Aloe vera is one of the world’s most popular natural health additives. It can be found in moisturiser, hand sanitiser, and no end of health-promising dietary supplements – but did you know it can cause jaundice and liver failure?
The aloe plant has been cultivated and used for medical purposes for at least 2000 years, with both the ancient Greeks and Egyptians using the plant to heal common ailments, calling it “the plant of immortality.” Despite this long history, the modern scientific evidence on the benefits of the plant is mixed, with many of its purported benefits hard to prove.
The medicinal succulent plant stores water in a gel in its thick latex-coated leaves, which are packed with nutrients thought to aid skin conditions and digestive problems. Both the aloe leaves and gel are used in skincare medicines and dietary supplements around the world, but they can quite easily disrupt your liver function and cause you to develop jaundice.
According to a review of scientific studies looking at the benefits of aloe vera gel, its main use is as a topical skin cream as the nutrients in the gel have been shown to improve burns and other injury recovery times – in conjunction with modern medicines.
In the correct amounts, aloe drinks and skin treatments can deliver anti-inflammatory and antioxidising nutrients to our skin and body. However, if applied too much, or too frequently, after a period of time it can disrupt your liver function and cause your skin to turn yellow as you develop jaundice.
A study on aloe-induced hepatotoxicity, or liver failure, found that people who used these supplements regularly for more than three weeks could see yellowing of their digestive system and hepatitis-like symptoms. The most frequent aloe preparation to cause this are herbal supplements that claim to aid digestion, or weight loss, as they are typically made using higher levels of the latex-laden leaves while also being taken for longer with little or no medical advice.
Though a yellowing of the skin could be worrying, especially for any health fanatics taking aloe supplements, there have been no fatal cases of aloe vera related liver injury. So far, all reported hepatotoxicity cases from aloe have cleared up after the patient ceased taking the aloe supplement.
The paper on liver injury said: “While some reported cases have been severe or prolonged, there have been no instances leading to fatalities, liver transplantation, chronic hepatitis, or vanishing bile duct syndrome.”
So, while you might want to think twice before loading up on the supposed miracle plant, you might not have to throw out all of your burn creams and moisturisers.