Monday, December 29, 2008

Anthraquinones in Aloe products

This article is based on an Aloe Ferox technical report, the information contained in this article relates to the use of Aloin in Aloe products and Aloe Bitters or Bitter Crystals


The Internet has simplified the distribution of information to such an extent that it is often very difficult for a non-specialist to judge between the truth, propaganda or a marketing message. The latter uses all information to its disposal in order to convince a potential buyer to purchase a particular product. It is important to understand, that although there is often nothing wrong with this approach, information for marketing messages is very often used subjectively to suit the specific marketing message. This implies that research results, which are interpreted for marketing messages, are subject to the goals of the advertising message. This is common to all types of products.

In aloe-based health and cosmetics products, the presence (or absence) of anthraquinones (bitter sap), or processing conditions are often used to favor one company's products above another. The purpose of this report is to highlight research results on the beneficial as well as adverse properties of bitter sap within proper use context, so that the consumer is able to distinguish between truth and misinformation. It is reported that research results over many decades have proved that bitter sap is positively associated with wound healing, anti-inflammatory actions, anti-viral activities, slow down of cell aging, inhibition of tumor growth, and many others therapeutic feats. However, the laxative property is often a disputed therapeutic characteristic of bitter sap. Adverse effects associated with bitter sap include cramping, diarrhea, and even the risk of colorectal cancer. These potentially harmful effects are results of overdose, abuse or long term use.

Research has shown that when used in moderation for short periods, oral intake or the application of bitter sap is indeed beneficial for human use. However, if the intended quantity, duration and purpose of bitter sap are taken out of use-context, the adverse effects of bitter sap can easily be obscured as "toxic". It is exactly this technique that some marketing messages use to promote their aloin-free aloe products.

The full picture of Information:

Internet technology introduced the Information age and thereby enabled the public to obtain information on almost any conceivable topic. This has led to rapid education of the masses in many different areas. As a result, today's civilization is generally much more informed than a few decades ago. However, available information, (being subject to the personal interpretation of the author), is not always accurate. In fact, the fast dissemination of personal interpretations, pictures and email rumors have already led to many myths about particular topics.

Typically of the Internet, it is common to find convincingly strong arguments in favor of a particular viewpoint, as well as compelling condemnation of the same topic from those opposing the viewpoint. Full information on all aspects of such a topic, especially information on the context where claims are valid, is not always divulged in the line of reasoning. As a result, it becomes very difficult for the non-specialist to distinguish between the truth, half-truths and propaganda.

Marketing messages are often responsible of spreading half-truths. As the purpose of a marketing message is to convince a potential buyer to purchase a specific product, different techniques are used to achieve this goal. One technique is to highlight the beneficial qualities of the product to such an extent that the uninformed obliviously accepts the product as perfect. Undesirable qualities are either not mentioned or down played as insignificant. Another technique is to show off about some property that a product does not posses, trusting other media-delivered messages to complete the implication for the buyer. For example, media-delivered messages have irrevocably associated a lean body with a fatless or sugarless diet.

A product could therefore only use the words "sugar free" to evoke an impression of a healthy and lean body, even though the actual product might contain all sorts of harmful substances. Such a message trusts the association that is made with sugar, and the product's lack thereof, to sell its product.

The same techniques are used in almost every market. Health and cosmetic products that based on aloe are no exception. Consumers and potential buyers are bombarded either with images of energetic well-being or with threats of insignificant potency with possible toxic effects. In today's age, aloe-based products are highly acclaimed, but what should a potential buyer or consumer believe about the conflicting messages?

Much scientific research has been conducted over the past few decades. In many research results, the therapeutic qualities of the aloe have been shown, while from other research efforts, there seems to be warnings. The purpose of this report is to consider the latter in order to explain where and when aloe products may be harmful.

Aloe Anatomy

The specific issue in question is the presence of the anthraquinones (specifically aloin and aloe-emodin) components in the aloe leaf. Perhaps it would make sense to briefly describe the basic composition of the aloe leaf. An aloe leaf is composed of three distinct layers, the thick green chlorophyllic skin on the outside, a dark-yellow sticky liquid below the skin, and a white fibrous gel-like inner flesh. The liquid layer consists of anthraquinones, of which aloin, aloe-emodin and barbaloin are probably the most well known. Combined, these components are referred to as the "bitters" or the "bitter sap".

