If Aloe vera were a pop group, it would undoubtedly be The
Beatles. It is probably the single most popular - and possibly the best
known - alternative remedy around. Mirroring this is the fact that
there are over 189,000 sites on the Web dedicated to this supposedly
‘wonder plant’, and at least a hundred aloe products available in shops
in the UK alone.
Many people testify to its curative, almost
miraculous, qualities, although some go too far, as did a Baltimore
businessman jailed for four years last December for selling Aloe vera
as an intravenous cure for cancer.
Aloe vera - a succulent
plant belonging to the lily family chiefly from southern Africa - has
been hailed as a miraculous healing agent for thousands of years.
Legend has it that Aristotle urged his pupil Alexander the Great to
invade the island of Socrota to collect its aloe plants so that the
wounds of his soldiers could be treated. Cleopatra and Nefertiti are
said to have included aloe in their skincare regimes. Throughout the
18th and 19th centuries in Britain, aloe was by far the most popular
remedy for a wide range of ailments.
Nevertheless, despite its
widespread use for thousands of years, the chemistry of Aloe vera is
still not truly understood. We know that it contains over 10,000
proteins and that hundreds of other substances have been identified,
many of them useful in the healing of body tissue.
Given all of
its apparently noteworthy properties, possibly the most remarkable
thing of all is that Aloe vera is 99 per cent water. It grows in
tropical areas, and its leaves have to retain water for long periods of
time. This means that its active ingredients are present in very minute
proportions, thus suggesting that they work synergistically.
main ingredients found in the remaining one per cent of solid matter -
as found in Aloe barbadensis miller and Aloe arborescens, the two most
popular species used for medicinal purposes - range from minerals,
vitamins, amino acids, proteins and essential fatty acids (EFAs) to
anti-inflammatory agents, antiseptics, analgesics and antiparasitics.
vera also contains polysaccharides, long-chain sugar molecules believed
to have a wide range of medicinal benefits. At low levels of between 50
and 600 molecules, polysaccharides are supposed to reduce inflammation,
and so could prove helpful in disorders such as ulcerative colitis,
arthritis and gastric reflux. At moderate levels of up to 1500
molecules, they are supposedly able to work as intracellular
antioxidants, and so may be useful for people with heart disease or
Parkinson’s. At very high levels - up to 9000 molecules - the theory
goes that polysaccharides can have a healing effect on immune disorders
such as cancer and AIDS.
One manufacturer, Carrington
Laboratories in Texas, is so convinced of aloe’s efficacy as an immune
builder that it has spent millions of dollars developing a product
called Acemannan, a generic version of the aloe polysaccharide.
It should be stressed that none of these benefits has been proved absolutely in any scientific medical trials.
aloe plant yields both aloe gel and aloe juice. These products are
different from each other and have different uses, even though the
terms are often misused or interchanged in advertisements for aloe
The clear gel, or mucilage, comes from the inner
part of the aloe leaf. Aloe gel is famous for its wound-healing
properties and as a remedy for minor burns, abrasions and other skin
irritations, such as eczema. Its ability to heal skin lesions has been
observed in many studies, and it’s probably safe to say that, despite a
few studies to the contrary, its healing powers on the skin are
One study showed that burns wounds treated with
aloe healed significantly faster than those treated with Vaseline (J
Med Assoc Thailand, 1995; 78: 403-9). Another study showed that 0.5 per
cent aloe extract cured 83 per cent of a group of psoriasis patients in
16 weeks compared with 6.6 per cent with a placebo gel (Trop Med Intern
Hlth, 1996; 1: 505-9).
What is disputable, and certainly
controversial, is the use of aloe internally. Aloe juice, or latex,
comes from just beneath the ‘skin’ of the leaves. It contains the
powerful laxative aloin, an anthraquinone glucoside also found in
senna, rhubarb and cascara sagrada. Aloin is present in the sap and
rind of the aloe plant, and so it is vital that the manufacturer strips
the plant carefully, or you might get more than you bargained for.
why drink aloe juice? Its advocates claim that it can help improve the
cardiovascular system and lower cholesterol, that it can improve
gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome
(IBS), and that it can ease bone and joint problems such as arthritis.
