With the popularity of aloe vera on the rise, and various companies marketing the numerous health benefits of this miracle herb, little is known about the side effects of the aloe vera extracts. The gel and leaves, that are used for making cosmetic, food and health products, are obtained from the Aloe Barbadensis Miller plant, which is the only type of aloe vera plant from which substantial, clear gel extracts can be taken. The transparent, clear gel, within the succulent aloe leaves has been used for thousands of years to treat skin problems, wounds and burns.
Recently, people have started using the green portion of the leaves as well. The outer part of the aloe leaves are crushed, and made into aloe vera juice, or dried and used as a laxative. Aloe vera juice in itself has quite a number of health benefits, which includes relief from digestive problems, constipation, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome. It is believed to be beneficial in regulating the blood pressure and sugar levels. Aloe vera juice is said to be a potent drink that is useful for strengthening the immune system. Unfortunately, while raving about the benefits of this amazing drink, the side effects of this drink have remained unnoticed.
Side Effects of Aloe Vera Juice
Aloe Vera as a Laxative
Aloe vera consists of the gel and the latex. The latex of the aloe vera leaf refers to the yellow part which lies just beneath the leaf skin. It contains anthraquinones like aloin, which are responsible for the laxative properties of aloe vera. When present in aloe juice, the latex can ease constipation, and stimulate bowel movement. However, studies have found that when used for a long period of time, people developed a sort of tolerance, and needed increased doses to get the same laxative effect. In fact, prolonged usage of aloe vera juice as a laxative can increase the risk of constipation.
Moreover, the intake of aloe latex was associated with a depletion of the potassium from the cells in the intestinal lining. This is the reason that aloe vera laxatives were banned by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) since November 5, 2002.
Increases Risk of Diarrhea
The presence of anthraquinones in aloe vera juice increases the risk of diarrhea especially when consumed in large quantities. The diarrhea caused by the laxative in this juice is often severe, and accompanied by pain, stomach cramps and dehydration. It can also cause the urine to turn red.
Studies done by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), have found carcinogenic activity in rats that consumed decolorized extracts of a whole leaf of aloe vera. Although the studies have not been proved in humans, the possibility of a carcinogenic risk in humans cannot be ruled out. Intake of aloe vera juice is associated with the risk of colorectal cancer.
Leads to Electrolyte Imbalance
The stimulant laxatives in unprocessed aloe vera juice can cause dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance with frequent use. The drop in the potassium levels in the blood results in weakness, and irregular heartbeats.
Interaction with Drugs
Aloe vera juice can have adverse interactions with prescription or over-the-counter medications. For example, diuretic drugs or water pills decrease the potassium levels in the body, which is what the laxative in the aloe vera juice does as well. This can lead to a sharp drop in potassium levels. Moreover, the laxative effect in aloe vera juice can decrease the rate of absorption of medicines in the body. Here are a list of some medications, that can have a negative reaction or cause side effects, when taken in conjunction with aloe vera juice.
- Stimulant Laxatives (Lanoxin, Correctol and Dulcolax)
- Antidiabetes drugs (Examples: Glucophage, Glucotrol, Orinase and Amaryl)
- Diuretic Drugs (Examples: Diuri and Lasix)
- Sevoflurane (decreases blood clotting) used for anesthesia
In addition to this, aloe vera can also have interactions with other herbs and dietary supplements. Intake of stimulant laxative herbs, such as jalap root, bark root, castor oil and rhubarb root along with aloe vera juice, can cause diarrhea and dehydration. Interactions with supplements like fenugreek, garlic and psyllium which lower the blood sugar levels, can have a negative effect on the body. Intake of aloe vera juice, along with licorice or horsetail should be restricted, as these herbs can lower the potassium levels significantly.
Aggravates Certain Health Problems
Aloe vera juice, containing the aloe latex can aggravate health problems like Crohn's disease, colitis, intestinal obstruction, diverticulitis, appendicitis, hemorrhoids, stomach pain or ulcers. Studies have found that aloe vera when taken orally has the potential to lower the blood sugar levels. However, if a person is already undergoing treatment for high blood sugar or hypoglycemia, then it is advisable to consult a doctor before taking aloe vera juice. Reports of hepatitis caused by oral consumption of aloe, can be a cause for concern for people with liver problems.
Complications in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Consuming aloe vera juice during pregnancy, or while breast feeding is severely restricted due to its irritant and purgative properties. Aloe vera should be restricted during lactation, as the presence of anthraquinones in the breast milk may lead to diarrhea. In pregnant women, aloe vera juice can cause uterine contractions, and even result in a spontaneous miscarriage. Aloe vera juice is also unsafe for children below twelve years of age, as it can lead to diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
It is important to note, that this list of side effects of aloe vera is based on medical and other research. There is no definitive evidence to prove the health benefits, or side effects of aloe vera juice. Most of the side effects are due to an overdose or improper use. Some people who are allergic to foods like onions and garlic, may be allergic to aloe vera as well. If you are suffering from an allergy or side effects, then stop consuming aloe vera immediately, and seek medical help as soon as you can. Also, if you are on any medication or suffer from any health condition, then seek the doctor's advise before having aloe vera juice.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.