In the botanical supplement world, aloe vera is a celebrity. Its use can be traced back 6,000 years to Egypt, where it was found on stone carvings and known as "the plant of immortality." Today, aloe vera pills and juices are sold in stores across the United States.
Manufactureres of aloe vera supplements claim they decrease bodily inflammation and improve digestion, nutrient absorption and hydration. When ingested orally, aloe vera has been shown to have laxative effects and may even inhibit growth of certain strains of bacteria.
Though the touted benefits of aloe are numerous, be cautious. According to the National Toxicology Program, aloe vera taken orally causes tumor growth in rats and may promote cancer growth in humans. What's more, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Humans services, there is not enough scientific evidence to support aloe vera for any of its oral uses.
Aloe vera pills are claimed to improve digestion, decrease inflammation, and inhibit growth of certain strains of bacteria. However, use caution, because research suggests the oral use of aloe vera may promote cancer growth.
What Is Aloe Vera?
The aloe vera plant is a succulent that has thick, long, spiky leaves. Two parts of the plant are used in aloe vera supplements: the clear gel inside and the latex, or yellow part just under the plant skin. Both the aloe vera gel and latex can be made into pill form.
Aloe vera latex taken orally has laxative effects. The US food and Drug Administration once regulated the sale of aloe as an over-the-counter (OTC) laxative. In 2002, they required all OTC aloe laxative products to be removed from the market or reformulated due to lack of safety data from the companies that produced them.
Are Aloe Vera Pills Safe?
According to an October 2018 consumer survey published by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, 75 percent of American adults consume dietary supplements. Use is on the rise, as this is a 10 percent increase from 2009. Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes as well as herbals and botanicals such as aloe vera capsules.
Though use of dietary supplements is on the rise, some types, such as aloe vera pills, are not always safe. The FDA does not require dietary supplements to be tested for effectiveness and safety before they're marketed, nor does it require dietary supplements to be standardized. Standardization is a process that ensures batch-to-batch consistency of a supplement.
Because of this lack of regulation, it's difficult to determine the quality of any dietary supplement, including aloe vera tablets, and whether the purported health benefits on the label are true. If you need help figuring out whether a dietary supplement is safe to take, talk with your health care provider or read scientific studies that test that particular supplement on people.
Avoid Aloe Vera Pills
When it comes to aloe vera tablets or aloe vera capsules, recent research suggests it's best to steer clear of them. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified aloe vera whole leaf extract as a possible human carcinogen, along with other natural products such as ginkgo biloba extract and kava extract.
There's even more evidence for avoiding aloe vera pills. In a January 2019 review of the toxicology and adverse effects of aloe vera published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part C: Environmental Carcinogenesis and Ecotoxicology Reviews, researchers concluded that the oral use of aloe vera might promote cancer growth in humans.
If you are looking for a supplement to give you the benefits that aloe vera is claimed to provide — such as improved digestion, decreased inflammation and inhibited bacterial growth — ask your health care provider to help you find a safer option.
- National Institutes of Health: "Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know"
- Council for Responsible Nutrition: "2018 CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements"
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: "Aloe Vera"
- National Institutes of Health: "Botanical Dietary Supplements"
- Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part C: "Aloe Vera: A Review of Toxicity and Adverse Clinical Effects"
- International Agency for Research on Cancer: "Some Drugs and Herbal Products"
- Pharmacognosy Review: "Aloe Vera: Potential Candidate in Health Management Via Modulation of Biological Activities"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Testing Status of Aloe Vera Whole Leaf Extract (Native) M030041"
- Aloe Cure: "The Benefits of Eating Aloe Vera"