Aloe is a succulent plant that has been used for medicinal purposes since the time of the ancient Egyptians. The most common type of aloe is Aloe barbadensis, better known as aloe vera. This versatile plant was first found in southern Africa and now grows throughout Africa, the Mediterranean, and parts of South America.
The parts of the aloe plant that are used medicinally are the gel that is found inside the leaves and the sap (a bitter, yellow, sticky substance [aloe latex]) that is found just inside the leaf surface.
How Aloe Is Used
Aloe is a known antiinflammatory and may even have antibacterial and antifungal properties. The gel from the aloe plant is often used topically on dry, broken, or burned skin as a soothing agent and a pain reliever. In animals, aloe gel has been shown to reduce inflammation. In one study on the use of aloe in ulcerative colitis, ingested aloe gel was shown to be better than placebo in reducing disease activity. However, this is not considered enough evidence to recommend the widespread use of aloe for treating inflammatory bowel disease.
Aloe latex is a powerful laxative, and is contraindicated for people with hemorrhoids, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, intestinal blockages, or other gastrointestinal conditions. It is not often used as a laxative because it may cause painful abdominal cramps.
Interactions With Other Drugs
Aloe latex will decrease the effectiveness of any medication taken at the same time, as it is a laxative, and will cause any ingested medication to move through the digestive system too quickly to be effective.
Using Aloe While Pregnant
Aloe latex is not safe during pregnancy or for breastfeeding mothers. Check with your physician about any possible effects aloe might have on an unborn child or an infant.
Warnings About Aloe
Aloe latex, the juice found just inside the leaf of the plant, is a known laxative, which is habit-forming. Aloe latex works as a laxative because it prevents the absorption of water in the bowel, making the contents of the bowel move faster. Continued use of aloe latex could result in the need for higher doses to achieve the same effects and permanent damage to the muscle in the intestine. Large doses have been known to cause bloody diarrhea and kidney damage.
Aloe gel is generally considered safe. Aloe latex is a powerful laxative and can be poisonous in high dosages.
* Any alternative remedies you are using should always be discussed with your physician or healthcare professional.
Langmead L, Feakins RM, Goldthorpe S, et al. "Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral aloe vera gel for active ulcerative colitis." Aliment Pharmacol Ther Apr 2004; 19:739-747. Feb 21 2008.
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. "Aloe Vera." Herbs at a Glance Dec 2006. Feb 21 2008.