Latin Names – Aloe vera, Aloe barbadensis
The aloe vera plant is a hardy evergreen perennial that is used as an herbal remedy around the world. It has spiky green leaves that contain a clear gel that has traditionally been used as a topical ointment on the skin as a moisturizer and also for wounds, burns, sunburn and psoriasis.
Dried aloe vera gel has been used as an ingredient in various treatments in European folk healing as well as Chinese and Indian traditions. The green part of the leaf that surrounds the gel is used to produce a juice or a dried substance (called latex) that is used as an ingredient in herbal remedies.
Aloe vera has been in use as an herbal remedy for over 4,000 years. Today aloe vera is grown in quantity in the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, Africa, India and China. Aloe vera can also be grown at home, as an ornamental shrub in the garden or indoors in pots.
Traditionally, aloe vera was used topically to facilitate healing of wounds and for various skin conditions, and orally as a stomach remedy. In China, aloe was used for fungal conditions. In India, aloe was used as a stomach treatment, as a laxative, and for parasites.
Today, aloe is also used topically in the hope of improving osteoarthritis, burns, and sunburns. Aloe vera gel can be found in hundreds of skin products, including lotions and sunblocks.
Aloe vera latex contains strong laxative compounds. Products made with various components of aloe (aloin, aloe-emodin, and barbaloin) were at one time regulated by the FDA as oral over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives. In 2002, the FDA required that all OTC aloe laxative products be removed from the U.S. market or reformulated because the companies that manufactured them did not provide the necessary safety data.
Aloe has been studied for its health benefits such as its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Early studies show that topical aloe gel may help heal burns and abrasions. One study, however, showed that aloe gel inhibits healing of deep surgical wounds. Although aloe vera has been used following radiation exposure, one study concluded that aloe gel does not prevent burns from radiation therapy.
There is not enough scientific evidence to support aloe vera for any of its other uses.
Side Effects and Cautions Summary
- Abdominal cramps and diarrhea have been reported with oral use of aloe vera. Diarrhea, caused by the laxative effect of oral aloe vera, can decrease the absorption of many drugs.
- Aloe vera can cause allergic reactions.
- People with diabetes who use glucose-lowering medication should be cautious if also taking aloe by mouth because preliminary studies suggest aloe may lower blood glucose levels.
- Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health to help ensure coordinated and safe care. Complementary or alternative therapy should not be used in place of conventional medical care or to delay seeking that care.
- Aloe. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. June 5, 2007.
- Aloe(Aloe vera). Natural Standard Database Web site. Accessed on June 3, 2007.
For More Information
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Clearinghouse
The NCCAM Clearinghouse provides information on CAM and NCCAM, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.
NIH Office of Dietary Supplements
Web site: ods.od.nih.gov
NIH National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus
Aloe Vera Listing: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-aloe.html
Source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Aloe Vera fact sheet, Created December 2006, Updated April 2008