Aloe vera is primarily used therapeutically in topical form to treat burns and other skin conditions. Oral aloe preparations might offer benefits for certain conditions ranging from diabetes to stomach ulcers, but not enough evidence exists to confirm benefits for any condition. Ingesting aloe carries a potential risk for various side effects, and certain circumstances call for avoiding this supplement altogether. If you believe taking aloe internally will address a particular health concern, talk to your doctor about the appropriateness of using this supplement and the potential adverse reactions.
Gastrointestinal Side Effects
Certain components of aloe have very strong laxative properties, and it was traditionally used to treat constipation. It is not recommended as a treatment for this condition, however, due to potential side effects. It can result in diarrhea, severe cramping and dehydration. Do not use aloe internally if you suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal obstruction, hemorrhoids or any other condition that affects your intestines. Using aloe preparations to treat constipation can lead to a dependence on them.
The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center reports that aloe might help lower blood sugar in diabetics. If it does in fact achieve this effect, you might require dosage adjustments in insulin and other medications that control blood sugar to compensate for these effects and prevent blood sugar from dropping too low. Only your doctor can safely make this determination, however. Do not change your medications on your own.
Possible Liver and Kidney Damage
The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center notes case reports of acute hepatitis in people taking aloe internally; their conditions improved after they stopped using aloe. However, MedlinePlus reports that liver damage appears to be a rare side effect and is more likely to affect people who have a sensitivity to aloe. If you have liver disease or take medications that tax your liver, it might not be appropriate to use aloe. MedlinePlus also notes that aloe supplements have been linked to kidney failure. If you have any condition that affects the health of your liver or kidneys, it is always important to clear the use of any type of supplement with your doctor.
Using aloe in combination with drugs that lower potassium levels, such as certain types of diuretics and the heart medication digoxin, can cause potassium levels to fall too low. The laxative effects of aloe could decrease the amount of medication your body absorbs if these treatments are taken too close to each other.
Other Safety Concerns
Using aloe vera while pregnant could trigger a miscarriage or cause birth defects. Use is also contraindicated if you are breast-feeding. MedlinePlus reports some components of aloe might cause cancer.