Dr. Haley wrote about aloin, in a previous article, but the same sort of question keeps resurfacing — in one form or another. So, let’s have a look at the subject from another perspective.
Why does a health-promoting plant, like Aloe, contain a substance that may be unhealthy?
Shouldn’t “good plants” be good and “bad plants” bad? Consider this possibility:
There are two components of the Aloe vera plant (sabila) of pharmaceutical interest. The first is taken from the outer leaf, or rind, of the plant. It is a brown, bitter substance with a milky consistency — and that is where the aloin is found.
Aloin is a component of the rind, and it is a natural laxative. Like two other popular herbal bowel-enhancers, Senna and Cascara, aloin gets its purgative properties from anthraquinone glycosides — and that is troublesome, since anthraquinone glycosides have been indicated, in some scientific studies, as potentially carcinogenic.
To see what aloin looks like, take a look at this video by Dr. Haley. At about 20 seconds into the film, he presses a paper towel against freshly cut Aloe, and you can readily see the aloin get absorbed into the towel. Were you to cut a leaf of Aloe and put the end in your mouth, the aloin would be absorbed into your system, just as it is taken up by the paper towel in the video.
It is important to remember that the aloin concentration in Aloe vera is found in the outer leaf (the “rind”). Just as you do not normally consume the peel of a banana, you should not be in the habit of eating the protective cover of an Aloe leaf — whether in solid or liquid form.
The second substance of pharmaceutical interest, taken from the Aloe vera plant, is Aloe gel. This inner portion of the leaf is fleshy and moist. It is prized in herbal medicine for its abilities to augment the healing process, and is often enlisted to help with a variety of conditions: immune system disturbances, many types of burns and skin troubles, metabolic syndrome, GERD, vaginal infections (including candida albicans), shingles, severe sunburn, ulcers, and more. Many people also drink Aloe gel as a preventative measure, citing benefits to the digestive, immune, skin, and cardiovascular systems.
Aloe vera gel
If the aloin is a component of the protective cover, or rind, then the gel is the meat of the Aloe plant — it is the substance being protected. As is common practice when eating an orange, for instance, the rind is typically discarded when the plant is eaten.
The primary nutritional components of Aloe — B-sitosterol and mucopolysaccharides — are all obtained from the inner gel of the plant. Think of the Aloe structure like a fortress. The outer wall protects the inner treasure. The wall is not the treasure; it is there only to keep the treasure safe.
Without fail, the studies that raise a red flag warning against the advisability of consuming the flesh of Aloe vera fail to differentiate between rind and flesh. Rather, they consider the plant as a whole — grinding up samples of the rind mixed with the flesh for their samples.
Have you ever noticed that you can buy every nut — except the cashew — either in the shelled form or as a whole nut with the shell? That is because the cashew shell contains a potent skin irritant related to poison ivy. If you were to grind up an entire cashew and analyze the results, you might conclude that cashews should never be eaten. That same mistake is made when the entire Aloe plant is tested. Discard the rind, and you won’t be exposed to excess aloin. Eat the rind, and you may be in for an intestinal purge.
So why does the Aloe rind contain aloin?
Nature does things nature’s way — and those ways are indeed marvelous. Some species are equipped with camouflage, some with attractive features to lure either prey or partners (or both), some can ball up into an impregnable fortress. No one knows for sure, but one possibility for why Aloe contains aloin in the first place has already been mentioned: the rind protects the flesh.
Apples are prone to worm infestations, but have you ever found an insect burrowed into an Aloe leaf? It could be that the aloin in the rind turns potential invaders away, preserving the precious flesh of the Aloe for you and me.
Aloe is a plant rich in history and tradition. King Solomon praised the Aloe, and it is rumored that Aloe was a part of Cleopatra’s daily beauty regimen. Used rightly, Aloe has consistently displayed its value as an herbal remedy.
The ancients were wise enough to remove the rind, before consuming or applying the flesh of the Aloe plant. We should do the same.