Inflammatory gut conditions are the most common reasons people ingest Aloe Vera. Whether it be acid refulux, GERD, IBS, IBD, Crohn’s, etc., aloe has been used to “put out the fire”. However, there is controversy over its use. People frequently ask: “Is Aloe Vera Good for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?” (or GERD, IBD, Colitis, etc.).
Even some of the most renowned authorities have misleading propaganda when it comes to ingesting aloe vera. They tend to use a broad brush and not consider things such as the different parts of the plant that might be used. Consider this recent question that we received:
Dear Dr. Haley:
1. Are there any precautions for those who have IBS and drinking your aloe health drink?
2. According to the SCD by Elaine Gottschall, she recommends against taking aloe vera because:
- it coats the GI tract preventing nutrient absorption.
- the harmful bacteria in the gut use it as a food source.
- it is a mucilaginous polysaacharide which can irritate the gut.
- it stimulates TNF (tissue necrosis factor) which increases inflammation; something you don’t want to do in someone with IBS.
This item is Illegal.
It contains mucilaginous polysaccharides as well as increasing the release of tumor necrosis factor which is associated with IBD inflammation and increased immune stimulation.(1)
Dr. Haley’s Response:
Elaine is right on some points and wrong on others. I am certain that her book has helped many people and that those that follow it will do well. However, I am also certain that many can do even better by following most of her recommendations, yet going against others.
Regarding nutrient absorption, plasma levels of nutrients actually increase from consuming aloe vera gel. However, if one was consuming aloin from the outer leaf, it is quite possible that nutrient absorption would decrease from diarrhea. But aloin content in Stockton Aloe 1 is barely detectable and that will not be an issue, even if someone was to drink a half gallon (or more!) per day. Of course you would never drink that much if you were talking about whole leaf aloe vera gel which does contain aloin.
Regarding harmful bacteria using it as a food source – both beneficial and harmful bacteria use the food you eat as a food source – especially carbohydrates. However, Aloe Vera contains unique carbohydrates – not the simple kind like sugars and not starches which are used for fermentation, but a much better source of carbohydrates that are even known to be antibacterial. A simple search on PubMed.gov produces many statements pertaining to this including:
“Aloe vera gel preparation is cheap and was effective even against multi-drug resistant organisms as compared to the routinely used topical anti-microbial agents.” (2)
More research is needed to determine the in-body effects as it pertains to bacteria. But it seems that aloe vera might be “bacteriostatic” vs. Bacteriocidal. That is, it likely prevents the growth of bacteria rather thank killing it off.
So if you are eliminating aloe vera to prevent feeding bacteria, you should eliminate pretty much all other carbohydrates first. Based on Elaine’s recommendations, can I assume she promotes an extremely low or a “no carbohydrate” diet? That is, avoiding carbohydrates at all costs and focusing on healthy fats and proteins? I agree with minimizing carbohydrates, especially during early phases of gut healing. But mucilage, a unique form of carbohydrate, is known for it’s gut healing qualities.
Regarding being a mucilaginous polysaccharide that can irritate the gut, mucilaginous polysaccharides are actually known for the opposite of this – healing the gut. The bitter browish yellow Aloin, aka Barbaloin from the outer leaf (the part we discard) is the part that is know to irritate the gut – though many even use aloin medicinally to treat constipation.
Elsewhere on the SCD website, the aloin is referenced with the warning:
“Some companies claim they remove the anthroquinone but who knows!”(3)
Actually, we don’t remove it! Instead, we choose to exclude it from our aloe from the beginning. See How.
As far as “Who Knows”… most companies send their aloe vera beverages to an independent laboratory for testing to determine the ppm of aloin. We use Spectrix Analytical Services, LLC for this as was recommended by the International Aloe Science Council. We have also used Process NMR Associates, LLC, also recommended by the IASC, to determine the constituents of our aloe vera gel. The IASC will not certify any products that have greater than 10 PPM aloin, which is very low. Many aloe beverages may meet this requirement, however, either do not meet other requirements, or choose to not pay the certification fees.
Regarding aloe stimulating TNF which increases inflammation – yes, aloe vera has “Acemannan” in it – a phytonutrient that is known to raise the body’s Tumor Necrosis Factor. That is, it raises the immune system and part of the immune system is an inflammatory response. This is probably the major reason why GAPS practitioners suggest you not drink aloe in the first phase of IBD treatment. The first phase may last a few days or a few weeks… and is often skipped in less severe cases. The first phase ends when severe symptoms are under control.
As a GAPS practitioner and based on my experience with Stockton Aloe 1 aloe vera gel, I choose to include aloe in the first phase. Though I certainly recommend against other brands of aloe vera in the first phase. I am not opposed to increasing the function of the immune system and believe it is the aloin that is high in other brands that actually irritates the gut in phase 1. However, as with all foods being introduced in the GAPS diet, if even Stockton Aloe 1 products inflame the gut, I would remove it from the diet and try to reintroduce it at a later time. However, as of the time of writing this, I have never had to do this. I have seen even the worst cases of IBD calm down somewhat with only introducing aloe into the diet without any other changes. But the GAPS rule is to test things before adding them to the diet.
(1) From the “breakingtheviciouscycle” website(1)http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/legal/detail/aloe-vera/ 10/09/2013
(3) http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/knowledge_base/detail/aloe-products/ 10/09/2013