Aloe vera is a tropical, succulent plant that has been used medicinally since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Aloe vera is native to Africa. However, it is now grown in warm regions throughout the world, including the southern United States. Aloe latex is a component of the aloe vera plant used in folk medicine as a powerful laxative.
Aloe Vera Components
The aloe vera plant has two main components: latex and gel. Aloe vera latex (also called "aloe juice") is found just beneath the plant's outer green skin. It is yellow in color and has a bitter taste. Aloe latex is sold as a dietary supplement in juice form or as dried granules. Aloe vera gel is the clear, gel-like material obtained from the inner portion of the leaves (leaf pulp). Sometimes manufacturers of aloe products do not clearly define the ingredients. Therefore, some aloe gel products may contain aloe latex, and vice versa.
Aloe latex is used in folk medicine as a potent stimulant laxative. At one time, this use was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ("USFDA"). In 2002, the USFDA revoked its approval of aloe laxatives, indicating they are unsafe or misbranded. Aloe supplements which may contain aloe latex have been used haphazardly to treat a myriad of major illnesses such as cancer and AIDS. Because deaths, kidney and liver failure have been associated with these uses, aloe supplements should not be taken internally.
The active ingredients in aloe latex responsible for its laxative effects are aloin, aloe-emodin and barbaloin (anthraquinone glycosides). Other ingredients vary according to the manufacturer, but may include sugars, fatty acids, glycoproteins, enzymes, salicyclic and cinnamic acid, urea nitrogen, phenol, prostanoids, magnesium lactate, sulfur, and fiber.
How Aloe Latex Works
When taken internally, the anthraquinone glycosides in aloe latex reach the colon virtually undigested, causing softer, more frequent stools. Aloe latex appears to increase colonic peristalsis and water content in the intestines while reducing liquid absorption in the colon.
There are several side effects associated with the use of aloe latex as a laxative, including abdominal cramping and pain, diarrhea and electrolyte imbalances. Long term use may cause chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fluid loss, low potassium, thyroid dysfunction, abnormal heart rhythms, perioperative bleeding, hepatitis, liver and kidney failure, or death.
Aloe latex may interact with several drugs including blood sugar regulating drugs, blood thinners (warfarin, Heparin), Glyburide, diuretics, digoxin (Lanoxin), blood pressure medications and Sevoflurane. Aloe latex taken simultaneously with any other pill may inhibit the body's absorption of the pill because aloe latex travels through the intestines so rapidly.
Aloe latex should not be used by people with Crohn's disease, hemorrhoids, appendicitis, or ulcerative colitis, as its laxative ability can aggravate these conditions. Women should not take aloe latex during menstruation as it may increase bleeding. Patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney, thyroid, liver, or heart disease should not take aloe latex because it can cause electrolyte imbalances in the blood. Pregnant or lactating women should not use aloe latex as it may cause uterine contractions, and it is unknown whether aloe latex is excreted in breast milk. Children should not be given aloe latex.