Aloe’s fans point to a range of studies suggesting that aloe juice can
help all or some of these problems, but any objective observers would
have to declare that the jury is still out.
To be fair,
double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are extremely expensive to
mount, and few organisations in the complementary camp have the type of
budgets that pharmaceutical companies have to launch such research.
having said that, one major aloe manufacturer, Forever Living Products,
is starting a double-blind placebo-controlled trial of aloe in the
treatment of IBS with the Morriston Hospital in Swansea. The Prince
Charles Foundation for Integrated Medicine is part-funding the study,
which involves 200 patients, to the tune of £86,000.
Many of the
benefits of aloe tend to be anecdotal so, if you know people who’ve
improved by drinking aloe juice, you might still want to try it for
yourself. In this case, you are then faced with another problem -
finding the product that is going to deliver what it says on the label.
Aloe juice seems to be open to more abuse from manufacturers
than most other natural remedies, possibly because of its popularity
and because it’s so easy to cheat. However, trading standards
authorities are now taking a keen interest, and we hear that
legislation is on the way to provide better safeguards for the consumer.
early trick was watering down the ingredients. One test in the
mid-1980s found that, of the 200 aloe juices tested, only three
contained enough aloe to be of any medicinal value. It’s been reckoned
that, as recently as 1993, fewer than one per cent of brands contained
acceptable levels of aloe (Ritter L, Aloe Vera: A Mission Discovered,
ISBN 0 9638 6090 9). One brand from the US, which claims to be a
distillate of aloe, contains no aloe whatsoever. As most aloe products
on the market come from the States or Mexico, UK consumers can take
little comfort in being on this side of the Atlantic.
water dilution is easily detected and many of the manufacturers who
suddenly emerged just to cheat the consumer have almost as quickly
disappeared. Cleverer methods of distillation have included the use of
maltodextrin, a cheap carbohydrate obtained from cornstarch, and others
have used glucose and glycerine.
Aware of these abuses, the
International Aloe Science Council (IASC) set itself up to test the
purity of the aloe contained in products. This can range from close to
100 per cent down to just 15 per cent of contents, depending on the
mix. Many manufacturers add fruit juices to the aloe to make it more
palatable (aloe being one of Nature’s more revolting tastes).
this could be confusing for the consumer who doesn’t have at least a
basic grounding in Logic. While a bottle may contain 100-per-cent pure
aloe (as the label often says it does), the actual amount of aloe could
be as low as five per cent - even though it may be 100-per-cent pure!
IASC test has also been open to abuse, and some manufacturers have won
themselves an IASC seal by producing a cocktail of chemicals that was
able to pass muster as real aloe. (Our lawyers would no doubt like us
to add that we’re not aware of any current holders of an IASC seal who
have doctored their products!)
Aloe juice comes in one of three
ways: as a pure, undiluted drink or supplement; as part of a mixture
that may also include a fruit juice or herbs and other supplements; and
as a capsule containing the gel.
In assessing these products
for our road test, we’ve looked for a number of features that should
add up to a package that delivers a reasonable level of aloe. This
includes cold-processing (or heat-processed at a low temperature), a
polysaccharide content of 1500-3000 mg/L, aloin of at most 50 ppm, a
minimum use of preservatives and an IASC certificate. (For a more
complete overview of what to look for in these products, see box on p
Aloe Vera Gel
Manufacturer: Forever Living Products
Price: £18 for 1000 mL
Forever Living product was the first to ever win an IASC seal, and is
the first to be used in a double-blind placebo-controlled trial as a
treatment for IBS. It is arguably the best-selling aloe product in the
world, a position built up over 24 years.
content falls within the IASC range, but varies from 1500 to 3000 mg/L,
depending on when the plant was harvested. Aloe gel makes up 97-98 per
cent of the content; the rest includes 62 ppm of aloin, and the
preservatives potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate.
of its competitors that use the whole aloe leaf, Forever Living uses
just the inner leaf. The company says there is no evidence to suggest
that the whole leaf is any more potent - a moot point within the
Forever Living offers a full, 90-day, money-back
guarantee, which is one reason, it says, that the product is not
available in shops. Instead, it is sold either by mail order or through
its large network-marketing distribution chain (call 0870 755 5805 for
Morley’s Aloe Vera
Manufacturer: Natural Living Products
Price: £16.50 for 1000 mL
Aloe Vera delivers more polysaccharides than the guidelines suggest,
and just 4.4 ppm of aloin. It is made from the whole leaf of the plant,
and uses cold-processing techniques. The plants used to make this
product are grown organically in Mexico.
