Why should you be cautious about Aloe Vera supplements?

Recently, I have seen a boom in the sales of Aloe Vera products both in skin care and nutritional supplements. Where it has been shown that it can be beneficial for use on the skin the same cannot be said for it as a nutritional supplement. 

After being contacted on numerous occasions trying to get me on board to sell these products (which I promptly declined) I decided to write a post to let you know the truth about Aloe Vera as a weight loss aid including information on the various products that they sell. 

I won't mention any names of companies but I'm sure you will be aware of the one I am referring to. The main one is another multi level marketing company which gives the idea that making £2000 per month by becoming a distributor and working your way up to "manager" level is not too difficult to achieve. 

To give you an idea, here is a quick bit of information as to how a multi level marking company (of which there is a lot of around just now) works. To put it simply, you begin your "journey" as a distributor, selling products to people at a higher price than you bought them from the company. To work your way up the pay structure you need to recruit more people to become distributors. When you do this, you will earn a percentage of what they sell. These new distributors will recruit more distributors, you will move higher up the ladder earning a higher percentage as you go up. 

The main issues I have with the multi level marketing strategy are:

1. The people who are selling the product are NOT qualified nutritionists or dietitians. The only training they have received is from reading the books given to them by the company, and with their need to keep selling the products to make money will not be aware of the ins and outs of health and weight loss. I recently witnessed someone stating they had lost 10lbs during the 9 day weight loss programme. As I have studied nutrition and sports nutrition I am aware that this level of weight loss is NOT healthy and would have resulted in the loss of lean tissue, not body fat. (The healthy rate of weight loss is 1-2lbs a week. I have made this point on numerous occasions, ask yourself these questions... Would you let a lawyer fit a new boiler in your house? Would you let a bus driver cut and style your hair? Would you let a doctor rewire the electrics in your house? I would hope the answers to these would be no, so why are people so easy to accept weight loss advice from someone who is not trained in the area?  

2. The emphasis is on recruitment. The more people who are involved in the selling the product, the less people there are to buy it for personal use and as a result the market will eventually become saturated and you won't make money.

3. As with a lot of companies claiming to be the "best weight loss product" out, they always seem to disappear after a period of time, only to be replaced by another fad. I have stated so many times that these are just that... fads, you will not be able to stick to them for the rest of your life unlike a healthy diet and exercise.

So, what are the products?

There are a huge number of products being sold by these companies including: Metabolism Booster, Garcinia Cambogia, Protein Products, Meal Replacements, Amino Acids, energy drinks, Bee Pollen, the list goes on. Some of these contain Aloe Vera, some don't.

After looking at some of the products made me want to highlight some of the issues and why these companies really are a waste of time and money. The following are my views on the products and some analysis of scientific papers to give more in depth information about the effectiveness of Aloe Vera as a nutritional supplement. 

Taken from their website, one product states that it is "Perfect for anyone who is interested in metabolism." To me this doesn't give much information at all, it sounds to me as if metabolism is a new hobby. Metabolism is defined as "the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life." It is a common excuse for weight gain or the inability to lose it. There are so many factors that can influence your metabolism. These include:

  • Regular exercise, including strength training
  • A healthy balanced diet
  • Eating enough calories (one of the reasons why metabolism is slowed when people eat a low calorie diet)
  • Don't skip meals (especially breakfast!!)
  • Cut back on high fat foods
  • Stay hydrated

By simply making some changes to your diet and lifestyle you will soon speed up your metabolism without the need for expensive supplements.

The next product that caught my eye was one that claimed to be "For people who love sport and want to make sure they eat a healthy, balanced diet." It contains fibre from the prickly pear and proteins from kidney beans as well as some chromium. First of all, i have a major issue with claiming to be for people who want to make sure they eat a healthy balanced diet. I will start off with fibre, the NHS recommend getting 18g of fibre a day. They say this supplement contains fibre from the prickly pear and proteins from kidney beans, so why not just eat a pear and some kidney beans? That is a very good point, 1 large pear contains around 7g of fibre and 400g of kidney beans contain around 12.4g of fibre. So by simply eating a pear and some kidney beans you can get the recommended intake of fibre. OK, so eating 400g of kidney beans isn't always practical. When you consider how much fibre can be found in different foods you will understand it is very easy to reach the 18g recommendation. 

