Ask the Diet Doctor: The Truth About Aloe Vera Juice
The newest miracle drink might not be as healthy as you think
Q: What are the benefits of drinking aloe vera juice?
A: If you do a Google search for ‘aloe vera juice’ you’ll quickly conclude that drinking aloe vera juice is the ultimate healthy habit, as it seemingly aids in weight loss, digestion, immune function, and even ‘easing general discomfort’. But when you look beyond the first 40+ search results (all of the sites that list the amazing benefits of aloe vera juice just before they sell you an ongoing monthly supply), it’s a different, more accurate story.
What is interesting about aloe vera juice is that despite the huge marketing push to educate people on its benefits, there is very little scientific data to support its use in humans. What’s more, some of the toxicity research done in animals is alarming.
Information regarding aloe vera’s use dates back nearly 5,000 years to early Egyptian times. It has since been used both topically and orally. Aloe vera gel, found when you break open the green leafy skin, is often used topically to treat burns, abrasions, psoriasis, and other skin conditions. Aloe vera juice, primarily produced from the green outer leaf, was used as a main component in many over-the-counter laxatives until 2002, when the FDA pulled them from drugstore shelves due to insufficient information regarding their safety.
Safety concerns about drinking aloe vera juice have continued to grow after the release of the findings from a 2 year study by the National Toxicology Program (you can read a summary here). According to this study, when researchers gave rats whole-leave extract of aloe vera juice, there was ‘clear evidence of carcinogenic activity in male and female rats, based on tumors of the large intestine.’
But before you go telling people that aloe vera causes cancer, there are a couple things to consider:
1. This study was done in animals. We don’t know what would happen in humans, but these negative results should be enough to make you proceed with caution until more information is available.
2. Consider what kind of aloe vera was used in this study. The researchers used non-decolorized, whole-leaf aloe vera extract. The way aloe vera is processed can impact the different compounds found in the plant and thus the impact on your body. For example, when manufacturers decolorize aloe vera leaf (a process in which the aloe vera is passed through a charcoal filter), the components that give aloe vera its laxative properties, the anthraquinones, are removed. One specific anthraquinone called Aloin is thought to be the driving force behind tumor development in the animal study.
But it's not all bad news for aloe vera juice. In a 2004 study from the U.K., researchers gave people with active ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease, aloe vera gel to drink (remember that in the animal study, they used aloe vera juice, not gel). After four weeks of drinking aloe vera gel in water twice per day, there was a clinical response towards improvement and remission of ulcerative colitis, compared to those given plain water. No significant negative side effects were experienced due to drinking the aloe vera gel.
As you can see, the aloe vera story is not as clear cut as many drink labels want you to believe. My personal recommendation is that you should wait for more human research to show that aloe vera provides significant health benefits without negative side effects. If you do choose to drink aloe vera at this time, check with your doctor first, and then make sure that whatever product you use does not contain Aloin.
Dr. Mike Roussell, PhD, is a nutritional consultant known for his evidence-based approach that transforms complex nutritional concepts into practical nutritional habits and strategies for his clientele, which includes professional athletes, executives, food companies, and top fitness facilities. Dr. Mike's work can often be found on newsstands, leading fitness websites, and at your local bookstore. He is the author of Dr. Mike's 7 Step Weight Loss Plan and the upcoming 6 Pillars of Nutrition.