The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: 17 Things About Aloe Vera You Didn’t Know

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.
I love aloe vera. If you don’t have a plant I’d strongly
advise you get one. They’re so easy to keep. … Okay, let’s scratch that. I
did let one die, but only once.
Let’s go with they’re so medically versatile. The gel soothes
any irritated skin, from burns to eczema. Just pluck a good-looking leaf from
the bottom of the plant, filet it lengthwise and voila, you have some of the
best medical balm you can find. To get even more gel, crisscross the insides
with a knife, careful not to cut all the way through.
But you probably knew that. Here are some things you may not
The Good
Putting aloe vera gel on your skin can:
  1. Ease hemorrhoid pain. Just
    dab it on as often as you wish.
  2. Not only soothe wounds and
    burns but actually help heal them. (But see “The Bad” below.)
  3. Possibly fight bacterial
    and fungal skin infections.
  4. Soothe eczema, dry or
    irritated skin, insect bites, and that hard-to-treat poison ivy.
  5. Ease psoriasis, and that’s
    something special. Psoriasis often requires really strong prescription
    medicine. But a 0.5 percent aloe vera cream used over four weeks can cut
    down significantly on the scaling and itching.
You can also eat aloe vera gel and the ground-up leaf. Here
are some of the benefits to doing so (but don’t miss the dangers in “The Bad”
and “The Ugly” below):
  1. A teaspoon of the gel
    after meals can soothe stomach irritation. Of course you need to check
    with a doctor to find what’s causing the irritation, but it may even help
  2. The gel can lower blood
  3. Grinding and taking about
    a teaspoon of the waxy outer part of the leaf mixed into a liquid makes
    for a strong laxative.
The Bad
Although aloe vera gel is great for superficial wounds and
burns, don’t use it on really deep wounds or third degree burns—the ones that
go into the fatty layer or muscle.
For some reason it can delay healing. Honey’s a better choice for those until you can get expert medical help.
You can also be allergic to the gel. It’s pretty rare, but
it can cause an allergic skin reaction just like any other kind of lotion or
And then there are the warnings about eating aloe vera:
  1. Taking it internally has
    led to miscarriages and been associated with birth defects.
  2. It lowers blood sugar.
    Yeah, I know that’s under “The Good” also, but be aware it could bring
    your sugar down go too low if you’re taking diabetes medicine.
  3. Taking the waxy, leafy
    part internally causes cancer in rats. I know, you’re not a rat, but
    studies in humans haven’t been done yet.
  4. It’s a laxative because it
    irritates the intestine. It can cause severe cramping.
  5. Just like with any
    laxative, you build a tolerance if you take it often. In other words,
    after a few days, you need more for it to work. After a few more days, you
    need even more, then more.
  6. Chronic laxative use
    causes you to lose fluids and electrolytes. You can get dehydrated, lower
    your potassium to dangerous levels, or get blood in the urine. High doses
    have led to kidney failure.
The Ugly
Taking one gram or more of the latex extract (found in the leaf’s inner
skin) for several days in a row has caused deaths. Although one gram of
the extract would be many teaspoons of the whole leaf, I’d just stay
away from ingesting any of the whole leaf or latex at all. Personally, I
also wouldn’t grind the outer leaf to use as a laxative.—

Author’s note: The last paragraph has been corrected to clarify that
one gram of the latex extract, not the whole leaf, has caused deaths.

 Dr. Hubbard teaches down-to-earth, improvisational survival medicine
for disasters at his blog . He’s been a family physician
for over 30 years.

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