Aloe vera has a broad history of medicinal use—but is the gel or juice of Aloe vera safe to drink?
Given the vast array of information available online, you can easily find arguments to support either side of any topic. My search on “eggs are good for you,” for instance, returns 246,000 results in praise of eggs. A search on “eggs are bad for you,” returns 84,100 entries vilifying them. Which is true?
Likewise, some reports say Aloe vera does not provide the extensive health benefits claimed by many, but may even be dangerous to consume. This is troubling. Reports of Aloe juice and Aloe gel as effective in the treatment of internal problems—from GERD and prediabetes (metabolic syndrome) to immune system disorders—have made Aloe vera a popular product. Jugs of Aloe are on the shelves of supermarkets everywhere.
Should consumers be concerned about drinking Aloe vera?
We sometimes receive questions about Aloe from people who have come across an adverse report—like one from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They want to know if Aloe is safe to drink. And we don’t blame them for wondering. After all, the NIH is one of the most trusted medical research centers in the world.
And to top it off, Aloe vera has been safely used as an herbal remedy for thousands of years. Stories abound of its. The legendary healing properties of the gel are well documented.
How, then, could the NIH say Aloe may be bad for you?
Researchers sometimes look for additional medicinal properties in parts of the plant that are normally not used. In the case of Aloe vera, that part is the outer leaf. Reputable providers of Aloe vera gel dispose of the outer leaf, keeping only the inner flesh. The researchers disposed of the inner gel and tested the outer skin instead.
Take a look at the NIH report, and you will see references to “Aloe latex” and “Aloe leaf extract.” These do not refer to the inner part of the leaf, which is commonly ingested, but rather to the outer portions.
Which part of an orange do you eat?
Many plant foods contain an outer layer of anti-nutrients for protection. You can distill the outermost portion of an orange peel to obtain d-Limonene, a phytochemical that acts as a natural pesticide. It protects the orange from insects.
The same can be said about the outside portion of an Aloe leaf. It contains a yellowish brown, bitter substance called “Aloe latex” (also known as “aloin” or “barbaloin”). Aloin is an anthraquinone glycoside, and is known to be a digestive irritant and laxative.
When you eat an orange, do you bite into it as is, or do you peel it first? How about watermelon? Nature did not intend for the rind of some plants to be eaten. Used properly, Aloe vera is a nutrient-dense superfood.
Like the orange, the outer layer of Aloe is sometimes ingested in small quantities. Many use Aloe peel as a natural laxative to relieve constipation.
The NIH researchers used a preparation of outer leaf anti-nutrients. They did not focus on the nutritious inner leaf; therefore no information concerning the use of Aloe vera inner leaf gel, as either a food or nutritional supplement, is obtainable from the NIH study.
In fact, the samples used by the NIH were created by grinding whole Aloe vera leaves, then removing the pulp (the good part) and keeping the outer leaf. The tests were conducted using the parts of the Aloe plant we discard.
In the initial 13-week study, it was demonstrated that whole-leaf Aloe vera extract produced goblet cell hyperplasia of the large intestines in rats. This makes perfect sense. The mucous producing cells would most certainly attempt to increase their ability to protect the body from a digestive irritant, like the preparation used in the tests.
Aloin, the phytochemical abundant in the outer green portion of the Aloe vera leaf, is known to cause diarrhea (as mentioned earlier, it is often used as a laxative). It is this usage of Aloe the report questions concerning safety. It has nothing to do with the inner filet of the Aloe leaf—which is the only part used in all Stockton Aloe 1 products.
Stockton Aloe 1 Aloe vera gel has been demonstrated by an independent laboratory to contain between 1 and 5 ppm aloin. In order to consume the referenced 1 gram of aloin per day, you would need to drink about 276 gallons of Stockton Aloe 1 raw Aloe vera gel every 24 hours. Even Aloe pioneer, Rodney Stockton (who was in excellent health into his nineties) only drank a glass or two of Aloe gel each day.
That said, consumers should know that many Aloe drinks are “whole leaf” and may indeed cause stomach upset. The highest grade of Aloe products are taken from the inner leaf only. Moreover, because of modern filtration and processing techniques, even whole leaf Aloe drinks are likely to have very low aloin concentrations, compared to the preparation given to the rats in the government study.
Is Aloe vera safe to drink?
Most certainly—if it is prepared correctly from the plant’s inner leaf gel.
Toxicological Sciences Volume 131, Number 1, Pages 26-39, doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfs275 “Clear Evidence of Carcinogenic Activity by a Whole-Leaf Extract of Aloe barbadensis Miller (Aloe vera) in F344/N Rats” Authors: M.D. Boudreau, P.W. Mellick, G.R. Olson, R.P. Felton, B.T. Thorn, F.A. BelandExperts cool concerns over FDA Aloe vera carcinogenicity study