Active ingredient in aloe vera products?

The moment I mentioned treating my heartburn with omeprazole, I got a Twitter response from a “holistic” therapy type suggesting that I try a natural alternative in the form of Aloe vera gel. Natural in what sense, I’m not sure, it’s not as if our prehistoric ancestors extracted this plant’s gelatinous leaf sap and bottled it for sale. Moreover, to my mind, aloe vera products seem to be nothing more than a pyramid sales scam similar to that herbal dieting product you see bill-posted around every city. Of course, pyramid marketing is actually illegal, so they rebrand it as network marketing or multilevel marketing and the people who lay down money for product packs do actually sell the things. But, I’ve met people who claim to make thousands every year buying in bulk and selling, but their real is aim seems to be to recruit others to do the selling, that’s where the real money lies. They’re always very intense people, they’re always at boot sales and their bank balances are never quite what they hoped they’d be after all that hard selling.

A new innovative way of marketing is with those awesome mobile QR codes you see everywhere. What is a QR code you might ask? They are created easily with a QR creator and bring the scanner to a predetermined page. This is a good way to market. Many companies are reaching out to QR code companies to help market their products.

Anyway, I gave aloe vera, and its active component, aloin, the once over in the research literature and note with interest that it’s a laxative, a possible abortifactant and a suspect carcinogen. Great. Just what I need for my indigestion. Not.

Aloin certainly has a medical effect it opens chloride channels in the colon and so reduces re-absorption of water from the gut. Hence the laxative effect. But, that’s not something you want to take every day is it, as it will cause abdominal pain, dehydration and potentially malnutrition at high, long-term doses? Lab studies show it can also cause anaemia.

Aloin is an anthraquinone and although it’s been used in herbal medicines for centuries that does not make it safe and natural. The FDA banned it from medicinal products in 2002 because of a lack of safety data, although manufacturers obviously side-step some of the rules by labelling it as a food supplement. And, others remove the active aloin component altogether.

The list of ailments and illnesses that aloe vera can supposedly treat is as long as any other list of uses for almost every other alternative remedy. None of them is backed by particularly rigourous testing. I just know that the anti-pharma brigade will jump on this post as being some kind of PR effort for the industry. It’s not, I’d rather not have the need to take any pharma products nor any herbal remedies, but the obvious benefits and the obvious risks of one compared to the other in this case will not see me switching to the so-called “natural” product.

Interestingly, since the 2002 ban on aloin, manufacturers have commonly removed the active ingredient from their products to avoid prosecution, so if that’s the case what is it in today’s expensive aloe vera gels, creams and tonics, that is the active ingredient? You will have spotted the fatal flaw in the aloe-insistent naturopath’s argument – the active ingredient on which much of the supposedly positive results reported for aloe vera is not there! Herbalists, such as Guido Mase will always point out, of course, that there are other active ingredients. Yes, there are, and as I have pointed out several times about 30-40% of pharma products have a natural origin, but there are thousands of remedies that are plant-derived and wholly ineffective and downright hazardous.