Aloe vera is a small succulent plant indigenous to areas of North Africa that has been used for medicinal purposes for millennia. Its medicinal uses were mentioned in a 3600 year old Egyptian papyrus and it is now widely used as a soothing salve in creams and even on toilet tissue. Aloe vera juice, as opposed to gel, has become popular as a health supplement, with all sorts of claims for its beneficial effects.

Aloe vera juice is typically sold as an ingredient in a health drink as a dilute solution. It is said to be helpful in a variety of ways. It may be useful as a weight loss aid. It is also marketed as a booster for digestion and for immune system function. The anti-inflammatory properties for which aloe gel is famous are also claimed for the juice. Proponents suggest that it is rich in vitamins, minerals and amino acids and can help improve the skin. However, as with many so-called super-foods and wonder remedies, the jury is out until fuller testing is done. It is possible that aloe vera juice really does deliver what it promises, but there have been a number of concerns raised about its safety. It may lower blood glucose, and so should be used with caution by diabetics, for example. Aloe vera used to be an important ingredient in laxatives, but the FDA pulled it in 2002, pending further investigation of its efficacy and toxicity. More worrying is that aloe vera juice fed to laboratory animals caused cancer, sperm reduction and increased mortality. Whether this applies to human consumption, and is relevant to aloe vera juice prepared in different ways and consumed in different quantities, remains to be established.

It is clear that in high concentrations aloe vera juice is toxic to humans, but the commercially available aloe vera juice drinks are weak concentrations. Labeling states (or should state) that the recommended dose should not be exceeded. The amount depends on the specific preparation. Different manufacturers suggest 15 or 25 ml, neat or mixed with water, two or three times a day. The question marks hanging over the benefits of aloe vera juice don’t necessarily mean that the claims made for it are false or overblown. There is, for example, some evidence that ingesting the gel (note: not the juice) is medicinally effective.

This came from a 2004 UK study where patients suffering from ulcerative colitis (inflammation of the large intestine) experienced relief or remission after a month of daily treatment, with no significant side effects. Where natural remedies do generate side effects, this is sometimes to do with the processing methods used, and not the ingredients as such. Though the jury is out, aloe vera juice consumed in the correct quantities may yet prove to be a valuable addition to the pharmacopoeia of natural remedies available today.

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