You probably know aloe vera gel as that gooey, unscented stuff you smear on sunburns. But have you ever considered adding it to your diet? Some people believe that eating or drinking aloe vera can have health benefits, but the research is inconclusive.
There are two major components to aloe vera: gel and latex. Most people eating aloe vera are consuming the gel, usually through beverages. Because it has laxative properties, eating aloe vera latex is not recommended.
The benefits of eating aloe vera gel have not been rigorously researched. Eating aloe vera latex can have a laxative effect and may be dangerous.
What Is Aloe Vera?
Aloe vera plants are succulents that are widely grown in warmer climates all over the world. It can also be grown indoors as a decorative plant. There are over 400 known species of aloe vera, and the plants have long been used in traditional medicine. Each aloe vera leaf is long, fleshy and lance-shaped.
There are three main components to an aloe vera leaf — the skin, latex and gel. You can easily remove the gel from a healthy aloe vera plant and use it to soothe sunburns or mix it into a homemade face mask.
The outermost layer is the thin, green skin. When you cut an aloe vera leaf to remove it from the plant, a yellow substance may ooze out from just under the surface of the skin. This substance is aloe vera latex, which has laxative properties.
You can stand the removed aloe vera leaf upright until the yellow aloe vera gel has drained away. Then lay it flat to remove the skin, which you can do using a knife or vegetable peeler. Inside the leaf you'll find the clear aloe vera gel, the substance typically used in cosmetics, ointments and drinks.
Trim off all the aloe vera skin until you're left with slabs of the clear gel. Rinse these two to three times to get rid of any remaining latex. You can store fresh aloe vera gel in the refrigerator, where it will last for up to 10 days in an airtight container.
Aloe Vera Gel
According to the Mayo Clinic, aloe vera gel can help speed up the healing of first- and second-degree burns. The gel can also feel soothing and help cool your skin if you're suffering from a sunburn or minor skin irritation.
Aloe vera gel is a common ingredient in facial moisturizers, body lotion, after-sun cream and face masks. It's also found in anti-aging skin care products like serums and is a popular ingredient in DIY skin care recipes.
Aloe Vera Juice
Aloe vera juice is available as a stand-alone beverage or mixed with water and other flavors. There are also aloe vera beverages available that contain whole chunks of aloe vera gel, adding texture to the drink.
A 1-ounce serving of Pharm-Aloe Aloe Vera Leaf Juice 4X Concentrate provides 5 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates, 20 milligrams of sodium, 188 milligrams of calcium and less than 1 milligram of iron. The ingredients include organic aloe vera leaf juice concentrate, citric acid and potassium sorbate. This product can be taken alone, mixed with water or used in a smoothie.
An 8-ounce serving of Kroger Aloe Vera Drink provides 110 calories and 26 grams of carbs, including 23 grams of sugar. It also provides 101 milligrams of calcium, 36 milligrams of sodium and 12 milligrams of vitamin C. This is a stand-alone beverage that doesn't need to be mixed or diluted.
Benefits of Eating Aloe Vera
There are plenty of anecdotal claims about the benefits of eating aloe vera gel, but there's little research to back up these statements. There are also potential risks involved: The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says that consuming aloe vera latex has been linked to abdominal cramps and diarrhea.
The NCCIH also cites a two-year study conducted by the National Toxicology Program as a potential cause for concern. In this study, researchers fed different types of aloe vera drink to rats.
They found that nondecolorized whole leaf extract of aloe vera was linked to carcinogenic tumors in the large intestine, while decolorized whole leaf aloe vera caused no ill effects. The difference between decolorized and nondecolorized aloe vera is that the leaves are processed in different ways.
Because the decolorization process removes most of a component called aloin from the aloe vera juice, researchers believe that aloin may be responsible for the carcinogenic effects. Though this study was performed on rats, the NCCIH says there may be potential health risks to humans and calls for more research in this area.
Alternatives to Aloe Vera
Instead of eating aloe vera gel or latex, you can find an expert-backed solution to whatever problem you're hoping the aloe vera will solve.
If you've heard that eating aloe vera can boost your intake of vitamins and minerals, evaluate your diet to look for any nutrients you might be low on. You can keep a food diary for a snapshot of your current habits, then shift your eating patterns to include more fruits and vegetables. If you're worried about a specific deficiency, discuss that with your doctor and ask about taking vitamin supplements.
Some people swear by eating aloe vera to improve their skin hydration and reduce signs of aging. Harvard Health offers plenty of additional solutions for dry skin:
- Use a humidifier
- Limit yourself to short baths and showers
- Bathe in lukewarm water rather than super-hot water
- Apply moisturizer regularly
- Avoid fabrics and fragrances that irritate your skin
Finally, if you've heard that aloe vera can help soothe stomach issues, look for proven remedies. Over-the-counter medications are available for diarrhea, gas, heartburn and bloating. If you consistently have digestive problems, it may be due either to something in your diet or to a health issue. Consult your doctor for more info.
- Thrive Market: "Lily of the Desert Preservative Free Aloe Vera Juice - Whole Leaf"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: "Aloe Vera Drink, UPC: 011110873644"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Aloe Vera"
- National Toxicology Program: "Testing Status of Aloe Vera Whole Leaf Extract (Native) M030041"
- Mayo Clinic: "Aloe"
- Harvard Health: "9 Ways to Banish Dry Skin"
- Pharm-Aloe: "Pharm-Aloe Aloe Vera Leaf Juice 4X CONCENTRATE"