The only way aloe vera usually makes it into our homes is in a bottle of sunburn relief gel or cream or as a growing, potted plant. Alternative medicine has used the plant for centuries to treat everything from wounds to kidney stones. Modern research has looked at the plant to see if there could be other uses, and if it was safe. The focus is on the inside of the leaf, the gel-like flesh of the plant that can be dried, juiced or pulverized. Some studies have shown that aloe vera may lower cholesterol. But is it effective and safe?
Dried aloe vera can be used as a laxative. More and more uses for aloe vera have been cropping up in the health, wellness and dietary markets. Now it can be found in drinks, powders, capsules and more. This fast proliferation can be alarming when there aren’t many concrete studies about the plant. The National Cancer Institute, concerned about the newly popular supplement, asked the National Toxicology Program (NTP) to study the plant, they saw a red flag. They found that non-decolorized whole leaf extract was carcinogenic in rats. The difference between non-decolorized and decolorized aloe vera is that the latter is processed with charcoal filtration. That process removes anthraquinones, known to be carcinogens. When taken orally, the NTP study advised cation. But, they didn’t see anything to warn people off of using it topically for burns.
The dangerous component of the plant appeared to be aloin, a chemical that acts as a laxative. In liquid products, like aloe vera juice, the aloin content was less than one part per million (ppm). But some semisolid/solid products contained 100 times more. The beverage industry puts its acceptable level for aloin content at 10 ppm, but they don’t require labels.
But, keep in mind, the evidence linking aloin from aloe vera to cancer was seen in lab animals. Though lab animal studies are useful, they are not conclusive. There need to be more human studies performed before conclusions are reached. Aloe vera juice is packed with minerals and vitamins. It contains vitamins A, C, D, E and B vitamins: B1, B2, B6, B12, folic acid and niacin. As well as the vitamins, it contains copper, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, sodium, iron, amino acids and enzymes.
Studies have linked it to lower blood sugar and lower cholesterol. Preliminary studies have also shown aloe vera can help prevent heart attacks and strokes. A study in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology showed that ingesting aloe vera juice could significantly reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol levels and triglycerides. It also boosted HDL “good” cholesterol.
However, the studies don’t all agree. Some studies have seen aloe vera has minimal impact on either triglyceride or cholesterol levels. Others saw a decrease of up to 15.5 percent in total cholesterol levels. Additionally, those studies saw that LDL dropped by at least 12 percent. Triglyceride levels lowered by 25 to 31 percent.
While some studies have shown it can help lower cholesterol quite substantially, not all agree. You should always speak to your doctor about supplements. They may interact with medications, and they might not be right for you. The health risks may outweigh the benefits of aloe vera.
Banner: Gel inside an aloe vera leaf on an organic farm in Italy. Image: Pava, Wikimedia