Aug. 17. 2018
Nutrition Articles
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

You’ve probably heard of using aloe vera as a topical ingredient. With rising popularity, people are eating it in smoothies and juices, but why?

Most of us, when we think of aloe, we think of this cooling clear gel that we slather on our hot skin after we’ve been in the sun for too long and to help our skin cool down from a sunburn. The aloe vera plant is a super-hydrating ingredient with anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it’s been used to treat burns for centuries in many different cultures, but does it work?

Beyond using it on the skin, people also drink aloe vera juice, as well as add it to different recipes, sometimes including the gel. Aloe may have some interesting health-boosting properties, so let’s dive in to learn what exactly aloe is, including where it comes from, how it could help your health (and how to use it safely if you choose), and where to get it.

What is Aloe Vera?

Aloe is more than just a beautiful part of home decor with its thick green leaves. Aloe is a cactus-like plant that grows in hot conditions, typically in places like Florida, Texas, Arizona, and here in Tennessee if you have proper pot, soil, and a healthy plant to start from! If you’re looking to grow your own, the good news is that they’re easy to take care of as long as there’s ample sunlight and it’s kept dry. You can often find aloe as a gel form, which is a clear gel that typically comes from the inner part of the long aloe leaf. There is also a latex portion of the aloe plant, which comes from right under the leaf’s skin and it’s more yellow in color, which will discuss later in the digestion section and side effects you should know about.

Are There Any Nutrients In Aloe?

Aloe vera contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A (beta-carotene), C, E, folic acid, and choline along with antioxidants that help fight free radicals. It also contains minerals like calcium, chromium, selenium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, and zinc to support your body’s everyday metabolic functions. Enzymes like alkaline phosphatase, amylase, catalase, peroxidase, and more in aloe help you break down sugars and fats, while bradykinase reduces inflammation on the skin.

Aloe contains many compounds in addition to the vitamin and mineral content, some things you might not have heard about before. For example, the laxative effect of aloe vera comes from phenolic compounds known as anthraquinones (1). Meanwhile, hormones auxins and gibberellins help with wound healing and more anti-inflammatory benefits. Finally, aloe contains seven of the eight essential amino acids needed to help your body maintain its tissue and cell health (2).

Aloe Vera: The Main Health Benefits

1. Soothing Skin Conditions with Aloe Vera

Most of us are familiar with using aloe on the skin and it’s a common ingredient found in natural skin care products to moisturize your skin or relieve any inflammation. Aloe is most popularly used as a topical treatment for sunburn, which is why we see it in most after-sun gels you rub directly on the skin after a few hours on the beach, by the pool, or in the sun in general — and it feels good to use especially when you put aloe vera gel in the refrigerator before putting it on your skin!

Some people use aloe vera gel for skin conditions like psoriasis or cold sores, it’s likely the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of the aloe that contribute to these advantages (4).

2. Disease Prevention from Aloe Vera

In addition to soothing sunburn, studies show that aloe vera may have additional benefits including anti-cancer and anti-diabetic effects, an antioxidant boost (to help neutralize free radicals), anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-allergic properties, and it may act as an anti-inflammatory agent (3). In translation, people have used and studied aloe for it’s potential benefits from disease prevention to soothing cuts and scrapes.

A study showed aloe may be particularly helpful with diabetes, as it can potentially help control and lower blood glucose levels, keeping blood sugar in check. This is also a potential side effect though for those who need to monitor their blood sugars closely since preliminary research has shown aloe can lower blood sugar (6).

3. Alleviating Digestive Problems with Aloe Vera

When ingested, aloe can also help with digestion problems, particularly gastroesophageal reflux disease (or GERD) (5). Although the latex portion has also been used as a laxative (and in many laxative medicines) to help relieve constipation, this isn’t recommended and is potentially unsafe. We think there are better ways to relieve constipation since it’s very difficult to measure with precision the amount of anthraquinones — so on that note, check out these quick tips on relieving constipation with your diet and these vegetables rich in fiber.

The Side Effects of Aloe Vera

The biggest thing you’ll want to look out for when eating aloe vera or putting it your next smoothie is the latex portion of the plant (again, that yellowish substance right below the surface). People using it as a laxative dates back many years, but this can also cause serious stomach cramping and pain in some people. We recommend other ways to improve digestion or relieve constipation such as making sure your diet is rich in fiber, you’re hydrated, and your diet contains plenty of minerals like magnesium and of course working with a health professional to sort out your needs or digestion challenges.

Just as aloe has been shown to potentially help some digestive issues, in just the same, the aloe latex isn’t recommended for anyone who might have an intestinal obstruction, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, appendicitis, ulcers, hemorrhoids, abdominal pain or nausea, due to some of the irritating effects from a compound in aloe latex. Also, consuming aloe latex might make kidney disorders worse, since some studies show this has been linked to renal failure. 

Bottom Line

You’ll find aloe juice and gels at many local health foods stores and even grocery stores. Look for labels that say 100% aloe, and for juice, you can often decide if you want the pulp in or not (just like orange juice).

You can easily just sip on the juice — or you can use the gel portion only in addition to smoothies and smoothie bowls. As for the gel topically, you can put it directly on the skin, letting it cool sunburn or help alleviate dry patches.  

Is aloe a magic food that will “heal” health conditions — no and more research is needed to see what aloe can or can’t help with. Will we be adding aloe to all our smoothies at Nutrition Stripped? Probably not, but we love a good cold aloe gel kept in the fridge to soothe sunburned skin! Above all, it’s always a good idea to talk to your dietitian or doctor before trying anything new like this, especially if you’re looking to ~ treat ~ digestive issues or problems like psoriasis.

Share Your Tips

If you have a favorite way to use aloe, I want to hear about it! Share your tips for taking advantage of the healing properties of aloe in the comments below, or using #nutritionstripped.

References:
  1. Wu-Yang Huang, Yi-Zhong Cai, Yanbo Zhang. Nutr Cancer. 2010. Natural phenolic compounds from medicinal herbs and dietary plants: potential use for cancer prevention.
  2. Amar Surjushe, Resham Vasani, and D G Saple. (2008.) Aloe Vera: A Short Review.
  3. Dalia I.Sánchez-MachadoJaimeLópez-Cervantes, RaquelSendónAnaSanches-Silva. (2017, March.) Aloe vera: Ancient knowledge with new frontiers.
  4. Aloe Vera.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
  5. Panahi Y, Khedmat H, Valizadegan G, Mohtashami R, Sahebkar A. (2015, December.) Efficacy and safety of Aloe vera syrup for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease: a pilot randomized positive-controlled trial.
  6. William R. Dick, Emily A. Fletcher, Sachin A. Shah. (2016, June. Reduction of Fasting Blood Glucose and Hemoglobin A1c Using Oral Aloe Vera: A Meta-Analysis.