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Aloe Vera: From Standards to Science

By Sandy Almendarez Comments

Aloe vera may be one of the most well-known ingredients in the personal care aisle. From tissues and toilet paper to skin care and cosmeceuticals, aloe vera is almost as pervasive as the personal care products themselves. SPINS reported (52 weeks ending Feb. 18, 2012 versus the prior year) body care items with aloe vera as the primary ingredient grew 2.3 percent in the combined (natural and conventional FDM) channel.

While other applications may be burgeoning, Patrick Anderson, Western regional sales manager, Terry Labs, said beverages and cosmetics are still the most popular delivery forms. "These two components involve consumers' everyday movements," he said. "The latest movement within the nutraceutical and cosmeceutical industry involves beauty from within. This involves taking capsules and/or drinks to improve the internal body as well as improving outward beauty."

Anderson is spot on, as SPINS reported the combined channel experienced a 58-percent increase in sales (52 weeks ending Feb. 18, 2012 versus the prior year) of food items with aloe vera as the primary ingredient; and an 18.9-percent increase in sales of vitamins, supplements, herbs and homeopathic with aloe vera as the primary ingredient.

As aloe vera expands its delivery forms into the nutricosmetic category, quality control is more important than ever, as is the issue of toxicity. While aloe vera is a botanical most consumers would say they know very well, it's actually quite complicated, as “aloe" can refer to more than 400 species. Because of its health properties and low toxicity levels, aloe vera, aka aloe vera (L.) Burm. f., Aloe barbadensis, barbadensis (Mill.) or Miller, is the most commonly used aloe in consumer products; but, many confuse and combine the properties of the different species of aloe and components of aloe vera.

Thus, one of the most-pressing issues in the aloe industry is a study conducted in the spring of 2011 by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), an interagency program with the objective of evaluating substances of possible public health concern, in collaboration with FDA’s National Center for Toxicology Research. It created quite a commotion. The two-year study reported aloe was linked to carcinogenic activity in male and female rats, based on tumors of the large intestines. But what’s important here is this study was not conducted on the type of aloe found in the natural products market.

The study used a non-decolorized, whole-leaf extract of Aloe babadensis Miller that did not undergo charcoal filtration during processing, a popular filtration method; in other words, it was filled with latex, which contains anthraquinones that cause a laxative effect in humans, and aloin. In a consumer information pamphlet, NTP said it used this aloe form because it wanted to test a preparation that included all components that may be in the products on the market.

The NTP studies consisted of a 14-day study in mice, a 13-week study in rats, a 13-week study in mice, a two-year study in rats and a two-year study in mice. In each study, the lab animals were administered the aloe preparation in various concentrations (1 percent, 2 percent or 3 percent wt/wt) or placebo. The two-year study in rats was the most damaging because it showed “clear evidence" of carcinogenic activity based upon increased incidence of adenomas and carcinomas of the large intestine. Data from the other studies revealed exposure resulted in increased incidences of non-neoplastic lesions of the large intestine in male and female rats, the large intestine in both rats and mice, the small intestine of rats, the stomach in rats and mice, the mesenteric lymph nodes in rats and mice, and the noses of mice.

In its consumer pamphlet, NTP reported it suspects the aloin content caused the tumors, but it said it does not know for sure. NTP said the aloe rat studies give cause for at least three serious concerns: the aloe types currently on the market, the aloin levels in these products, and the patterns of human exposure. The agency said it hopes to do more studies.

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