Although adjoining, each layer has a different consistency and one layer does not flow into the other. Depending on processing methods, it is possible to either isolate the different layers from one another, or to combine them into one pulp. There are different factors that influence the success of such an isolation process. For example, degradation of an aloe leaf sets in if the leaves are not processed within 36 hours of harvesting. Degradation becomes apparent when the firmness of the inner flesh is lost. As the inner structure of the leaf disintegrates, the bitter sap diffuses into the degraded structure. Whether to isolate the layers for a particular product or not,
depends on the specific objectives of the product.

The three layers differ in their physical appearance, chemical composition, potential benefits, as well as their potential harmful effects. Over the past number of decades much research has gone into the therapeutic or potential harmful effects of the different layers of the aloe leaf. Research results are significant if consumers understand the context of the experiments and also the leaf layer to which the results are applicable. To illustrate the point: a constipated person has read of the laxative properties associated with aloes and decides to eat some fresh aloe to relief his
problem. He cuts a leaf, skins it, washes it thoroughly to remove the bitter sticky brown stuff, and then consumes a few bites of inner flesh. Since the laxative properties of aloes are only found in the bitter sap and none of the other layers, the entire aloe-eating effort would be futile.

Therapeutic properties of the Aloe

There are many positive research results associated with bitter sap proving its medicinal properties. One of its most prominent properties is its laxative effects. Other important characteristics include bactericidal activities against various wound infecting bacteria; inhibiting actions against bacteria responsible for peptic ulcers, gastroenteritis and unary tract infections (1); virucidal activities against the herpes and influenza virus (2) prophylactic (disease prevention) effects (3), inhibiting actions against tumour growth (4,5,6); slowing down of cell aging (7), and anti-inflammatory and cleansing (detoxification) effects (8).

Potential adverse effects of the Aloe

Overdose of any medicinal or therapeutic substance will always negate a substance's benefits in favour of toxic consequences. For example, as with any other laxative it has been shown 9 that excessive doses or prolonged use of bitters may cause cramping, gastritis, vomiting, diarrhea, and nephritis (kidney inflammation).

Chronic use or abuse of the laxatives has been associated with aggravation of constipation, reason for dependency, and increased risk of colorectal cancer. However, these effects are not uncommon to laxatives in general. The appropriate method of addressing a chronic condition such as constipation lies in lifestyle changes including a fibrous diet, plenty of water and sufficient exercise and not in continuous use of laxatives. Today it has become too easy to misuse therapeutic substances and then impugn the substance for toxic effects from constant use and abuse. As with any other medicinal or therapeutic substance, responsible substance use lies with the consumer.

Since the misuse of bitters has been linked to toxic effects, researchers conducted experiments to determine the specific toxicity of the bitters in the aloe leaf. The results of a toxicity test of a particular substance are often presented in a comparative fashion whereby the toxicity of the substance in question is compared to that of other known substances. Research (10) found that the toxic activity of bitter sap is similar to that of sodium lauryl sulphate (a detergent used to manufacture bathroom soap). The harmful effects of sodium lauryl sulphate are low as humans are continuously exposed to it. However, misuse of bathroom soap, like washing and scrubbing hands excessively and frequently, will definitely prove to be detrimental to the skin. In the
same way, misuse and dependence on bitter sap will be detrimental to the consumer's health.

A toxic overdose

In science, the word "toxic" is used as a measure of potential harmful effects that a certain compound may have. This scale may therefore range from zero to very high. However, in general language the word "toxic" has an alarming connotation to it, flashing images of bed bound suffering individuals on their last breath. For this purpose, the words "potential harmful effects" are more appropriate when referring to compounds with a scientifically tested low toxicity.
As hinted before, marketing messages use every term to their disposal to promote their product. It is therefore often found that words such as "potential harmful effects" are used that to down play negative attributes of their own products. However, when using comparative advertising strategies, the word "toxic" is used for the "potential harmful effects" of a competitor's products.

It is critical to evaluate the potential "toxic" effects of bitter sap in the light of the objectives for which they are being used. Table salt (sodium chloride), serves as an excellent comparative example. Similar to bitter sap, sodium chloride is also "toxic" when its recommended dose is exceeded. Yet, in the correct dose, table salt is vital to osmosis, electrolytic balance, flavouring foods, preserving food, et cetera. To illustrate the point of how a misleading marketing message may be constructed using the so-called toxic effects of sodium chloride, consider the following example: A fruit juice manufacturer wants a new marketing angle, so the marketing message highlights to the absence of table salt in the fruit juice product.

