Ulcerative colitis (UC) is usually treated with medication to reduce inflammation in your large intestine. Recent studies suggest that aloe vera may also be a useful treatment, though more research is needed.

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Aloe vera is a succulent plant that’s grown as a crop in warm climates and as a houseplant worldwide. People have been using the gel from inside the leaves for generations to soothe skin conditions. Some people take the gel orally as well and report that it helps with conditions such as Crohn’s disease and UC.

Here’s what you need to know about aloe vera, how it may be used to treat UC, and what questions you should ask your doctor.

Learn more about UC.

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis Miller) is a succulent plant that grows in desert areas such as those found in Mexico, southern Africa, and the southwestern United States. This plant has been used topically in traditional medicine for many years to treat skin conditions, wounds, and hair loss.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), aloe vera has been used orally to treat a number of conditions, such as diabetes, hepatitis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes UC and Crohn’s disease).

For people with IBD, the anthraquinones in aloe vera — which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties — may help relieve symptoms.

Even though some people take aloe vera by mouth, there are potential risks. Anthraquinones have been found to affect the smooth muscle of the intestines, and taking aloe preparations orally has been associated with digestive symptoms, sensitivity to light, and kidney failure.

Additionally, aloe vera whole leaf extract has shown carcinogenic (cancer-causing) potential in rats. As a result, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified aloe vera whole leaf extract as a group 2B carcinogen, which means it could possibly cause cancer in humans.

The results of animal studies suggest that taking aloe vera extract orally may help reduce inflammation in the lower intestine, provide a protective layer of mucus in the colon, or enhance healing of intestinal tissues. However, these results have not been repeated in human studies, and more research is needed.

Consuming aloe leaf extracts may be linked to the development of acute hepatitis. This condition is marked by liver inflammation and is generally caused by alcohol, medications, or viral infections.

Acute hepatitis often affects people who take aloe leaf extract. It has been recorded in people who took the supplement for anywhere from 3 weeks to 5 years.

A 2016 review of studies noted that the following risks are associated with taking aloe vera preparations orally:

Taking aloe vera orally also has the following additional risks:

  • Use of oral aloe latex may increase the risk of negative effects from the heart medication digoxin.
  • Aloe vera taken orally may be unsafe during pregnancy and while nursing.
  • Studies in animals found evidence that aloe vera extract taken orally might cause cancer, and no similar studies have been done in humans.
  • People with kidney disease may be at higher risk of kidney failure if they take aloe vera by mouth.

While topical use of aloe vera is generally safe, consuming it may lead to certain negative effects. You may experience abdominal cramping or pain, depending on which form of aloe vera you are taking. These effects are most common in people who take aloe latex.

Ask your doctor whether you should take aloe vera for UC and about how much to take and how often. In the studies above, varying amounts were given either orally or rectally. There is no standard usage guide for treatment at this time.

It’s also important to read supplement labels carefully. There’s some evidence that certain components of the aloe plant may contain cancer-causing chemicals. Choose supplements that say “non-decolorized whole leaf extract” to avoid this risk.

According to the NCCIH, you should avoid taking aloe vera orally if you are pregnant or nursing.

You should also stop taking aloe vera if you suspect you may be allergic to it. Symptoms of serious allergic reaction may include trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and rapid heart rate. Seek immediate medical help if you experience these symptoms.

Does aloe vera reduce intestinal inflammation?

Yes. Current research suggests that aloe vera may reduce inflammation in the intestines and colon.

Is aloe vera good for the colon?

It may be. Most studies have been done on rats, but studies have noted both inflammation and healing of the colon after taking aloe vera.

How do you clear up ulcerative colitis?

Traditional treatment for UC involves a combination of medications, dietary and other lifestyle changes, and possibly surgery to remove the damaged sections of your colon.

Aloe vera may be a promising alternative treatment for UC and other types of IBD. However, recent studies have primarily been performed on rats. More research on humans is needed to investigate the range of benefits and risks and determine whether this treatment can be widely recommended.