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Aloe vera seems to be everywhere these days, especially in skin products. However you can also buy Aloe vera gel intended for human consumption and food items that contain Aloe vera.

A study by Boudreau et al. (2013) concludes that …

… nondecolorized Aloe vera caused cancers of the large intestine in male and female rats and also caused hyperplasia of the large intestine, small intestine, stomach, and lymph nodes in male and female rats. Aloe vera extract also caused hyperplasia of the large intestine in male and female mice and hyperplasia of the mesenteric lymph node in male mice and hyperplasia of the stomach in female mice.

What are the health benefits and risks of consuming Aloe vera?

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What is Aloe vera?

Aloe vera is the common name of one particular species of the genus Aloe (member of the Xanthorrhoeaceae family). There are over 420 different plant species and the most commonly used in consumer products. Most commonly used is Aloe barbadensis, Aloe barbadensis (Mill.) or (Miller) or Aloe vera (L.) Burm. f. (scientific name).

Processing

The primary component of the plant used in most products is the leaf, which can be processed in two ways to make aloe vera juice, powder or concentrate.

The other substance found within the leaf that has been used in commerce, primarily as an OTC laxative drug, is the aloe latex.

For oral consumption Aloe vera needs to be carefully filtered by different processing procedures:

  • Aloe vera leaf juice

    A charcoal filtration process which decolorize and remove some of the components (including anthraquinone which acts as laxative) as some studies shown to be carcinogenic on rats, but not on mice (see Toxicity). NTP did not conduct studies of the Aloe vera gel (decolorized whole leaf extracts).

    Aloe vera leaf juice is made by taking entire aloe vera leaves and grinding them up via some type of maceration. Typically some enzymatic treatment is used (such as cellulase) to break down the rind and heavier-weight materials, and then the resulting slurry is filtered, usually with charcoal filtration, to remove any other unwanted materials such as the aloe latex (yellow, bitter tasting exudate that is a powerful laxative). The remainder is aloe vera leaf juice.

  • Aloe vera inner leaf juice

    Aloe vera inner leaf juice is made by removing the rind prior to processing, either by machine or by hand, and then rinsing away the aloe latex. The remaining, gelatinous inner-leaf material is then ground/crushed into aloe vera inner leaf juice.

In some other countries Aloe vera juice is produced using the patented TTS (Time, Temperature, Sanitation) method.

Once Aloe vera gel is filtered out for consumption, then it's considered safe, because without filtration it can be harmful causing potential toxicity when swallowed.

Aloe vera that contains aloin (however it's not for sure) in excess amounts may induce side effects, but there is very little data about what levels of aloin are in most liquid products (according to one research, it's less than 1ppm), however in solid/semi-solid products it could be 10-100 times higher. If aloin is the cause of the tumors in rats, then the lower the concentration of aloin, then it's less harmful. However more research is needed to answer these questions.

Is Aloe vera regulated?

In US Aloe vera is a dietary supplement and it's not regulated drug, so there is no guarantee of strength, purity, or safety of these products. Currently Aloe vera is approved by FDA as a food addictive for flavor.

In the UK, European Union, China, and Korea content and purity of Aloe is regulated by IASC (International Aloe Science Council Seal of Approval) which established standards to define what is (and what is not) "aloe vera" in finished products. The IASC standard states that only products containing acemannan, or the beta 1-4 acetylated glucomannans, can be accurately labeled as aloe vera. Acemannan is a naturally occurring polysaccharide that is present in aloe vera and is used as an identifier of the botanical by analytical means. Products that do not contain acemannan are not considered to be true aloe vera based on this standard.

How can I tell if a product truly contains Aloe vera?

In countries where Aloe vera is regulated, you should check the label for seal-based certification (see: labeling guidance). You may also check the certified products list on IASC website. Also make sure that Aloin content has been removed.

Health benefits

Potential health benefits of drinking Aloe vera juice includes:

  • support the digestive system and relieve constipation,

    For example mixing Aloe with different oils and lemon juice can reach the entire gastrointestinal track to the colon. Oil blocks absorption of two other ingredients too soon so lemon juice can dissolve deposits in GI tract, gall bladder and pancreatic ducts, and after absorption, in the kidneys. Aloe can also heal infection such as erosions in the lining of the digestive track. (book source)

  • enhance natural immunity,

  • improve skin condition and health,
  • naturally contains polysaccharides which provide many benefits to the body such as:

    • healthy blood sugar levels,
    • liver function,
    • intestinal health: helping to reduce colon cancer,
    • reduce serum cholesterol levels,
    • exhibit immunomodulatory, antitumor, antithrombotic, anticoagulant, anti-mutagenic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antiviral activities including anti-HIV infection, herpes, and hepatitis virusesstudy,
  • some other benefits include: hair loss, Helicobacter, atherosclerosis, sensitization, overweight, mycosis, neuroses, sepsis, cancer.

Aloe vera gel is also used as traditional medicine (especially in Asia) for multipurpose skin treatment.

However relatively few studies about possible benefits of Aloe gel taken internally have been conducted.

If you've any concerns or medical conditions, you should speak with your physician before altering any existing treatments.


See:

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    You're not really adressing the issue of toxicity or cancerogenicity mentioned in the question. And your really long list of health benefits is seriously lacking reliable and specific sources. – user10 Apr 11 '15 at 12:12
  • @MadScientist I'm addressing and mentioning that removal of aloin (and other potential toxic substances) by process of filtration makes it safe for consumption and these drinks are approved by IASC for consumption across UK, EU and so on. If they were toxic for health they wouldn't be obviously approved. Most of the studies of cancerogenicity were done on pure Aloe vera and caused by aloin without the filtration, so I don't know what do you mean. – kenorb Apr 11 '15 at 12:28
  • @MadScientist Changed 'health benefits' to 'potential' if that solve the issue. If you'd like to have more references to health studies, I'll provide soon. – kenorb Apr 11 '15 at 12:38
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    @kenorb - The OP's question was "What are the health benefits and risks of consuming Aloe vera?" Can you please modify your answer such that the bulk of the answer addresses the OP's question? Including risks would add some needed balance as well. – anongoodnurse Apr 23 '15 at 2:46
  • @anongoodnurse OP actually asked which entity is regulating this in previous comments, so I've added it. Process filtration is important to show that Aloe vera juice is actually different from delivered from the plant, as MadScientist commented it could contain the toxic substances and this also covers risk involved (if the filtration wasn't good enough). Definition is also important, as there are hundred of different types of Aloe vera and this needs to be clarified what the answer is about. – kenorb Apr 23 '15 at 10:14
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Possible health benefits

Aloe vera by mouth is possibly effective for:

  • relieving constipation
  • reducing blood sugar and HbA1c in people with type 2 diabetes
  • healing peptic ulcers (inconsistent evidence)

Possible side effects

Aloe vera latex by mouth may:

  • trigger diarrhea
  • increase the risk of cancer (insufficient evidence)

Sources:

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