The other day when I wrote this post on heartburn, I figured that there was enough diet controversy that I didn't need to go into some of the other "alternative" methods for "curing" heartburn. So naturally, I start getting questions about that very thing, and the one that I have heard about the most is to drink aloe vera juice to sooth the "heartburn."
Aloe vera is another herbal product that has been billed as a "cure" for everything from cancer to muscle pain, and those of who have been reading this blog know that that raises a red flag just there. Aloe is found in a lot of topical moisturizing and/or sunburn products; there doesn't seem to be any harm in applying it topically but we don't really know how much it actually moisturizes as the studies done on that are conflicting. As far as aloe's ability to soothe minor burns and promote wound healing--the results are mixed on that as well; some studies showed that aloe actually helps "speed up" wound healing and others found that aloe delayed healing. (Link) Since the aloe plant does hold a lot of water, I sometimes wonder if the "soothing" feeling of applying it to a burn merely comes from the evaporation of water.
I suppose that someone thought that since aloe vera gel has a "cooling" effect on topical burns that it would also stop heartburn. Does it really? Well, possibly, if you are a lab rat. I could only find one animal study and no human studies that indicated there was any evidence this would help protect against esophageal damage (Link) Since I am not a lab rat, and the evidence for wound healing topcially isn't conclusive either, I wouldn't recommend taking it internally.
So what's the harm in taking aloe vera? Like anything, there are potential side effects, and these are some nasty ones: bloody diarrhea, cramps, loss of vision, muscle weakness, vomiting, swelling, electrolyte imbalance, liver failure, and kidney failure. You are less likely to have the side effects if you take a PPI in the short term and make the necessary dietary changes to help keep the GERD under control.
Take home message--you are probably safe using aloe on minor burns/in skin creams but don't apply to an open wound. Taking internally is not recommended as it carries to many risks.