Aloe vera has a millennia-long history of use in natural medicine. The oldest records of aloe vera use go far back to ancient Egypt, where aloe vera was called the “plant of immortality,” and was presented as a burial gift to pharaohs.
What Aloe Vera Is Used For
The most common uses of aloe vera include topical application for treatment of various skin conditions, and oral use as a laxative.
But, there’s mounting evidence today confirming that when taken orally, aloe vera can treat a variety of conditions, including diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, and osteoarthritis. Plus, topical application of aloe vera gel has proved effective in treatment of osteoarthritis, burns, sunburns, and psoriasis. No wonder, aloe vera gel is commonly used in numerous skin products, such as lotions and sunblocks.
In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved of aloe vera as a natural food flavoring.
How Aloe Vera Is Used
Aloe leaves have a green part surrounding a clear gel, which can be used as a topical ointment, or to produce a juice or a dried substance (called latex) that is taken orally.
What The Science Says
According to research, aloe latex is abundant in strong laxative compounds. Before 2002, numerous over-the counter (OTC) laxatives, regulated by the FDA, were made with various components of aloe (aloin, aloe-emodin, and barbaloin). In 2002, the FDA removed all OTC aloe laxative products from the U.S. market because the manufacturers didn’t provide the necessary safety data.
Although the gel is commonly used to treat burns and abrasions, a study found that aloe gel actually prevents healing of deep surgical wounds. The gel has not been found to protect against burns from radiation therapy.
Side Effects And Cautions
On the plus side, there are no known side effects related to topical use of aloe vera gel.
As far as oral use of the gel is concerned, there’s new evidence linking non-decolorized whole leaf extract of aloe vera to carcinogenic activity in male and female rats, based on tumors of the large intestine, as found by a 2-year National Toxicology Program (NTP) study. Although more research is needed to confirm whether these findings are relevant to humans as well, the researchers claim that there’s no evidence to confirm the contrary.
Aloe vera intake has also been linked to abdominal cramps and diarrhea. And, that’s not all, as diarrhea, caused by the laxative properties of aloe vera, can interfere with the effect of many medications.
One group that should be extremely cautious with aloe vera consumption is diabetics who use glucose-lowering medication because studies suggest that aloe possibly reduces blood glucose levels.
Also, several cases of acute hepatitis have been linked to oral consumption of aloe vera, the evidence is not yet definitive.