There are many products on the market that make big health claims. Lose weight fast! Boost your energy! Heal your gut! But do these products live up to their claims? Many are not backed by quality research. Plus, the sellers don’t advertise the potential side effects. Aloe vera juice is commonly marketed as good for those with digestive troubles, but I don’t recommend it to my clients. Not only can aloe vera juice be super expensive, there is little research to back the health claims, and there are known negative side effects. In my practice, I stick with evidence-based advice. My volunteer Isabella Gregov explains exactly what aloe vera juice is and breaks down the pros and cons of this pricy drink.
What is Aloe Vera Juice?
Aloe vera is a succulent herb traditionally used for healing wounds and burns on the skin.1 Aloe gel is extracted from the inner tissues of the leaf, while aloe latex is derived from the outer tissues.2 Aloe vera juice may be prepared using the inner tissues alone, or with both the inner and outer tissues.2 It is also sometimes called aloe water. Because of aloe’s antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties when applied to the skin, some believe that drinking the juice will have the same positive effects on the digestive system.3
What are people using it for?
There are many websites and blogs on the Internet which claim that aloe vera juice can remedy a host of ailments. Some state that aloe will heal ‘holes’ in the small intestine and thereby cure ‘leaky gut syndrome’.4 It is also suggested that aloe vera juice improves symptoms for those suffering with (IBS)3 by reducing inflammation and soothing the gastrointestinal tract.5 Other health claims associated with aloe vera juice include weight loss, detoxification, relief from constipation, and the ability to increase populations of beneficial bacteria living in the human gut.5
Are the claims true?
While anecdotal evidence certainly has its place, it should always be backed by critical thinking and solid scientific evidence. So, what does the science behind aloe vera juice say? Unfortunately, there have not been many human studies on the possible benefits of aloe vera juice consumption, and many of the results are inconclusive.
First off, the claim that aloe vera juice cures ‘leaky gut syndrome’ is entirely unfounded. In fact, leaky gut syndrome itself is not even scientifically or medically recognized as an actual syndrome. If you would like to learn more about the myths surrounding leaky gut syndrome, check out this article from the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research.
In terms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, one study found that consuming an aloe vera extract significantly improved symptoms.6 Another study suggested that there may be very slight improvement in the symptoms of those suffering from diarrhea predominant IBS, but not those with constipation predominant IBS.7 While these results sound promising, both of these studies involved a very small number of participants. This makes it more likely that the benefits seen were unique to the specific group of patients and/or the study itself, and less likely that aloe vera is beneficial for those with IBS. To cast more doubt, a third human study found no improvement in IBS symptoms when consuming aloe vera.8 If you are suffering from IBS, there are much more reliable and scientifically sound approaches to manage your symptoms, including certain lifestyle changes and the low FODMAP diet.
Another aloe vera juice claim which has slightly more scientific support deals with aloe’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown that, when applied to samples of tissue from the human colon, aloe vera can significantly reduce the production of certain compounds that promote inflammation.9 Aloe supplementation has also been shown to decrease amounts of pro-inflammatory compounds in rats affected by a condition known as ulcerative colitis.10 However, in-vitro and rat studies are merely the first steps in exploring a scientific question. The quality of such studies is not high enough to be used in recommendations for human health. As such, more research must be done before we can establish a clear link between aloe juice consumption and reduced inflammation in humans. Even more importantly, aloe vera juice may have negative side effects that outweigh any possible benefits.
In high doses, aloe vera causes cramps and diarrhea.5 Particularly, aloe products that contain components made with the outer aloe latex layer can trigger these two symptoms when consumed.2 This is because aloe latex contains a laxative component, which may also lead to electrolyte imbalances.2 If you are hoping to use aloe vera juice for weight loss, you will need to re-think your decision; aloe vera juice is not a safe or effective way of losing weight. Any weight loss is likely due to water loss (through diarrhea) rather than fat burning. Furthermore, abuse of laxatives can lead to gut motility issues.11
Pregnant women should not consume aloe vera, as this may result in miscarriage and/or birth defects.2,5 As an additional warning, aloe vera juice may interact negatively with certain medications and certain gastrointestinal conditions2; always consult your doctor before consuming aloe vera.
