The gel found in an aloe vera plant has many health benefits and is generally considered safe for topical use. Another product from aloe vera, latex that is taken orally, has also been used medicinally but may cause serious health problems. Side effects of aloe vera from the chemical found in the latex are believed to include cancer and kidney disease, and these side effects can cause death. The side effects of aloe vera increase with higher doses. Other side effects include diarrhea and cramps.
Health officials are concerned about the side effects of aloe vera in latex, a yellow substance found under its smooth outer skin, especially when it is used as an ingredient in laxatives. A person’s tolerance to the substance builds up over time, and eventually more is needed to achieve the same result. Increasing the amount of latex in a person’s system leads to a higher risk of experiencing the possibly dangerous side effects of aloe vera. Sometimes latex also is ingested to treat conditions besides constipation, including asthma, colitis, diabetes, bursitis, glaucoma, osteoarthritis, epilepsy, colds, depression, varicose veins, hemorrhoids and multiple sclerosis.
The clear gel, which is not related to any of the dangerous side effects of aloe vera, can be obtained by cutting open an aloe vera leaf, and has many skin-soothing properties. The gel can be applied to the skin to soothe a burn, cold sores, frostbite, sunburn and psoriasis. The gel also is sometimes applied to bedsores and surgical sites to speed healing, although scientific evidence has not completely proven the gel works as believed to speed healing. The gel also is sometimes given orally in treatments for ulcerative colitis, itching, osteoarthritis, asthma, diabetes and fever.
Aloe vera has numerous other names, including lily of the desert, burn plant, elephant’s gall, Aloe barbadensis, Aloe ferox, Aloe spicata and Aloe perryi. The plant was so valued in ancient Egypt, it was buried with pharaohs to accompany them to the afterlife. It was associated with immortality.