By far the most common use of aloe is as a balm for skin ailments like sunburn. However, some people also consume aloe for stomach problems. But, as with most natural remedies, there isn't enough evidence that supports its effects, and in some cases consuming aloe could be dangerous.
There isn't any scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of aloe for stomach problems.
Aloe for Stomach Health
With its spiky green leaves, the aloe plant is instantly recognizable and a staple in many home kitchens. Well known for its ability to soothe burns, it's been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes.
According to a review published in the Journal of Functional Biomaterials in March 2017, ancient Chinese and Egyptians used aloe to treat wounds and reduce fever. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that aloe was called the "plant of immortality" and was a common funeral gift presented to pharaohs.
Two substances from the aloe plant are said to have medicinal effects: the clear aloe gel and the yellowish latex. The gel is typically used topically, but it may also be taken by mouth for the treatment of osteoarthritis, fever and bowel diseases. The latex is primarily taken orally to treat constipation.
Although there may be anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness for treating stomach problems, the NIH says there is not enough scientific evidence to prove its effectiveness for any of these uses.
Aloe Vera Juice Side Effects
The most worrisome evidence of potentially negative aloe vera juice side effects comes from an animal study published in January 2013 in Toxicology Science. Researchers found that rats and mice that consumed aloe vera whole-leaf extract for two years developed cancerous tumors in the large intestine.
A later study published in July 2013 in Food and Chemical Toxicology showed that purified, decolorized whole-leaf aloe did not have carcinogenic effects. According to the NIH, this shows that a component called aloin that is removed by decolorization is likely to blame for the effects seen in the rats and mice in the earlier study.
Although results are for an animal study and no human studies have been performed, the Mayo Clinic warns consumers not to take whole-leaf aloe or aloe latex internally because of the potentially unknown carcinogenicity risk. It further warns that taking 1 gram of aloe latex each day for several days could harm the kidneys and even be fatal.
Read more: What Are the Benefits of Aloe Vera Pills?
Besides these more serious concerns, less severe but still bothersome aloe vera juice side effects may include abdominal cramps and diarrhea. According to NIH, aloe's laxative effect poses a risk because it can reduce the absorption and effectiveness of medications. Aloe may also lower blood sugar, so people with diabetes who use glucose-lowering medication should be especially cautious about taking aloe orally.
Additionally, the Mayo Clinic warns that aloe can negatively interact with other medications and supplements.
Improving Stomach Health
Before taking aloe vera by mouth, discuss your stomach problems with your health care provider. Herbal supplements are typically not the most effective way to deal with bowel issues such as constipation. The best strategy is usually to improve your diet and other lifestyle factors.
According to the NIH, eating more dietary fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains along with drinking more water can make stools easier to pass. Johns Hopkins University Medicine also recommends getting more exercise, as physical activity can help move things along in the bowels.
If these simple changes don't work, your health care provider may recommend a low-dose laxative. These should only be taken for a short amount of time, as recommended by your doctor. Long-term laxative use can result in dependency and impaired bowel function, reports the Mayo Clinic.
- Journal of Functional Biomaterials: "Aloe Vera for Tissue Engineering Applications"
- National Institutes of Health: "Aloe Vera"
- Toxicology Science: "Clear Evidence of Carcinogenic Activity by a Whole-Leaf Extract of Aloe Barbadensis Miller (Aloe Vera) in f344/N Rats"
- Food and Chemical Toxicology: "Safety of Purified Decolorized (Low Anthraquinone) Whole Leaf Aloe Vera (L) Burm. F. Juice in a 3-Month Drinking Water Toxicity Study in f344 Rats"
- Mayo Clinic: "Aloe"
- National Institutes of Health: "Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Constipation"
- Johns Hopkins University Medicine: "Constipation: Causes and Prevention Tips"
- Mayo Clinic: "Over-The-Counter Laxatives for Constipation: Use With Caution"