Aloe vera has long been used in folk medicine. Healers reach for aloe vera most commonly as an aid to heal cuts, soothe burns and moisturize external skin. Taken internally, aloe has medical uses as a laxative and an "anthelmintic" -- used to clear parasitic worms from an infested digestive system. Recently, however, aloe pops up more and more in its unadulterated liquid form, intended as a drink. The health claims are many, but some find the strong-tasting juice to be soothing to the throat, stomach and digestive tract.
What Makes Aloe Work
Aloe is comprised almost entirely of water but includes substances known as glycoproteins and polysaccharides. The former dampens inflammatory response and lessens pain, accelerating the healing process. The latter stimulates growth and repair of skin tissues. The MMC goes on to state that "these substances may also stimulate the immune system." Aloe's anti-inflammatory properties are likely the reason for its reputation as a soothing drink.
Aloe Vera Juice vs. Aloe Vera Gel
If you want to try drinking aloe vera, do not attempt to swallow the gel form, as it is not a food-grade product. Aloe vera gel is actually a thickened form of aloe vera juice, jelled with a natural agent called carrageenan. Aloe vera juice, as opposed to gel, is non-topical and manufactured as a dietary supplement.
Making Aloe Palatable
Most people find unflavored aloe to be unpalatably strong and bitter, making it a chore to drink the recommended 2 to 8 ounces per day. To make aloe more drinkable, you can cut its puckering taste with another liquid. Mix it with juice, whip it into a smoothie or pour a shot or two into a tall glass of sweetened iced tea.
Use With Caution
In a Shape Magazine article about drinkable aloe, Dr. Mike Roussell addresses the perplexing findings from a two-year study conducted by the National Toxicology Program. In the study, scientists fed rats whole-leaf extract of aloe vera juice and discovered precancerous growth in the rodents' large intestines. Dr. Roussell, however, goes on to explain that the unfiltered aloe from unprocessed whole leaves includes a compound called Aloin, which is present in far less quantity in decolorized aloe juice. He notes that, while we don't know what human studies would reveal, the rodent results should encourage caution until further research reveals more data.