Following the breakout success of coconut water, many in the beverage industry pegged aloe drinks, which, having parallel roots in Asian and Latin American cultures, to achieve similar growth and mainstream visibility. However, aloe products have barely scratched the surface in reaching those expectations, and now the category now faces a potentially significant stumbling block with news that The Center of Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), an influential consumer advocacy group, is calling for consumers to avoid oral consumption of aloe vera.
In a statement, CSPI cited “carefully conducted studies by the U.S. government [which] found clear-cut evidence that aloe vera extracts caused intestinal cancers in male and female laboratory rats,” as reasoning for its decision to give aloe vera an “avoid” rating in its Chemical Cuisine guide to food additives. CSPI also claimed that “taken orally, aloe vera can cause cramps and diarrhea,” a concern that that has been raised since the introduction of aloe drinks in the U.S. market.
Moreover, CSPI noted that despite a 2002 ruling by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which banned the use of aloe vera in over-the-counter laxatives, the ingredient is still used by food and beverage manufacturers. CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said that these companies’ claims that aloe has “powerful healing properties,” “balances stomach acidity,” detoxifies, or promotes “overall well-being,” are unfounded.
“Save it for sunburns,” Jacobson said in the statement. “Used topically, aloe vera is safe. But the fanciful health claims manufacturers are slapping on various drinks and pills are unfounded, so people simply shouldn’t expose themselves to the risks.”
The International Aloe Science Council (IASC), a trade group representing aloe growers and manufacturers of aloe products, responded to CSPI’s report with a statement of its own, which claimed that products made with “purified (decolorized) aloe vera” and “manufactured according to IASC standards for aloin content are safe.”
IASC cited a recent report from The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which “determined that unpurified whole leaf aloe vera juice is possibly carcinogenic to humans due to its aloin content… [but] that purification by decolorization removes the toxic latex constituents of concern.”
The IASC also noted that “vast majority of aloe vera products for oral consumption are decolorized, or purified.”
”The powerful laxative effect from ingesting unpurified aloe vera products would make it obvious if that’s what people were consuming,” Devon Powell, the executive director of IASC, said in the statement. “IARC clearly understands that decolorized whole leaf aloe vera juice is devoid of the toxic chemicals that have caused so much concern, yet CSPI seems willing to make uninformed and sensational comments that will only serve to confuse and frighten consumers despite the facts.”
IASC also stated that “several manufacturers of aloe vera products for oral consumption published studies on their products to demonstrate their safety” and that “each of these studies concluded that there were no carcinogenic effects in mice or rats.”
“These studies provide significant data demonstrating that aloe vera products manufactured according to IASC standards for aloin content are safe,” Powell said.
Note: This article has been amended to include comments from International Aloe Science Council (IASC).