Aloe vera has a reputation for healing in the holistic health community, but what’s real and what’s still being discovered?
A registered dietician discusses the science supporting the use of aloe vera for good health. Discover what aloe vera is, its potential benefits, side effects, drug interactions and safety profile.
What is Aloe Vera?
Aloe vera is a type of plant found in hot, dry parts of the world. The plant is considered a cactus, and its leaves and inner gel are used to treat a variety of health conditions, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
Potential Health Benefits of Aloe Vera
Megan Hilbert, a registered dietician at the nutrition coaching service Top Coaching, pointed to several benefits of aloe vera.
“Aloe contains antioxidants which can protect the body from oxidative damage," she said. "Oxidative damage/stress is linked with certain health conditions like heart disease, Alzheimer's [disease and] premature aging.”
For this reason, products like aloe vera juice may be a healthy option for anyone interested in improving their overall wellness. You can make your own from the inner gel found in the plant's leaves, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Because of its hydrating properties, some people also use aloe vera for hair vibrancy and moisturization, according to the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges.
In addition, the Cleveland Clinic notes that aloe vera gel may ease sunburn pain. One study, published in the journal Molecules, showed that a component in the plant reduces inflammation. That may explain why it can soothe sunburned skin.
Another review highlighted other potential benefits of aloe vera for skin health, including keeping it moisturized, preventing skin ulcers and treating surface wounds.
The NCCIH says aloe vera benefits may also include:
“Some preliminary studies also show aloe may lower fasting blood sugar levels and can benefit blood sugar management in those with pre-diabetes,” Hilbert noted. “There are also preliminary studies that show aloe can have a positive impact on gut health, in particular, those who suffer from GERD," or gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Safety of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera comes in two forms: gel from the inner plant and leaf extracts. The gel is generally safe to use on the skin, according to the NCCIH.
Can You Eat Aloe Vera?
While aloe vera is included in many foods, drinks and supplements, taking aloe gel or aloe leaf extracts by mouth may be unsafe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
A link between eating aloe leaf extracts (which contain latex) and developing acute hepatitis has also been found, according to the NCCIH.
Side Effects of Aloe Vera
No matter what benefits you are looking for in aloe vera products, it’s important to know about side effects.
The NCCIH notes that possible side effects of applying aloe vera gel to the skin include:
Side effects of eating aloe vera that contains latex, such as whole-leaf aloe, may include:
“When taking aloe orally, this can have a strong laxative effect which can cause cramping and diarrhea in some individuals,” Hilbert said. “Some people may also get other unpleasant side effects like red-colored urine, vomiting [and] sudden fatigue.”
Potential Drug Interactions of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera may interact with some drugs, Hilbert said.
“Diabetes drugs, anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs [and] drugs taken orally may have reduced absorption," she said. "Warfarin and diuretics can [also] be impacted by taking aloe orally,” she advised.
Hilbert said that your dosage of aloe vera will depend on what condition or health issue you’re using it for. For example, she might recommend taking 100-200 milligrams (mg) daily for constipation.
“For IBS, 100 mg of aloe vera drink or juice up to two times daily has been shown in some small studies to be helpful,” she noted.
What a Dietician Says
In Hilbert's view, what is aloe vera good for?
“For some conditions, research on the benefits of aloe vera is still limited," she said. "But for IBS, GERD, skin conditions and GI complications like constipation, aloe has shown through research to be [beneficial].”
Hilbert stressed that working with your doctor is key when it comes to using aloe vera for your health.
“Make sure to speak with your physician before you start any protocols with aloe, especially if you have an underlying health condition or are taking medications,” she advised.
SOURCE: Megan Hilbert, MS, RDN, registered dietician, Top Coaching, Madison, Wisc.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Aloe Vera
Cleveland Clinic: 6 Benefits of Drinking Aloe Vera Gel
Cleveland Clinic: Aloe Vera for Sunburns, Does It Help?
Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges: Naturopathic Medicine: Aloe Vera Gel
Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences: The Effect of Aloe Vera Clinical Trials on Prevention and Healing of Skin Wound: A Systematic Review