI: 10.1080/10590501.2016.1166826
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing
10
comments (19 total)
Comments
Add your comment

Talk about a health scare! I thought I had blood in my urine this evening for a few hours. I did a little research and found aloe latex can cause urine darkening! I didn’t even ingest it! For the first time ever, I broke off an aloe leaf and scraped out some of the gel, and thought the gooey slime on the outside of the gel was the part I wanted.

I applied the aloe, what I now know is the latex, all over my neck and jaw line for throat pain and swelling relief. I had no idea there were drawbacks to this plant. Talk about scary when you go to the bathroom and look at your urine and it’s almost dark dark brown! I’ll never use this plant again!

Is organic aloe vera juice (not gel) in dark glass bottles safe to take orally, perhaps 2 TBS a day? Does it have health benefits?

Yikes! You are so right about the laxative properties of Aloe Vera. I took a tablet today thinking it would be hydrating, but it was the opposite. I feel like I lost 6-8 pounds and not in a good way.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^