Aloe is a succulent plant widely used in alternative medicine. There are at least 420 different plant species of Aloe. Aloe vera specifically refers to the Aloe barbadensis Miller plant, the most common form used in Aloe-based products.
How is Aloe used?
Traditionally, the clear gel from the aloe plant is rubbed onto the skin as an ointment to treat wounds and burns. The green part of the leaf can be juiced or dried and taken orally as a laxative. Aloe vera is used in many commercial products in a variety of forms, including beverages, concentrates, capsules, powders, and as a flavoring agent.
What if I use aloe vera gel on my skin, could it harm me?
Applying aloe vera gel to the skin is unlikely to be harmful. While these particular NTP studies only looked at oral exposure to Aloe vera, other NTP studies examined the effects of the gel on the skin and found no strong link between Aloe vera in skin care products, sunlight and the development of skin cancer. The results of those skin studies were reported in the NTP Technical Report 553 on the Photococarcinogenesis Study of Aloe Vera
Why would people consume drinks containing aloe?
Product ads claim the drinks can be used to cleanse the digestive system or relieve constipation.
Why Does Aloe Work As A Laxative?
An organic component in the outer pulp of aloe leaves, known as the latex, contains anthraquinones. Aloin is an example of an anthraquinone found in the latex that can give the plant its laxative properties.
How Much Aloin Is In Products In The US That Can Be Consumed By The Public?
There is very little data on what the levels of aloin are in consumer products. According to published research, the aloin content in most liquid products is less than 1 part per million (ppm); however, the levels in solid or semi-solid products can be 10-100 times higher.
How much aloin is in a typical drink?
This is not clear. The industry usually processes the aloe vera leaf to make a decolorized whole leaf extract to remove aloin. The industry has a self-regulating upper limit standard of 10 ppm aloin in orally ingested products, but there are no labeling requirements for aloin content.
What are the adverse effects of overexposure to aloe in humans?
More research is needed to answer this question. In rodents it caused intestinal tumors. If you are concerned, have a medical condition, or are taking other medications, herbs, or supplements, you should consult your doctor before changing existing treatments or starting a new one.
How similar are the doses of aloin in the drinking water fed to the animals to those in aloe vera products?
This is not clear as there are no labeling requirements to list aloin content. The concentration of aloin in the water that the rodents drank in the NTP study is similar to that in some aloe vera products, but higher than in other products. The NTP wanted to test an aloe preparation that contains all components that may be in the products on the market. The NTP study used a whole leaf extract of Aloe barbadensis Miller that did not undergo charcoal filtration during processing. Many commercial aloe vera beverage manufacturers use charcoal filtration to reduce the aloe content in their products.
Is Aloe Vera Regulated?
Aloe vera is a dietary supplement and not a regulated drug. There is no guarantee of the strength, purity or safety of these products. Aloe vera is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a flavor food additive.
The two-year NTP study on the consumption of non-bleached whole-leaf aloe vera extract found clear evidence of carcinogenic activity in male and female rats, based on colon tumors.
From what we now know, there is nothing that would lead us to believe that these findings are irrelevant to humans.
However, more information is needed, including how individuals use different types of Aloe vera products, to determine the potential riskto determine risks for humans.
What do the NTP rodent studies mean for humans?
The NTP studies in rats are of serious concern. Some questions that must be answered before their importance can be fully understood include:
- Which products are actually on the market?
- What are the aloe contents in a wide spectrum of products?
- What are the patterns of human exposure?
There is currently not enough information available to know how much Aloe vera people consume and for how long. Based on what we now know, there is nothing that would lead us to believe that this finding would be irrelevant to humans.
Do you have any idea what could be causing the tumors and the other effects?
We suspect it's the aloin, but we're not sure. We hope to do more studies to determine what may be causing the tumors. I thought drinking aloe products was good for me.
Should I Stop Drinking Aloe?
That's a decision you may want to make with your health care provider. As with any personal decision, the more information you have, the better. Currently, manufacturers of these products are not required to label the aloe concentration in aloe vera products. In general, if aloin is the cause of the tumors in rats, the lower the concentration of aloin in a product, the less likely it is to cause harm. Tumors developed in animals that drank water containing 60 ppm aloin daily for almost their entire lives.
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