Aloe vera is one of those popular plants with several uses. Though originated in Africa, this plant is now grown in various parts of the world. It is used for medicinal as well as cosmetic purposes. Apart from the gel, the latex of the plant is also found to have medicinal applications and is used in various aloe products. In some products, both the gel and the latex are found, as the leaves of this herb are crushed in whole. Even though, aloe vera is widely used for its medicinal values and is considered safe, the herb may cause certain adverse effects in some users. While allergic people are prone to develop side effects, such reactions may sometimes occur in normal people too. Use of adulterated aloe vera products may also cause such problems. Excessively high doses and prolonged use are among the most common causes of aloe vera side effects.
Oral Use of Aloe Vera
As mentioned above, aloe vera is either applied topically or is taken internally. The possibility of adverse effects are higher in case of oral intake, as compared to topical application.
- Allergic reactions are among the common side effects of using aloe vera. This applies to both topical as well as internal use. While some people develop minor allergic reactions like itching and skin rash, others may experience severe symptoms like facial swelling, breathing trouble, and tightness in chest. In case of severe allergic reactions, seek medical attention immediately and discontinue use of aloe vera.
- Oral intake of aloe vera as a laxative may cause abdominal cramps and diarrhea. In such cases, prolonged use may result in dependency, and after discontinuation of its use, severe constipation may occur. People with hemorrhoids should not use aloe vera, which can worsen the symptoms.
- The laxative effects of aloe vera can result in electrolyte imbalances in blood. It can lower potassium levels in the blood and may result in irregular heartbeats, weakness, and soft muscles. This side effect of using aloe vera is prominently seen in people with diabetes, heart diseases, or kidney diseases. Hence, it is said that such people should avoid usage of aloe vera or its products.
- Studies conducted in rats proved that aloe extract made from whole aloe leaves can be carcinogenic. This is mainly because of the presence of aloin, which is found in aloe latex. Some species of aloe vera has higher levels of aloin. Though there is no proof of any such action of aloe vera in humans, its possibility cannot be ruled out. So aloe products without aloin are said to be safer. It is also suggested that taking aloe vera for longer durations may increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
- Oral intake of aloe vera may also lower blood sugar levels. Those who are undergoing treatment for diabetes or hypoglycemia should take expert advice before using aloe vera. According to some reports, prolonged use of aloe vera may lead to hepatitis. People with thyroid disorders should also avoid intake of aloe vera.
- Frequent intake of aloe vera may cause dehydration and reddish urine. Aloe vera overdose can cause blood build-up in the pelvis, kidney damage, and even death in some cases. It is also important to note that aloe vera injections must be strictly avoided, as it may cause serious adverse effects.
Topical Use of Aloe Vera and Side Effects
Usually, topical use of aloe vera is found to be free of side effects. But in some people, it may cause stinging sensations, mild itching or hypersensitivity reactions. As in case of internal use of aloe vera, topical application may also cause allergic reactions. Those who are allergic to plants like garlic, onions and tulips (those belonging to Liliaceae family) may develop allergic reactions after using aloe vera. If you are allergic to cacti plants, there are increased chances of having aloe vera allergy. While some people are allergic to aloe vera right from the time of their birth, it has also been observed that those who use aloe vera regularly, may develop allergic reactions all of a sudden. This could be due to the presence of some toxin or other substance (in the body), that reacts with aloe vera to cause such symptoms. So try to find out the substances that cause such reactions. They may include anything you are using while taking aloe vera. In such cases, you may either discontinue using aloe vera or avoid using substances that cause such reactions. Before doing so, consult your physician and herbal practitioner. It is said that using aloe on severe burns and wounds may delay the healing process. The same happens to surgical wounds too. Avoid application of aloe products on the face after dermabrasion, as it can cause redness and burning. Don't apply aloe products before exposing your skin to the sun. This may result in rashes on the applied areas.
Aloe Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Oral intake of aloe vera during pregnancy and breastfeeding is not advisable. It can cause cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and uterine contractions which may lead to spontaneous abortion. Nursing mothers should also avoid oral use of aloe products as it may cause health problems in the newborn. Even dried juice of aloe leaves are not recommended. Although topical application of aloe vera gel is said to be devoid of complications, always consult your doctor before using it. Kids are also not supposed to use aloe vera.
When taken orally, aloe vera may interact with certain prescription drugs. They include diabetes drugs, which are used to lower blood sugar. Aloe is also said to have blood sugar lowering properties. So diabetics who take aloe vera may either lower the dose of prescription drugs or monitor their blood sugar levels carefully. Diuretics may lower the potassium levels in the blood. Aloe vera with its laxative effects, may also have the same effect. So taking both simultaneously, is not advisable. Sevoflurane, warfarin and digoxin are some of the drugs that may cause negative effects, if taken with aloe vera. It is also possible that absorption of medicines in the body may get hampered with intake of aloe vera, which has laxative effects.
There is no conclusive evidence to prove the benefits as well as side effects of using aloe vera. The above mentioned ones are based on certain studies and medical case reports only. So it is very much necessary to take aloe vera internally, only after consulting your physician. Such herbal treatment must be taken, according to the instructions of a qualified herbal practitioner, but beware of adulterated products. It will be better to avoid very high doses and prolonged use of aloe vera, so as to avoid the possible side effects. Though it is rare, if you experience any aloe vera side effects, discontinue its use. In case of severe reactions, immediate medical attention must be sought.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert advice.