The marketing message further continues to use medical research to point out the adverse effects of sodium chloride. Although being a simple example, it clearly shows how inappropriately the research results were used. In the same way, research regarding bitter sap is often bent to suit the marketing message of a particular product.

Aloe Ferox products: bitter or not?

The question remains as to how much bitters are contained in Aloe Ferox products? Some products contain no bitters whatsoever. For the purpose of these products, freshly harvested leaves are peeled, washed and only the inner flesh is processed to a jelly at low temperatures to maintain the nutrient integrity. Other products, especially for specific therapeutic purposes, contain bitters. For such products, the word "bitters" either appears in the product name or the presence of "bitters" is indicated in the ingredient listing on the label. Whole-leaf products, such as the Whole-leaf Juice and the Whole-leaf Gel inevitably contain some bitters, because, as the product names suggest, the entire leaf is used in the product. However, the quantity of bitter sap within these products is extremely small, for most has been removed by repetitive washing of finely sliced aloe leaves with water (not chemicals). The amount of bitter sap is further reduced during the processing at low temperatures, as temperature treatment degrades aloin.


The aim of this report was to inform the public and not to carry specific marketing message concerning aloe-containing products. For this purpose, both the excellent qualities as well as the potential harmful effects that are associated with aloe have been described within the context of use. It is important for the consumer to note that marketing messages aim to promote a product (and rightly so!). But, this implies that the interpretation of scientific research used in marketing messages often depends much on the goals to be achieved by those who cite the research results. It is therefore imperative that a consumer is able to distinguish between a mere marketing message, wishing to convince him or her to buy a particular product, and the full truth within proper context.


1. Wang, H.; Chung, J.; Ho, C.; Wu L. & Chang, S. Aloe-emodin effects arylamin Nacetyltransferase activity in the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. Planta Medica; 64; pp 176-178; 1998.
2. Sydiskis, R.J.; Owen, D.G.; Lohr, J.L.; Rosler, K-H. A; Blomster, R.N. Inactivation
of enveloped viruses by antraquinones extracted from plants. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy; 35: 12; pp 2463-2466; 1991.
3. Soeda M.; Fukiwara, M,; Otomo, M. Studies on the effect of Cape aloe for
irradiation leucopenia. Nippon Igaku Hoshasen Gakkai Zasshi; Dec. 24; pp 1109- 1112; 1964.
4. Soeda, M. Studies on the anti-tumor activity in Cape Aloe. Journal of the Medical
Society of Toho University; 16; pp 365-369; 1969.
5. Kuo, P-L.; Lin, T-C.; Lin, C-C. The antiproliferative activity of aloe-emodin is
through p53-dependent and p21-dependent apoptotic pathways in human
hepatome cell lines. Life Sciences; 71. pp 1879-1892; 2002.
6. Pecere, T.; Gazallo, V.; Mucignat, C.; Parolin, C. Aloe-emodin is a type of
anticancer agent with selective activity against neuroectodermal tumors. Cancer
Research; 60. pp 2800-2804; 2000.
7. Barrantes, E.; Guinea, M. Inhibition of collagenase and matalloproteinases by
aloins and aloe gel. Life Sciences. 72; pp 843-850; 2003.
8. Nakagomi, K.; Oka, S.; Tomizuka, N.; Jamamoto, M.; Masui, T.; Nakazaw, H.
Novel biological activies of aloe components. Effects on mast-cell degranulation
and platelet aggregation. Kenkyu Hokoku – Koyo Gijutsiun Bisibutsu Kogyo; 6; 23-29. 1985.
9. Capasso, F.; Borrelli, F.; Capasso, R.; Carlo, G.; Di Izzo, A.A.; Pinto, L. Aloe and
its therapeutic use. Phytotherapy Research; 12; pp 48-50; 1998.
10. Avila, H.; Rivero, J.; Herrera, F; Fraile, G. Cytotoxicity of a low molecular weight
fraction from Aloe vera (Aloe baradensis Miller) gel. Toxicon; 35; pp 1423-1430; 1997.

Aloe Ferox Technical Report
AFTech0808a August 2008

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