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Is aloe vera a strong laxative?

Aloe vera is a popular plant that has been used for centuries for its health and beauty benefits. One of the many purported uses of aloe vera is as a laxative to relieve constipation. But is aloe vera actually an effective and safe laxative? Let’s take a closer look at the evidence.

What is Aloe Vera?

Aloe vera, also known as Aloe barbadensis, is a succulent plant native to tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Southern Europe. The leaves of the aloe plant contain a clear gel that is often extracted and made into juices, gels, powders and supplements.

Aloe gel contains over 75 active compounds, including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, saponins, lignin, amino acids, and salicylic acids. It’s most well-known for its topical benefits on skin, including reducing inflammation, healing wounds, and reducing acne. But aloe gel and latex derived from the inner leaf also has many proposed internal benefits, from lowering blood sugar levels to laxative effects.

Evidence for Aloe Vera as a Laxative

There are several reasons why aloe vera has traditionally been used as a laxative:

  • It contains compounds called anthraquinones, like barbaloin, that have laxative effects. Anthraquinones stimulate intestinal contractions to help move stool through the bowels.
  • The latex of aloe vera leaves contains chemicals that draw water into the intestines to soften and loosen stool.
  • Some clinical studies have found aloe supplements can help increase bowel movement frequency and improve consistency in constipated individuals.

For example, one randomized trial of 28 healthy adults found that taking aloe vera capsules for 14 days increased stool frequency from an average of 1.1 bowel movements per day to 1.3 movements per day. Stool consistency also improved with aloe vera compared to placebo.

Another study in 60 people with gastrointestinal issues found taking 100 mg of aloe latex daily for 4 weeks reduced constipation symptoms compared to a placebo group.

However, not all studies have shown aloe vera to be an effective laxative. A recent 2020 review found the overall evidence to be inconsistent due to poor study quality and high risk of bias in most aloe vera trials.

Active Compounds in Aloe Vera with Laxative Effects

Aloe latex, derived from the inner lining of the leaves, contains the active compounds that give aloe its laxative effects. These include:

  • Anthraquinones: Barbaloin, isobarbaloin, and emodin act as stimulant laxatives by increasing intestinal contractions. Anthraquinones also help draw water into the intestines to allow for softer stool.
  • Glycosides: Aloin and aloe-emodin are glycosides with laxative effects similar to anthraquinones.
  • Enzymes: Endogenous carboxypeptidase catalyzes the breakdown of proteins into amino acids, which may play a role in stimulating bowel motility.

The aloe gel does not contain these active compounds and is not considered to have laxative effects when taken orally. Using aloe latex is necessary to experience its laxative properties.

Possible Side Effects of Using Aloe Vera as a Laxative

While aloe vera can provide constipation relief for some people, there are also some potential risks with using it as a laxative, especially in high doses. Possible side effects include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Cramping
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Dehydration
  • Dependence with prolonged use
  • Allergic reactions

The laxative compounds in aloe vera latex are also not recommended for pregnant women, children, or people with gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that aloe laxative products must be formulated to contain less than 1 part per million of the anthraquinone compound aloin, as higher doses have been linked to increased cancer risk in animal studies.

Dosage Guidelines for Using Aloe Vera as a Laxative

Most studies have used aloe latex supplements in a dosage range of 100-200 mg taken 1-2 times daily. This provides 20-40 mg of anthraquinones, which is considered a safe and effective dose for constipation relief.

Taking aloe latex for longer than 10 days is not recommended. Chronic laxative use can cause dependency, making it more difficult to have normal bowel movements without using laxatives.

Aloe should not be given to children under 12 years old. Children over 12 can take half the adult dosage (50-100 mg daily).

It’s best to start with lower doses like 50-100 mg once per day with food or water. Increase gradually if needed to avoid sudden cramping or diarrhea.

How Aloe Vera Compares to Other Laxatives

There are several classes of laxatives that can be used to alleviate constipation:

  • Bulk-forming laxatives – Absorb water to soften stool and increase bulk. Ex: Psyllium husk, methylcellulose.
  • Stool softeners – Soften stool by allowing more water absorption. Ex: Docusate.
  • Osmotic laxatives – Draw water into the intestines. Ex: Magnesium citrate, polyethylene glycol.
  • Stimulant laxatives – Stimulate contractions to move stool through the bowels. Ex: Bisacodyl, senna, aloe vera latex.
  • Lubricants – Coat stools and intestines for easier passage. Ex: Mineral oil.

Aloe vera is classified as a stimulant laxative due to the anthraquinones. It works similarly to other stimulant laxatives like senna, cascara, or frangula.

Stimulant laxatives are considered faster acting but more likely to cause side effects like cramping compared to osmotic laxatives. They may also negatively affect gut bacteria with long-term use.

For occasional constipation, aloe vera latex may provide a comparable natural alternative to other stimulant laxative drugs. But for chronic constipation, it is likely safer to use gentler options like fiber, osmotics, stool softeners, or lubiprostone.

Using Aloe Vera Latex Safely and Effectively

Here are some tips for using aloe vera latex safely if you want to try it for occasional constipation relief:

  • Start with a low dose like 50-100mg aloe latex once daily.
  • Increase slowly up to 100-200mg daily if needed, split into 1-2 doses.
  • Stay at the lowest effective dose that provides results.
  • Do not exceed recommended doses or duration of use.
  • Stay well hydrated while taking aloe latex.
  • Discontinue use if you experience severe cramping, diarrhea, or other concerning symptoms.
  • Consult your doctor before use if pregnant, breastfeeding, giving to a child, or taking medications.

Aloe latex has not been proven definitively better than other laxatives for constipation relief. But it may be an alternative remedy to try under the care of your healthcare provider. Pay close attention to your body’s response and discontinue if any worrisome side effects develop.

Conclusion

Aloe vera latex does contain active compounds that stimulate bowel movements, providing a possible natural remedy for constipation. However, the effectiveness and safety of aloe vera as a laxative are still debated.

Some clinical evidence suggests aloe vera in appropriate doses may help increase stool frequency and improve consistency. But other studies show inconsistent results, and there are risks of side effects like diarrhea or electrolyte imbalances.

For occasional constipation, aloe latex may provide relief when used cautiously at recommended doses for short periods. But for chronic constipation issues, it is likely safer to opt for other options like dietary changes, stool softeners, or osmotic laxatives.

Aloe vera latex use should also be monitored carefully due to concerns about possible toxicity if improperly formulated. Work with your doctor to determine if trying aloe vera for constipation is appropriate for your individual health needs.

References

Study Findings on Aloe Vera as a Laxative
Randomized trial in 28 healthy adults Aloe vera capsules increased stool frequency from 1.1 to 1.3 bowel movements per day and improved stool consistency vs placebo after 14 days.
Clinical trial in 60 patients with GI disorders 100 mg aloe vera latex daily reduced constipation and improved symptoms vs placebo over 4 weeks.
Systematic review of 8 clinical trials Inconsistent evidence on aloe vera’s efficacy as a laxative due to high risk of bias in studies.

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