The Aloe vera plant has been used for thousands of years to heal a
variety of conditions ranging from skin lesions to constipation. It is grown in
most subtropical and tropical locations, including South Africa, Latin America,
and the Caribbean. Aloe was one of the most frequently prescribed medicines
throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries and it remains one of the most
commonly used herbs in the United States today.
Burns Aloe gel, made from the central part of the aloe leaf,
is a common household remedy for minor cuts and burns as well as sunburns. It
can be found in many commercial skin lotions and cosmetics. Aloe contains active
compounds that stop pain and inflammation and stimulate skin growth and repair.
For this reason, aloe vera gel has gained tremendous popularity for relief of
burns, with individual success in helping minor burns. In fact, preliminary
research, in both animals and people, suggests that this folkloric use has some
scientific validity. These results seem encouraging, but studies comparing aloe
gel with standard medication may help determine whether the herb is as effective
for the treatment of burns as more customary therapies.
Herpes and Skin Conditions Preliminary evidence also suggests
that aloe gel may improve symptoms of genital herpes and certain skin conditions
such as psoriasis. Additional studies would be helpful to confirm these
Constipation Aloe gel is often confused with another part of
the aloe plant known as aloe juice, but the two substances are quite different.
Aloe juice (also known as aloe latex or aloe sap) is a yellow, bitter liquid
derived from the outer layer of the aloe leaf. It contains substances that, when
taken by mouth, have very strong laxative effects. For example, in a study of 35
men and women with constipation, those who received capsules containing aloe
latex, and other laxatives including psyllium (a natural substance high in
fiber) experienced softer and more frequent stools compared to those who
Although aloe latex is a powerful laxative, it is not used frequently because
it can cause painful cramping. Other gentler, herbal laxatives from the same
plant family as aloe (such as cascara and senna) are generally recommended
Diabetes Preliminary studies suggest that aloe juice may help
lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 (adult onset) diabetes. Although
further studies are need to fully assess the safety and effectiveness of aloe in
the treatment of diabetes, it seems possible that the herb may prove to be a
useful addition to the diet, exercise, and medication program for type 2
Other Studies in test tubes and animals suggest that active
substances in aloe leaf extracts (which contain both aloe gel and aloe latex)
may have immunostimulant and anti-cancer effects. This information has inspired
the production of a substance for people with cancer combining aloe leaf, honey,
and gin. However, studies of the use of this substance in people are lacking
and, therefore, the safety and effectiveness of this substance is not known.
Use of aloe may enhance the effectiveness of some medications used to treat
the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), but well-designed research trials are
needed to confirm these findings.
Aloe is also being evaluated for use in treating asthma.
Aloe vera is a perennial plant with yellow flowers. The plant can grow
up to 4 feet in height and its tough, fleshy, spearlike leaves can grow up to 20
inches long. Only the leaves are used for medicine, but different parts of the
leaves can be used for different purposes. For example, the clear, thick gel
found in the inner part of the leaf is most commonly used for minor cuts and
burns. The bitter yellow juice found between the gel and the outer skin of the
leaf is dried and commonly used for laxative purposes.
What's It Made Of?
Aloe gel contains active substances known as glycoproteins and
polysaccharides. Glycoproteins are protein-carbohydrate compounds that speed the
healing process by stopping pain and inflammation. Polysaccharides are a type of
carbohydrate that stimulates skin growth and repair. These substances are also
thought to stimulate the immune system.
Aloe latex contains compounds known as anthraquinones that stimulate the
activity of the gastrointestinal tract.
Aloe gel is most effective when obtained fresh from an aloe plant, but it is
also available commercially in a stabilized gel form, incorporated into
ointments, creams, and lotions. Aloe gel is often included in cosmetic and over
the counter skin care products as well.
Aloe latex is made by heating aloe juice until all of the liquid evaporates.
This process produces large, translucent blocks that contain active ingredients
known as anthraquinones. Aloe latex is available in a powdered form or in 500 mg
capsules for use as a laxative.
How to Take It
There are no known scientific reports on the pediatric use of aloe latex.
Therefore, the use of oral aloe latex is not currently recommended for
Pure aloe gel may be applied to the surface of the skin for minor skin
Slit the leaf of an aloe plant lengthwise and remove the gel from the inside.
Carefully clean affected area and then apply aloe gel liberally to the skin.
For use as a laxative, take 50 to 200 mg of dry or up to 1 tablespoon liquid
aloe latex one time by mouth. Once the laxative effect is achieved, you can
consider using 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid aloe latex 2 to 3 times per week to
maintain regular bowel habits; however, this should only be done under the
supervision of an appropriately trained healthcare practitioner (see
Precautions for a discussion of the
risks with aloe latex). If taking dry aloe latex, you must drink a lot of water
at room temperature.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and that can interact with other herbs, supplements, or
medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the
supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical
Aloe gel is considered safe when applied to the surface of the skin. In rare
cases, it may cause an allergic reaction, mainly a skin rash called dermatitis.
People who develop these reactions should discontinue use of aloe gel.
Aloe gel is not useful for treatment of deep wounds.
Pregnant women should not take aloe latex because it may cause uterine
contractions and trigger miscarriage. Nursing mothers should not take aloe latex
either because the effects and safety for infants and children are not known.
Aloe latex may cause severe intestinal cramps or diarrhea. Aloe latex is not
recommended for people with gastrointestinal illness, intestinal obstruction,
appendicitis, or stomach pain. It may worsen ulcers, hemorrhoids, diverticulosis
(small protruding sacs of the inner lining of the colon), colitis, or irritable
bowel syndrome. Aloe latex may also cause nephritis (an inflammatory process in
Many experts advise against long-term use of oral aloe latex as it can turn
urine brown or red and may even become addictive.
Chronic use of any laxative can deplete levels of potassium in the body,
which can lead to abnormal heart rhythms. It is best to use this laxative no
more than once or twice at a time.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you
should not use aloe vera without first talking to your healthcare provider.
Antidiabetic Medications The combination of aloe vera and
glyburide, a medication used to treat type 2 diabetes, may help control blood
sugar and triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood. People with diabetes who use
aloe latex either alone or in combination with other medications must be
monitored closely by health care providers to avoid potential complications from
low blood sugar levels.
Hydrocortisone Aloe gel may enhance the ability of
hydrocortisone to reduce swelling.
Digoxin and Diuretics Because oral aloe can decrease levels of
potassium, aloe latex should not be used by individuals taking diuretics or
digoxin (a medication used to treat irregular heart rhythms and congestive heart
failure). These medications lower potassium levels in the body, so a combination
of aloe and digoxin or diuretics can result in dangerously low levels of this
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Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Constance Grauds, RPh (April
1999), President, Association of Natural Medicine Pharmacists, San Rafael, CA;
Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley
Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine,
Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson
Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February
2001), Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD,
Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary &
Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; Tom Wolfe,
P.AHG (April 1999), Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD. All interaction sections
have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July
2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA; Enrico Liva, ND, RPh
(August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in
Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland
School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD;
Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State
Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
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of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage
to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or
otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents
of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds
currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a
guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed