Is Aloe Vera Actually Good For Leaky Gut?
Most of us know aloe vera for its sunburn-soothing topical applications. But there’s been a ton of interest lately in using aloe vera for leaky gut. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Cheryl Cole and even Posh Spice have been hopping on the aloe bandwagon. And they’re not just using it to defy the aging process. Whether they’re drinking aloe vera juice or taking aloe vera gel extract capsules, A-list celebs and lots of us regular folk are using aloe vera to support their digestion. But does aloe vera work specifically for leaky gut syndrome? Let’s find out!
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Aloe vera has been used medicinally for thousands of years. And it’s even been used since the early 1800s in the United States for one of the most common symptoms of leaky gut … constipation.
So how does aloe vera work to support the digestive system? What are the magical compounds in it that may help you conquer leaky gut symptoms? Are there any health risks of taking it internally? And is there enough research that gives us the confidence to support its use for leaky gut?
These are some of the questions I’ll answer for you starting right now!
1. Aloe vera leaf vs gel - which is best?
Before we jump in, we need to work out what part of the aloe vera plant we should be focusing on - the whole leaf OR the gel inside the leaf?
Well, if you struggle with constipation and you’re thinking about using aloe vera as a laxative, let me give you a warning about this plant.
Aloe vera leaf
Research shows that there’s clear evidence that aloe vera may potentially cause cancer. But wait! First hear me out. Don’t stop reading this article just yet. Maybe hearing what I just said will turn you off from ever trying aloe vera for leaky gut. But let me explain.
You see, the research that showed that aloe can be toxic focused on aloe vera whole leaf extracts. In fact, for this reason in 2002, the US Food And Drug Administration ruled that aloe vera could not be recognized as safe and effective as a non-prescription laxative.
So if you happen to come across an aloe vera product, it’s probably best to avoid one made from whole leaf extract.
So is there a safer part of the aloe vera plant for leaky gut?
Aloe vera gel
Well yes! In fact, if you cut up an aloe vera leaf and squeeze it, you'll see a sticky, slimy substance. And this is aloe vera gel. The gel comes from the innermost layer of the plant. And this gel, you’ll be pleased to hear has not been shown to pose a serious health risk to humans. Unless you count this side effect from applying aloe vera gel to a horrendous sunburn.
Lots of people swear by aloe vera gel for leaky gut so that’s the part of the aloe vera plant we’re going to focus on.
Ok, so let’s now explore how this stuff is believed to support gut health.
2. How might aloe vera gel help leaky gut?
Mucilage -> decrease bloating
So the theory behind aloe vera for leaky gut lies in the gel, which contains mucilage. What on earth is mucliage?
It’s basically the sugar that’s in this gel. And it’s said to have anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce inflammation in the gut.
Later on in this article, we’ll weigh in on whether the research supports this theory. But for now, let’s discuss how the sticky gel is believed to lower inflammation in the digestive tract.
So firstly, this mucilage that I just squeezed out can trap water in the digestive tract. And because of this, people who swear by aloe vera claim that it’s really good for moving things along so it makes it easier to go to the bathroom, and thus relieving bloating.
Bacteria -> tighter gut barrier
Another way aloe vera gel is supposed to reduce inflammation and help leaky gut is by maintaining the friendly bacteria in your gut.
You see, certain species of bacteria are responsible for maintaining the integrity of your gut lining. You can think of these friendly bacteria as little bricklayers who help to keep your gut barrier strong. And if they’re doing their job well, they may be able to prevent your gut barrier from opening up too much.
Stomach acid -> less heartburn
And here’s another way aloe vera worshippers say it works for gut health. It supposedly neutralizes excess stomach acid. That means it may be able to ease symptoms of heartburn.
Enzymes -> better digestion
Now here’s something you might appreciate if you have leaky gut. Aloe vera also contains 8 enzymes.
And in case you don't know...enzymes are like mini food processors that help break down the food you chew into nutrients that provide your cells with energy. Together, the 8 enzymes in aloe vera could potentially help you better digest carbohydrates and fats. And when you digest your food better, there’ll be less likelihood of experiencing leaky gut symptoms.
So what else is in aloe vera gel that makes it so appealing for digestive health?
3. What ingredients in aloe vera gel may help leaky gut?
Well, you just learned that aloe vera contains an impressive number of digestive enzymes. Now here’s something else that aloe vera contains. And I bet you’ve never heard of it. It’s called acemannan.
Ok, so acemannan is the main active ingredient in aloe vera gel. It’s a healthy sugar unique to the inner leaf of the aloe vera plant, where the gel is found. Now, my research team dug up some pretty promising things about acemannan.
For instance, it has anti-inflammatory properties. So maybe what people say about aloe vera being able to fight gut inflammation is somewhat true.
And since research shows that acemannan has potential anti-bacterial properties, people saying that aloe vera is able to prevent harmful bacteria in the gut may also be correct.
And thirdly, acemannan has also been shown to activate the immune system. Which may be important given the majority of your immune system is located just beyond the protective barrier of your gut.
But here’s the thing - you have to take all 3 points I mentioned about acemannan with a grain of salt. And that’s because the research we found on acemannan was conducted on mice, not humans.
But before we get too discouraged, let’s take a look at some other potential benefits of acemannan.
So according to Aloe Medical Group International, acemannan may prevent the overgrowth of harmful Candida yeast. Now, let’s be honest, they are an industry group charged with promoting aloe vera usage. So is there any research to backup their claim?
Well, the good news is that my research team and I found one study to support this. But once again, before you get excited and start drinking aloe vera juice by the gallon, the thing we discovered about this study is that it was done in a test tube, not on humans. That said, the research is still very promising.
And just before we move on, the last potential benefit I want to share with your about acemannan is to do with the sugar inside it, which is totally unique to aloe vera gel…no other plant has it. And the cool thing about it, is this sugar in acemannan has prebiotic fiber.
And so in case you don’t know, prebiotic fiber is one of the best things for gut health. And that’s because it acts as food for your friendly gut bacteria. You can think of prebiotics as fertilizer for healthy soil. And when your good gut bacteria get fed prebiotic fiber, they grow healthier and stronger. But perhaps best of all, they make something called butyrate.
Now, not to get too sciency here but here’s why butyrate is so important. Remember how I said a majority of your immune system lies within your intestinal tract? Well, it turns out that butyrate boosts the immune system. And not only that, butyrate may directly prevent leaky gut by enhancing intestinal barrier function. Pretty cool, right!
So apart from acemannan, aloe vera has lots of other compounds and nutrients. But I don’t want to turn this into a high school science class. So to speed things along I’m just going to mention a couple more of them.
First there’s salicylic acid. And funny enough, this is the active ingredient in aspirin. So aloe vera may help to reduce discomfort in the abdominal area.
Aloe vera also contains the mineral zinc, which is really interesting when it comes to leaky gut. And that’s because research shows zinc may help improve gut barrier function. And because of this action, it may have therapeutic effects for gastrointestinal issues. And the thing about zinc is that many people don’t get enough of this mineral.
4. What does the research say about aloe vera?
So far we’ve highlighted some impressive potential benefits of aloe vera. But is there enough evidence to show it also works for issues related to leaky gut, like irritable bowel syndrome or even reflux?
Well, my research team and I dove into the studies and here’s what we found.
- First, we looked at a review of aloe research published by the National Institutes of Health.
- For irritable bowel syndrome, there were three trials with a total of 236 adult participants with IBS. The participants were given oral doses of aloe vera for IBS symptoms. The results from one study showed a benefit. But the other two trials showed no benefit of aloe vera over placebo.
- We also came across a pilot study - this is basically a test run for a larger study. So anyway this pilot study showed that aloe was safe and effective for gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. That’s really promising news given many people with leaky gut also report having symptoms of GERD like heartburn and acid reflux.
- We also came across another study, which showed promise for people with stomach ulcers. But there was a catch. The treatment combined aloe and a compound that’s found in many fruits and vegetables. So we couldn’t tell if it was the aloe or the other compound … or both … that delivered the benefit.
- But the most promising research we found directly for leaky gut was this study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. The study was done on mice. So again, we have to be cautious about drawing conclusions. But the good thing is that the study showed that when the mice were given aloe vera gel, it tightened the junctions in their intestinal barriers. What this means is that aloe vera gel closed up the spaces in between the cells that line the intestinal barrier. This is very promising because if there’s too much space in between the cells, then undigested food particles and pathogens can leak through and trigger inflammation. So let’s cross our fingers and hope that there are more studies like this in the future.
5. How to take aloe vera for leaky gut
Before we go over how to use aloe vera for digestive health, I want to share with you something important you should look out for when choosing an aloe vera product.
First, you gotta make sure it’s purified. And exactly what the purification process does is remove compounds in the yellowish juice that surrounds the gel. This is the compound I warned you about in the very beginning of this article.
But to remind you, the FDA says that this compound - it’s called anthraquinones or aloin by the way - is responsible for the laxative effect of whole leaf aloe. Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that whole leaf aloe vera products are illegal. In fact, there’s lots of whole leaf aloe vera products sold. But many reputable brands will have all but a teeny tiny amount of those anthraquinones removed. This makes the aloe vera juice more gentle and reduces the possibility of diarrhea.
So as far as how to take, and how much aloe to take, let’s review that now.
As far as whether to take aloe vera juice versus aloe vera gel or aloe vera extracts … well, that choice is up to you. It’s important to note that some aloe products might be advertised as the inner leaf or filet. Both these terms just mean that it has the gel.
Alright, so if you’re going with aloe vera juice, you can drink it straight or add it to juice or a smoothie. But I would personally start with a small dose of it. Like half an ounce, once or twice a day. From there, you can slowly build up to a half cup of aloe vera juice per day if you don’t experience any negative side effects.
And if you want to try it for constipation, one might use 100 to 200 milligrams of aloe juice or 50 milligrams of aloe extract every day. Now 200 milligrams is actually a very small amount. That’s not even close to being a full fluid ounce. Just keep in mind that aloe vera juice can have a cleansing effect. And that’s why you want to start with a small dose. Chugging aloe vera juice like it’s beer could result in an embarrassing sprint to the bathroom. And if you struggle with constipation, my hope is that aloe vera will help you become more regular. Theoretically, it just might because the gel attracts water from your intestines. And this helps things move along.
6. Our conclusion
So what do we think about aloe vera for leaky gut? Well, the truth is that research findings are a mixed bag. And I think the reason why is because there are hundreds of species of aloe plants.
Another problem is that some studies just use the gel while others use whole leaf extract. So it’s really hard to have consistent research with so many variables.
Plus, there’s also the fact that not all aloe vera products are created equal. Some are purified better than others.
So all in all, we can’t discount anecdotal evidence. For many people over the course of over the last 5,000 years, aloe vera has helped not just improve digestive health, but many other health concerns.
An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.
- Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
- Randomized controlled trials
- Controlled trials without randomization
- Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
- A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
- A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
- Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
- Animal research
- In vitro research
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