Aloe vera is a popular category, well known for its topical applications but more recently gaining popularity as a beverage, with brands of aloe vera drinks popping up in grocery and convenience stores throughout the country. Mainstream consumers may be vaguely aware of the health benefits of drinking aloe vera, intrigued by its presence beside their favorite organic iced teas, but the keen natural shopper understands the beverage does not necessarily provide the same benefits as its dietary supplement counterpart.
However, even as a dietary supplement, the aloe vera question is not so cut and dry. Juice, gel or capsule? Inner fillet or whole leaf? These options can confuse potential customers. Here are some things to keep in mind when helping consumers choose the right aloe vera product. We’ll also review the evidence for its applications so that customers can understand why they should be taking aloe vera.
Gel. When someone types in “aloe vera gel” into Google, this will likely refer them to topical gels used to soothe sunburns and moisturize dry skin. Clearly, formulas designed for topical use should not be ingested; however, some manufacturers sell aloe vera gel that is good for both dietary and cosmetic purposes. These are often made from the inner leaf of the aloe vera plant separated from the outer rind and the latex; a yellow substance between the rind and inner leaf which contains aloin, the laxative component of aloe vera. Once separated, it is cold-pressed to make it drinkable. Some may contain the pulp of the original plant, while others will use thickening agents.
Juice. Most aloe vera juices are made from the whole leaf — inner filet, aloe latex and all. Rinds and excess aloin found in the aloe latex is filtered out, reducing the aloin content, a powerful laxative, to its safe level of one part per million. Juices have a thinner consistency to gels, but they also differ functionally. The aloin content of the juices made from the whole leaf makes it more beneficial to those seeking to support digestive health. Juices and gels made only from the inner fillet will have nutrients that support health in different ways but their lack of aloin won’t do as much to support regularity.
Capsules. You likely also stock your shelves with aloe vera capsules, which is another viable way to supplement with aloe. Some may simply not like the taste of aloe juice or gel, which are naturally bitter. While it is often recommended to mix the suggested dosage with another liquid, many may find capsules to be a simpler solution. The aloe vera extract in the capsule may also be accompanied by another valuable nutrient or herb, adding extra support.
As mentioned earlier, aloe vera’s aloin content can support digestive regularity due to its laxative effect, which is mild and safe when filtered down to one part per million. It is, however, unwise for anyone to consume aloin at high doses, directly from the plant, for example, as the laxative effect will be powerful and dangerous, with painful cramps (1). While this makes aloe vera a tool for cleansing, its effects on digestive health go beyond this. Studies have shown that supplementing one’s diet with aloe vera can positively affect the microbiome of the gastrointestinal tract by not only supporting the proliferation of good bacteria but inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria.
One in vitro study found that at a certain concentration, aloe vera juice promoted the growth of Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. plantarum and L. casei, made evident by a fall in pH and an increase in acidity (2). However, at much higher concentrations, growth was discouraged. Researchers concluded “Aloe vera juice or gel at a particular concentration could possibly be used in combination with probiotic Lactobacillus strain(s) as a combinational therapy for gastrointestinal disorders and cardiovascular diseases” (2).
A different short term study investigated the antibacterial effect of aloe vera gel extract on Lactobacillus spp. and Streptococcus mutans. Results showed that aloe vera significantly reduced the number of Lactobacillus spp. but not Streptococcus mutans (3). A similar effect was observed in an in vitro study on the antibacterial activity of aloe vera on a bacterial strain of Helicobacter pylori, which is isolated to the Abruzzo region in Italy. Results of that study showed that inhibitory concentrations of aloe vera were comparable to those of bactericides, with 50% of detected strains inhibited in their growth (4).
Considering the trending category of probiotics, aloe vera can be an excellent complement for shoppers of probiotic products in the way it may facilitate the growth of good bacteria and protect against harmful bacteria.
Aloe vera’s active components include glycoproteins and polysaccharides. When people use aloe vera to sooth sunburn, glycoprotein speeds the healing process by easing pain and inflammation, while the polysaccharides stimulate skin growth and repair. When consumed orally, these components stimulate the immune system (1). For example, an animal study observed how polysaccharides from aloe vera would affect stress-induced immunosuppression in mice. Results showed that the polysaccharides ameliorated the chronic stress-induced immunosuppression in a variety of ways, including reducing body weight loss and restoring the activities of lymphocytes, T cell proliferation and antibody production (5). Considering how chronic stress is not uncommon in our daily lives, affecting our immune system and making us more susceptible to illness, aloe vera may be one way for your customers to reinforce their defenses.
Much of its immunomodulatory effect is likely accomplished by controlling inflammation. Aloe vera gel for example downregulates lipopolysaccharides-induced inflammatory cytokine production (6). Antioxidants also play an important role in our health, scavenging free radicals that cause oxidation. Aloe vera is rich in antioxidants, including alpha-tocopherol, carotenoids, vitamin C, flavenoids and tannins (6). It should be noted that the whole leaf will provide the greatest concentration of antioxidants as the leaf’s skin has exhibited in vitro the most antioxidant activity.
While using aloe vera does not cure or treat disease, prediabetics and diabetics in some studies have exhibited positive results from supplementation. In one randomized controlled trial, for example, aloe vera gel reduced body weights, body fat mass and insulin resistance in obese prediabetics and early untreated diabetics (6). A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials studying the plant’s effect on prediabetics and untreated diabetics reported that aloe vera was superior to placebo in reducing fasting blood glucose levels, though saw no significant changes in insulin concentration (7). The same meta-analysis also found that aloe vera was superior to placebo in reducing serum triglycerides as well as reducing LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol) while increasing serum HDL (good cholesterol) (7).
It should be noted that not all studies are conclusive on the benefits of supplementing with aloe vera and the plant deserves and requires more, and better designed, randomized controlled trials to truly understand its potential. However, considering the research that does exist, and its traditional usage, aloe vera can be an excellent product for many customers if they understand what they are buying. This is where you come in. WF
- R. Nagpal et al. “Effect of Aloe vera juice on growth and activities of Lactobacilli in-vitro.” Act Biomed. 83(3): 183-188. 2012.
- T. Prueksrisakul et al. “Effect of daily drinking of Aloe vera gel extract on plasma total antioxidant capacity and oral pathogenic bacteria in healthy volunteer: a short-term study.” J Compliment Integr Med. 12(2): 159-164. 2015.
- L. Cellini et al. “In vitro activity of Aloe vera inner gel against Helicobacter pylori strains.” Lett Appl Microbiol. 59(1): 43-48. 2014.
- Y. Lee et al. “Modified Aloe Polysaccharide Restores Chronic Stress-Induced Immunosuppression in Mice.” Int J Mol Sci. 17(10). 2016.
- R.H. Maharjan and L.P. Nampoothiri. ” Evaluation of biological properties and clinical effectiveness of Aloe vera: A systematic review.” J Tradit Complement Med. 5(1). 2015.
- Y. Zhang et al. “Efficacy of Aloe Vera Supplementation on Prediabetes and Early Non-Treated Diabetic Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Nutrients. 8(7): 388. 2016.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine January 2017