99.8-per-cent stabilised Aloe vera, and contains 0.1 per cent of sodium
benzoate and 0.1 per cent of potassium sorbate as preservatives.
tests we have seen, Morley’s appears to offer more polysaccharide than
any of its competitors - but are the levels so high that they are
affecting the overall synergistic qualities of the juice?
Living is a UK company, and the product is available only in the UK.
Unfortunately, it cannot be bought in shops, but has to be ordered by
telephone (020 8668 9728 or 01795 420 447), or by contacting one of
their ‘representatives’, aka network marketeers. The website is
www.natural-living.co.uk. For security reasons, credit card orders are
not taken via the site.
Whole Leaf Aloe Vera Juice
Manufacturer: Forever Young
Price: £14.95 for 1000 mL
product contains polysaccharides to a level that is nearly twice that
recommended by the IASC, although it’s not quite as potent as Morley’s.
As the name suggests, it uses the whole leaf of plants that are
organically grown; it is also cold-processed. It claims to contain no
aloin, and comes with the IASC seal of approval.
The juice is
made up of 99.8-per-cent Aloe vera juice; the preservatives are 0.1-
per-cent sodium benzoate, and 0.1-per-cent potassium sorbate.
bottle should last you around 30 days, and it’s available from good
healthfood stores. It wins an extra star for a price that represents
Aloe Vera Juice
Manufacturer: Aloe Pura
Price: £10.49 for 500 mL
is a pure Aloe vera juice product with the IASC seal. The 100-per-cent
mark appears all over the bottle - it’s 100-per- cent fresh, the juice
is 100-per-cent pure, and the bottle contains 100-per-cent aloe juice.
if it really is 100-per-cent aloe juice, there’s no way it can be
100-per-cent fresh. As a natural plant, it would go off within days
without preservatives. The truth is that it has to contain
preservatives, so one of the 100-per-cent claims should be taken off.
this seems to be a good product. It’s been cold-processed, and the
aloin has been removed. The bottle represents a 10-day supply and the
price may suit some pockets better.
Aloe Vera Colon Cleanse
Manufacturer: Aloe Pura
Price: £7.99 for 500 mL
Pura claims to be the first European aloe company to be awarded the
IASC seal. Its formulation includes herbs such as milk thistle,
dandelion and liquorice as well as aloe.
As a colonic cleanser,
we were a little surprised not to find any aloin. Like most of these
products, it uses the whole leaf in “a unique formulation” using both
the gel and pulp. Preservatives are potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate
and citric acid.
It is taken from a 'naturally grown aloe
plant' - although we cannot imagine what an unnatural one would be -
and offers a 10-day supply.
Price: £14.95 for 950 mL
is another blended product, including 120 mg of milk thistle seed,
burdock root, dandelion root, green tea leaf, red clover tops and
Echinacea angustifolia root.
Around 10 per cent of its content
is polysaccharides, with 29.6 mL of aloe gel and 600 mg of Aloe vera
pulp. The plants from which the gel is made are organically grown. The
manufacturer says the product is free of aloin.
One worry: the
manufacturer prides itself on its concentrated formula that provides 32
servings - but has that adulterated the natural aloe’s properties?
further note on the subject. If you find the taste of pure aloe simply
too unpalatable, and you feel that, by adding fruit juice you’re
adulterating the aloe, you could try some of the aloe capsules that are
starting to appear in shops.
First into the marketplace is
BioCare, with its high-potency Aloe Vera Capsules. These contain 500 mg
of Aloe vera while the non-active ingredients include silica and
vegetable oil. A pack of 60 capsules costs £6.95.
offers a pack of 60 capsules for £5.95 which delivers 50 mg of aloe per
capsule. This is equivalent to 10,000 mg of aloe juice.
Finally, Holland & Barrett offer 100 aloe capsules for £6.99, but with the lowest potency, delivering just 25 mg of aloe.