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There’s a lot of buzz about how this beverage can balance your blood sugar, help your skin and more.
The aloe vera plant, a tropical succulent, has long been praised for its medicinal powers. In fact, if you look at that bottle of lotion on your shelf that you use to soothe an ouchy sunburn, you may well see aloe vera among the list of ingredients. Now there’s another version of the plant that’s gotten buzz for being a potential health booster: aloe vera juice. Here’s what the research and nutritional experts say about the possible benefits of both the plant and aloe vera juice.
The aloe vera plant is full of a bunch of compounds, including vitamins (vitamins A, C, various B vitamins, etc.), minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and more), flavonoids, sterols and enzymes. How the plant is grown and when it’s harvested has a big impact on how much of these compounds it contains, research shows. The aloe plant has also been found to have anti-inflammatory properties in test-tube studies, and because it contains antioxidants that increase shelf life, it’s used widely in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and foods.
When it comes to aloe vera juice, even though it’s praised for providing B vitamins and vitamin C, the juice contains a very small amount of vitamins and minerals, says Alyssa Pike, RD, senior manager of Nutrition Communications at the International Food Information Council (IFIC). “The vitamins that do make it into the juice are just a small amount of the daily recommended value.” And research doesn’t seem to show the same anti-inflammatory benefits in the juice as are found in the plant itself.
“Research around the health benefits associated with drinking aloe vera is lacking,” says Pike. “Because most research on aloe’s health benefits revolves around its topical use, we don’t know much about the effects of aloe vera beverages on our health. To date, the claims made about aloe vera juice’s benefits are questionable.”
“There really isn’t a lot of research out there,” agrees Brierley Horton, MS, RD, a dietitian nutritionist, and co-host and co-creator of the Happy Eating podcast. “A lot of what you see out there is not based specifically on aloe vera juice. We have info on aloe vera gel and the plant, but that’s not a direct translation. So if you do see or hear about a benefit to aloe vera, you want to make sure that it’s in reference to aloe vera juice.”
It’s smart to be careful when shopping for aloe vera juice, says Plessel, because ConsumerLab — which independently reviews health and nutrition products — warns that products will differ by the type of aloe, which part of the leaf is used, and how much it’s purified. When choosing an aloe vera juice, Horton suggests looking for one that doesn’t have a bunch of additives in it — though, she adds, the juices that she’s looked at seem to be fairly benign. “You’re really getting just carbs, and maybe some micronutrients.” You may get calcium and potassium, and some have more sodium than others. Certain brands are flavored with fruit — though those, Horton points out, may well have sugar added. Pike agrees with this: “Pure aloe vera juice is made by crushing, grinding, or pressing the entire aloe vera leaf to produce a liquid, which is then filtered,” she says. “However, many aloe juices you find at the grocery store are combined with fruit juice or additional sugar, so you may find yourself considerably increasing your added sugar intake if you drink a lot of aloe vera juice. It’s more of an overpromised sugar water.”
“More robust, high-quality studies are needed before recommending daily consumption of aloe vera juice,” says Plessel. “So far, the research has been limited to in vitro tests, animal studies and small clinical trials.” There isn’t scientific consensus recommending that the general public consume aloe vera juice, she adds — plus, “there are concerns about potentially negative compounds.” Some experts say it’s a good idea to limit the daily amount of aloe vera juice consumed to 30-40 mL (that’s about 1 to 1.3 fluid ounces). Drinking more than the amount above not only can have a laxative effect — it can also be toxic, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“Personalized nutrition is always best,” Plessel points out, “so I always recommend speaking with your medical care provider or a registered dietitian before adding aloe vera juice to your diet. That way, you can make an informed choice on whether the juice is appropriate for your health.”
What are any negative side effects of drinking aloe vera juice?
“Aloe vera juice is generally tolerated,” says Plessel, “but side effects can include abdominal pain, cramping, nausea and diarrhea. There have also been rare instances of skin rash and allergic dermatitis. Chronic use can also lead to the discoloration of the colon, so consult with your gastroenterologist if you use aloe vera products consistently.”
There are a few different groups that should avoid this juice, says Plessel. “Women who are trying to conceive or are currently pregnant should not consume aloe vera products,” she says. “The National Institutes of Health and Natural Medicine’s Database both indicate that aloe may be unsafe in pregnancy, as some of the constituents may later pass into breastmilk. And women who are currently breastfeeding should also avoid consuming aloe vera juice.”
Plessel adds, “Anyone who suffers intestinal problems, kidney issues, liver disease and abdominal pain of unknown origin should consult with their medical provider before consuming. In some cases, aloe vera has been associated with liver inflammation. Aloe vera products may interact with various medications. And people with diabetes and heart disease should also review with their medical provider to ensure safety.”
What’s most important to your health, says Plessel, is to “explore a colorful variety of whole foods. Your overall eating pattern matters most when it comes to living a vibrant and healthy life.”