Aloe vera is packed with health benefits, ranging from treating skin burns to moisturizing skin and stopping inflammation. But it may also cause unwanted side effects that could be serious. It's important to learn about the potential side effects of aloe vera juice before drinking it.
While aloe vera juice can have some health benefits, it’s important to be careful when consuming it. Aloe can also cause unwanted side effects, like skin rashes, nausea or even liver inflammation.
Beware of Skin Rashes
Humans have been using aloe vera, a type of succulent plant species that grows in tropical temperatures, for thousands of years. Aloe vera's medicinal uses were touted in ancient Egypt, where it was referred to as the "plant of immortality," according to the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. In the modern world, it's easy to find aloe vera in a variety of products like skin moisturizers, sunburn ointments or even in juices to help you stay hydrated.
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You've probably rubbed some clear, cool aloe vera gel on your skin after a particularly bad sunburn, and it may have helped. There is some evidence that topical aloe may help skin conditions. But in some cases, especially when you drink it, it may do the opposite and aggravate your skin and cause rashes, according to Cancer Research UK.
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Avoid Aloe Vera Juice Nausea
Aloe vera juice products may be touted for being healthy drinks, but research shows that taking aloe orally may actually aggravate your stomach. The NIH notes that people have reported stomach cramps, diarrhea and nausea due to aloe vera juice. Drinking or taking aloe vera orally may even cause low blood potassium levels, or hypokalemia, according to an April 2016 study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health.
Aloe vera juice is often used to treat constipation, as it is a laxative. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required over-the-counter aloe vera laxative products to be removed from the market in 2002, because the companies making them did not provide enough safety information.
Link to Cancer
Some people claim aloe vera juice can treat cancer, but there isn't much evidence to support this, according to Cancer Research UK. In fact, while topical aloe vera is considered completely safe, orally consuming certain types of aloe has been associated with an increased risk of cancer. It depends on whether the aloe is decolorized — which means it's gone through a filtering process to remove certain elements from the aloe leaf, including some that have been shown to be carcinogenic — or non-decolorized, which means it hasn't been filtered.
The National Toxicology Program conducted a two-year study in 2013 examining the effects of non-decolorized whole leaf aloe on rats, and found it may contribute to increased carcinogenic activity. However, more research is needed on human aloe vera products before any associations are made. In short, avoid consuming whole-leaf aloe in large doses.
Protect Your Liver
There are also aloe vera side effects on the liver, though these are rare, according to the National Institutes of Health. According to the NIH, liver inflammation or hepatotoxicity as a result of aloe vera ingestion has been reported at least a dozen times in scientific literature. These cases often occur three to 24 weeks after taking high doses of oral aloe vera to treat things like constipation, and the impact on the liver often causes symptoms that mirror viral hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver.
Read more: Does Taking Vitamins Affect Your Liver?
Prevent Low Blood Potassium
There have also been cases of oral aloe vera resulting in low blood potassium levels, according to Cancer Research UK. The symptoms of low blood potassium include weak muscles and abnormal heart rhythms, and if it becomes chronic, it can cause kidney problems.
Because there are so many different types of aloe vera juice products, it's important to read the labels and understand what type of aloe it is, and how high the dose is. Overall, scientific evidence suggests topical aloe is safe and effective in treating burns, rashes or skin irritation, but the science behind whether it can provide other health benefits if drank or taken orally is still unclear.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Aloe Vera"
- Cancer Research UK: "Aloe"
- Journal of Environmental Science and Health: "Aloe vera: A review of toxicity and adverse clinical effects."
- National Toxicology Program: "Aloe vera"
- National Institutes of Health: "Drug Record, Aloe Vera"