To sum it all up, there are many health claims surrounding the consumption of aloe vera juice. Companies that sell aloe juice focus entirely on the positive, working to convince consumers to buy their product. However, iffy and lacking science, coupled with negative side effects, suggests that aloe vera juice likely does not live up to its hype. Until solid human studies show that consuming aloe vera has significant health benefits, it is best to save your money and focus instead on a healthy diet. Also, if you are suffering from gastrointestinal issues, there are many more reliable treatments and strategies available to reduce your symptoms. Your doctor and/or dietitian can help you avoid false treatments and find the best option for you!
- Sharma, P., Kharkwal, A. C., Kharkwal, H., Abdin, M. Z., & Varma, A. (2014). A review on pharmacological properties of Aloe vera. Int J Pharm Sci Rev Res, 29(2), 31-37. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Priyanka_Sharma47/publication/270157982_A_Review_on _Pharmacological_Properties_of_Aloe_vera/links/54e170650cf24d184b1117fe.pdf
- Kaur, A. (2015). Aloe vera: The potted physician– A review. International Advanced Research Journal in Science, Engineering and Technology, 2(8). Retrieved from http://www.iarjset.com/upload/2015/august-15/IARJSET%206.pdf
- Hutcheon, D. A. (2014). The efficacy and safety of 4 natural products for the management of IBS. Topics in Clinical Nutrition, 29(2), 113-122. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/topicsinclinicalnutrition/Abstract/2014/04000/The_Efficacy_and_Safety_of_4_Natural_Products_for.3.aspx
- Ford, B. (2017). How I cured my leaky gut syndrome. Retrieved from http://vitalitymagazine.com/article/how-i-cured-my-leaky-gut/
- Gundersen, M. (Nov 16, 2015). Aloe vera gel: 7 ways this super plant improved digestion. Retrieved from https://www.guthealthproject.com/aloe-vera-gel-6-ways-this-super-plant-improves-digestion/
- Størsrud, S., Pontén, I., & Simrén, M. (2015). A pilot study of the effect of aloe barbadensis mill extract (AVH200®) in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Gastrointestin Liver Dis, 24(3), 275-280. Retrieved from http://www.jgld.ro/wp/y2015/n3/a3.pdf
- Davis, K., Philpott, S., Kumar, D., & Mendall, M. (2006). Randomised double‐blind placebo‐controlled trial of aloe vera for irritable bowel syndrome. International journal of clinical practice, 60(9), 1080-1086. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1742-1241.2006.00980.x/full
- Hutchings, H. A., Wareham, K., Baxter, J. N., Atherton, P., Kingham, J. G. C., Duane, P., … & Williams, J. G. (2010). A randomised, cross-over, placebo-controlled study of Aloe vera in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: effects on patient quality of life. ISRN gastroenterology, 2011. Retrieved from http://downloads.hindawi.com/journals/isrn.gastroenterology/2011/206103.pdf
- Langmead, L., Makins, R. J., & Rampton, D. S. (2004). Anti‐inflammatory effects of aloe vera gel in human colorectal mucosa in vitro. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 19(5), 521-527. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2004.01874.x/full
- Park, M. Y., Kwon, H. J., & Sung, M. K. (2011). Dietary aloin, aloesin, or aloe-gel exerts anti-inflammatory activity in a rat colitis model. Life sciences, 88(11), 486-492. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0024320511000300
- Gastrointestinal Society. (2017). Treating constipation with laxatives. Retrieved from http://www.badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/treating-constipation-with-laxatives/
ABOUT THE GUEST AUTHOR
Isabella Gregov is majoring in Applied Human Nutrition at the University of Guelph. She has first-hand experience living with various types of gastrointestinal problems and specialized diets. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences and helping others suffering from dietary complaints. Isabella hopes to earn her degree and complete an internship to become a Registered Dietitian.
Are there other supplements or “health foods” you would like me to write about? Let me know in the comments below!