Aloe vera ruled a ‘possible carcinogen – expert’s advice on risk

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Just this month the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that a common ingredient found in many diet drinks could be a “possible” carcinogen – meaning it could cause cancer.

The health body’s cancer research arm ruled that aspartame, used as a sweetener, could be dangerous to humans. But this is not the only popular product listed as such.

Whole leaf extract from the aloe vera plant is also listed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and WHO as class 2B – the same category as aspartame.

Cancer Research UK says: “The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified aloe vera whole leaf extract as class 2B.

“That means it is a possible cancer-causing substance (carcinogenic) for humans.”

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Aloe vera is found in a number of different products, including moisturisers, gels and drinks. So how safe is it to use these?

Phillippa Quigley, a health and wellness coach who studied at the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM) and the lead writer for Soma Analytics, spoke exclusively to to explain more.

“Aloe vera, this thorny plant, has been our health companion for centuries,” she said.

“Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans – you name it, they all loved it for its healing properties.

“Interestingly, it’s not just a darling of the past but a superstar in modern times, too, showing promise in digestive health, immune health, and metabolic syndrome.

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“You’ll find it slathered in our lotions, swirled in our drinks, even wrapped around our sushi.

“But should we rethink our relationship with aloe, given its recent labelling as a ‘possible’ carcinogen by the World Health Organisation (WHO)?

“The WHO’s classification refers to aloe vera whole leaf extract, not all forms of aloe vera.

“In my line of work, I’ve seen numerous instances where a wholesome, natural product gets tangled in controversy due to a lack of understanding.

“So, the question is: are we tossing away the baby with the bathwater?”

The science behind it

Whole leaf extract is everything the aloe leaf contains, which means it also includes aloin, a compound that’s been linked to some health concerns, said Ms Quigley.

She continued: “Some studies indicate aloin may be problematic if ingested in large amounts, which has sparked concerns about carcinogenicity.

“But—and this is crucial—most commercially available aloe vera products have aloin removed.

“In fact, the International Aloe Science Council (IASC) ensures that certified aloe vera products keep their aloin levels below a specific threshold. It’s about quality and safety, after all.

“And, as you might expect, product labels are your best friends here – always check whether you’re buying something made from the whole leaf or just the inner leaf gel.

“That being said, aloe vera’s track record has been pretty clean. There’ve been barely any safety issues reported with its use – topical or ingestion.”

Is aloe vera safe to use?

From Ms Quigley’s experience, yes, as long as you’re mindful about what you’re using and how much of it.

She added: “As a health coach, I’ve suggested aloe vera to many clients and seen impressive results, particularly in enhancing gut health and improving skin conditions.

“However, I also stress the golden rule: moderation is key.

“That leaves us with the question of quantity and frequency. There isn’t a hard and fast rule here.

“What we can do is observe our body’s reactions and adjust accordingly. Some might find that a small amount of aloe juice daily works wonders for their gut, while others might prefer applying aloe gel on the skin a few times a week.

“As always, it’s about listening to our bodies.”

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