Aloe Vera Juice: Why MDs Say You Should Definitely Skip Drinking It
At first glance, aloe vera juice might seem like that magical elixir we've all been waiting for. Besides, aloe vera gel is extremely therapeutic when applied on the skin—so consuming the popular juice must be just as great, right? Well, not necessarily. Though using aloe vera topically is considered safe, taking it internally is a different story. Here, learn about the benefits and risks of drinking aloe vera juice and what you should keep in mind.
What is aloe vera juice?
Aloe vera juice is a thick, semi-translucent liquid made from Aloe barbadensis, a tropical succulent. The plant has green, triangular leaves with serrated edges and a tough outer rind. Underneath the rind, there's a layer of yellow sap called latex, followed by a clear gel called inner fillet—this is what aloe vera juice is made of.
Are there any health concerns?
Despite its potential health benefits, consuming aloe juice comes with serious risks:
1. It can cause bowel irritation.
"One of the most common side effects is diarrhea, due to its laxative effects," says Jessica Cording, R.D. Basically, as the anthraquinones in aloe latex increase intestinal motility, stools could pass so quickly that it results in diarrhea.
Aside from being downright unpleasant, this can lead to dehydration and "dangerously low levels of electrolytes like potassium and sodium," notes Cording. Electrolytes are necessary for balancing your body's fluids and maintaining the electrical charge of your cells. Diarrhea could lead to an electrolyte imbalance, making it difficult for your body to perform these basic functions.
2. It can interact with prescription drugs.
If you're taking prescription medications, drinking aloe may not be ideal. "Since aloe vera juice [is] a laxative, it may lower the amount of the drug that your body absorbs," explains Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of Eating in Color. It could also negatively interact with diuretics, which increase how much you pee.
If you have diabetes and are taking medication to lower blood sugar, steer clear of drinking aloe. It "lowers blood sugar as well, so a person's blood sugar can potentially dip to dangerously low levels," says Largeman-Roth. The same goes for if you're taking blood thinners, including over-the-counter aspirin. "Aloe vera may decrease blood clotting," she adds, so the combo could lead to excessive bleeding.
3. It can thin the blood.
When a blood vessel breaks, you start to bleed. That's when platelets stick together and form a blood clot, which stops the bleeding. However, as mentioned earlier, aloe can slow down the formation of these blood clots. It does this by decreasing synthesis of prostaglandin, a hormone-like compound, which stops platelets from doing their thing.
For some bleeding disorders, this could be helpful. But it may also increase the risk for serious bleeding issues, especially during surgery. Aloe vera has been known to interact with sevoflurane, a drug with antiplatelet effects that's used as a general anesthesia. When combined, the two can cause severe blood loss during surgery.
So why all the hype?
So why all the hype online if there are so many side effects associated with drinking it? Well, for a long time it was thought to have the below benefits—but they just don't outweigh the potential risks.
Some say it increases hydration—but don't worry, so does water.
Since the aloe plant lives in areas with irregular or minimal rainfall, it's capable of storing a lot of H2O. (About 99% of the aloe's inner gel is made of water.) So, as a dietary supplement, its high water content can boost your fluid intake. This is critical for supplying your body with enough water to perform normal functions, like pumping blood and regulating your temperature.
It contains vitamin C. Spoiler alert: There are plenty of other ways to get vitamin C.
The plant is a natural source of vitamin C—along with folic acid, choline, and vitamins A, E, and B12. In the body, vitamin C is needed for a variety of basic biological functions, including synthesizing collagen, absorbing iron, and supporting the immune system. It's also an antioxidant, meaning it neutralizes harmful free radicals.
Typically, 8 ounces of aloe vera juice contains about 9.4 milligrams of vitamin C. Some brands are also fortified with the nutrient, along with other vitamins and minerals.
All in all, however, there are plenty of other ways to get vitamin C.
It was traditionally used to ease constipation—but no longer.
Due to its fluid content, aloe juice has been traditionally used to ease constipation. Aloe vera juice with latex could help even further, as the latex has compounds called anthraquinones. These compounds stimulate movement and secretions in the large intestine. A few small studies have suggested that aloe vera juice may also soothe gastrointestinal issues, like IBS—but more research is needed, says Cording.
The jury's still out on its safety, though. According to Largeman-Roth, "It used to be sold in over-the-counter [constipation] remedies but was taken off the market in 2002 after it was determined that the safety of aloe vera for this use couldn't be established."
Who shouldn't drink it?
Generally, drinking aloe juice isn't really recommended for anyone. This is especially true if you have an underlying medical condition, including diabetes, bleeding disorders, kidney problems, or gastrointestinal issues like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Similarly, if you're taking prescription drugs, consuming aloe may not be safe.
You should also avoid oral intake of aloe vera if you're pregnant. (It could stimulate the uterus and cause premature labor, but applying it topically is considered to be safe during pregnancy.)
Regardless, even if you don't check any of these boxes, consume aloe vera with caution. Check with your doctor first.
Though aloe vera is a popular medicinal plant, drinking its juice has many health concerns. Consider sticking to topical uses, which are associated with little to no side effects. When applied on the skin, aloe can help soothe sunburns, reduce acne, and moisturize the skin—making it a potentially safer addition to your beauty cabinet instead of your kitchen pantry.
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