Is Aloe Vera just quackery?
So here we have a plant that many claim 'cures' a wide range of ailments.
Well we've been here before with characters on the back of wagons selling snake oil as a remedy for every illness. Could Aloe Vera be the modern day version of this practice?
One Plant. Multiple Remedies?
In Aloe Vera, The Natural Healer (Paul Hornsey-Pennell, 1994) the author lists 109 ailments which Aloe Vera "has regularly benefited". To many that seems so completely absurd that it must be impossible.
Our modern day world ruled by pharmaceutical companies makes it hard for some, especially those who work in the medical profession, to imagine this possibility.
We have become used to a mentality of one drug targets one ailment (often followed by another drug which treats the side effects of the first but that is a story for another time).
However if we look at it another way the numbers become a little more reasonable. Let's take some basic properties of Aloe Vera:
- It's anti-inflammatory - so therefore it helps with scalds, burns, eczema, ulcers, psoriasis, thrush, acne and so on when it is applied topically to the skin. It therefore helps with stomach and mouth ulcers, teething, sore throats, gum disease and so on when taken orally.
- It's detoxifies - so therefore it helps with digestive problems such as IBS.
- It accelerates the rate at which cells divide - so therefore it helps with the healing of cuts, ulcers, scarring and other types of wounds.
The list goes on but importantly when looked at this way you can start to understand why one plant could do more than help with one ailment.
In The Essential Aloe Vera (Dr Peter Atherton, 1997) the author actually summarises Aloe Vera's real success in only two areas:
- "... an effect on surfaces and membranes rather than the solid organs themselves ... "
- " ... on conditions that resulted from a disordered immune system."
Being able to do these two things can, according to Dr. Atherton, help with well over one hundred ailments. He also, coincidently, quotes many of his colleagues as saying, "One substance can't possibly treat all those different conditions."
Lacking medical research
The normal logic then, in the above situation, would be extensive medical research to reach some kind of conclusion for each of the ailments and then, should those studies prove positive, add them to the repertoire of treatments available to doctors.
But it is here that the laws put in place to protect us against snake oil salesmen actually prevents such studies taking place. Proper research costs millions of dollars and so it is only worthwhile if the researcher can then patent the end result.
In this way they can gain a temporary monopoly of the market in order to recoup their costs. That's how the system works.
The issue here is that a natural product, like Aloe Vera, cannot be patented and so we end up in a Catch 22. No one is prepared to do full scale studies despite the possibility of a positive outcome.
What we are left with are a number of smaller scale studies using inconsistant qualities or brands of Aloe Vera and coming to, understandably, inconsistant conclusions.
Compiled on top of this are pressures by pharmaceutical companies whose revenues from drugs currently used to treat ailments that Aloe Vera might help with would be severely undermined.
Thus, as far as the medical system that exists today goes, making Aloe Vera an official option for any given ailment remains a hurdle yet to be jumped although small inroads have been made.
Lacking any kind of conclusive evidence and kept at arms length by many of the medical profession Aloe Vera has developed in a largely unregulated commercial world where it may be fair to say some organisations and individuals have over stepped the mark.
With a plant able to do so much some have started to claim it can do anything and cure any ailment. Unfortunately this tends to undermine the more grounded supporters and drive away those who might otherwise be interested in learning more.
Others have tended to mix up terminology which naturally has doctors bulking at their claims. For example Aloe Vera does not cure arthritis but it can alleviate the pain caused by arthritis. Those who have experienced it tend then to call Aloe Vera a 'cure' for arthritis when it certainly isn't.
A person who is diagnosed as having cancer, starts drinking Aloe Vera Gel and subsequently recovers may start telling others that it is a 'natural cure' for cancer. That's a dangerous game which may encourage other sufferers to ignore conventional medicines despite his recovery having been no more than a coincidence.
A wild west industry
With or without medical research the public's interest in Aloe Vera has not been ignored by manufacturers and its name is slapped on the side of lotions, creams, bath foams, soaps, toothpastes and more.
Industry understands that people see Aloe Vera in a positive light and they are keen to cash in but often by doing so they produce products which contain substandard ingredients and provide none of the benefits reported about the plant.
This too undermines Aloe as a concept to be taken seriously at a medical level.
However it is important to balance these aspects with the reality that some Aloe Vera companies have been around for decades. One such business is Forever Living Products which is now over 30 years old and a multi-billion dollar company that does not advertise conventionally. At its core is an Aloe Vera based drink.
It's fair to say that these businesses would not have stood the test of time without repeat business from customers who must therefore see something positive in the product.
Undoubtedly some of it is but it is ultimately our own medical systems and the commercial industry they spawned which have caused so much confusion and misinformation.
The situation is not uniform. In Germany it is approved for the treatment of constipation while in the United States the FDA says there is not enough data to do the same.
But generally Aloe Vera has been left to spread by word of mouth. Sometimes those words over exaggerate, sometimes they are hijacked by commercial companies looking to turn a fast profit, but the general public enthusiasm remains constant.
It is perhaps a little ironic that the organisations we created to stop us being conned by 'miracle cure all snake oil' are holding back something that could cure, treat or help a great many ailments at a much lower cost than synthetic drugs.
Until that changes it's worth ending with some words from The Power or Plants (Lehane, 1977): "A cure that grows in the backyard is not going to increase anyone's dividends".
What The Aloe Vera Site is about
Our aim here is to separate the quackery and the false claims from the genuine and to educate people how to avoid false hopes and products created on the Aloe Vera bandwagon.
If you would like to take our 'Your Aloe Vera Experience' survey that all helps in our collection of a more solid database which will assist others in becoming more knowledgable and less likely to be stung by a con.
You might also be interested in:
- Medical research and Aloe Vera
- It works for them, why doesn't it work for me?
- Does Aloe Vera really work?