Earlier this year, the World Health Organization added aspartame, a sugar substitute, to a list of over 300 substances that “possibly” cause cancer.
Also on the list of “‘possible’ carcinogens” added over the summer, was aloe vera, a plant extract that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine, dating back to the Greeks and Romans, the U.K. Daily Mail reported.
Currently, aloe vera is added to many everyday products, such as skin-care products, supplements, sunburn-relief gels, moisturizers, shampoos, soaps, deodorants and even mouthwashes and toothpaste.
While scientist are now warning of the possible harmful effects of aloe, toxicology experts don’t believe the product is harmful in skincare or other products that aren’t consumed.
Compounds in aloe vera known as anthraquinones are the issue — they have a laxative effect and can irritate the digestive tract, according to the Daily Mail.
“There is some evidence that a specific component of aloe — the yellow liquid sap found inside the leaves, between the outer ‘rind’ and inner pulp, known as aloe vera latex — could cause problems if eaten,” the Daily Mail reported, noting “the European Food Safety Authority issued a warning, advising against ‘long-term use and consumption [of anthraquinone-containing supplements] at high doses, due to potential safety concerns.'”
The warning stems from research that began a decade ago. In 2013 researchers studied the toxic effects of aloe vera on rats, finding that some rats that were fed higher concentrations of the “aloe vera whole-leaf extract” developed a rare intestinal tumor. None of the rats that were fed lower concentrations of aloe vera liquid developed the tumors.
In 2019, European Food Safety Authority suggested a ban on certain aloe vera extracts known to contain the most harmful anthraquinones. The WHO added it to its list of substances that could “possibly” cause cancer around that time, the Daily Mail reported.
Among the possible side effects in those who have consumed large amounts of the substance were diarrhea and cramps. Their use could also interfere with medications such as blood thinners.
Some individuals have also reported heavy bleeding during surgery, and others patients developed kidney and liver problems.
Group 1 is made up of substances known to be carcinogenic to humans while Group 2A is made up of substances that are “probably” carcinogenic. These groups include “smoking, processed meats, asbestos, red meats and acrylamide – a compound produced when foods are ‘browned’ at high temperature.”
Any substance that has some evidence for causing cancer, but not strong evidence, is labeled a “possible” risk and categorized into group 2B. Aloe vera latex is classified in 2B, as the evidence was taken from only animal studies.
That list includes lead compounds as well as exhaust from gasoline and diesel engines.
Although aloe vera has been on this list for a few years, this was not widely known until the inclusion of aspartame in July. At that time many attempted to calm public fears of the aspartame classification by showing other substances on the published list.
“Aloe vera is carcinogenic?” one then-Twitter user commented.
“Surprised to see aloe vera on the same list as lead, welding fumes and engine exhaust,” another comment said.
“Does that mean I can’t use it for sunburn?” a third used asked. (According to the study, it is safe for external use, so there is no cause for concern there.)
Alan Boobis, emeritus professor of toxicology at Imperial College London, said, “There is no evidence of a harmful effect in humans — but the studies we do have means the risk cannot be ruled out, and that’s why it’s on the ‘possible’ list.”
“It’s a myth that ‘natural’ is always safer or better for you. Some of the most toxic substances come from natural sources. Having said that, my main concern about health food products isn’t safety, it’s for many of them there is little convincing evidence for the positive effects claimed.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.