  • 200g baked beans = 7g fibre
  • 1 small baked potato = 3g fibre
  • 50g dried figs = 4g fibre
  • 30g bowl Bran Flakes = 4g fibre
  • 1 medium sized apple = 2g fibre
  • 1 large banana = 3.5g fibre

So looking at a few examples here you can see you really don't need a tub of capsules costing £33.32 to get your fibre!

Chromium is an element which regulates blood sugar and cholesterol, and cannot be made in the body so must be obtained through the diet. Only a small amount is required (around 21-45mg depending on age and gender). Looking at the food sources of chromium, you can again see that it is simple to achieve the necessary amounts. Good sources of chromium include vegetables such as broccoli, potatoes and green beans, whole grain products, beef and poultry, fruits including apples and bananas, milk and dairy products.

So by eating a healthy balanced diet you will easily get the nutrients that are present in the expensive supplement on sale.

Next up is a product which claims to be "ideal for endurance sports". I searched high and low to try and find the ingredients for this product, but unfortunately with no success. However, looking on the website and contacting a seller to try and get a bit more information regarding the ingredients I have come to the conclusion that the claim of being ideal for endurance sports is to do with the trace elements that are said to be in it. One of these trace elements will be Sodium. It is known to improve the absorption rate of water and carbohydrate which results in the delay of muscle fatigue. It also helps to retain water and decrease the level of urine output which is of great importance for rehydration during exercise. 

The website states that this product also contains Q10, a coenzyme which helps to product energy. Your body can synthesise some Q10 on it's own but you can also get some through your diet. It can be found in many foods such as oily fish, beef, poultry, nuts, seeds and oils. Because it is fat soluble, it requires fat for it to be absorbed. So by eating some of these foods you will easily be able to get enough. 

Finally, I want to give a quick mention to the product called 'Bee Pollen'. It claims to be 'ideal to take during the summer months when the pollen count is high'. Bee Pollen is said to be the pollen that has gathered on the body of a bee. This is the first time I have heard that pollen is part of the human diet, let along gathering it from the body of a bee! Also saying that there are better times of the year to take pollen also sounds a bit strange to me. It is worth mentioning that there is no evidence that bee pollen is effective in humans.

Going back to the issue I have with the distributors of these products not knowing all the ins and outs of the ingredients and interactions with other products there is potential for an issue here. As I mentioned, Q10 requires fat to be absorbed, so if you get this product as well as one which blocks fat absorption it raises the issue that the Q10 will not be absorbed as well due to the lack of fat. This could lead to a lack of energy as well as various other issues.

So, is this supplement really that "ideal for endurance sports"? Well I would again so no. Sports drinks are created for the purpose of it containing sodium and carbohydrate to aid rehydration as well as providing energy. It is also very easy to make your own sports drink which costs around 20p a portion. So by eating a healthy diet containing good fats and making your own sports drink for your rehydration you will easily get everything you need for your event.

Aloe Vera For Weight Loss

That covers some of the supplements but what about the Aloe Vera as a weight loss aid? The main claim involves making  you feel fuller for longer and speeding up your metabolism. It sounds good but is there actually any evidence behind these claims? 

There was some evidence that Aloe Vera compared to a placebo showed a reduction in fat and body weight. This sounds good until you find out the test subjects were RATS. The main issue with this is we, as humans are of course genetically different to rats, and as a result will respond to things differently. So, with this in mind you really cannot make any real weight loss claims without knowing how effective it is in human trials. 

It took me a while but I eventually found a human trial (Choi et al 2013) relating to the weight loss properties of Aloe Vera. However, from reading this I have noticed a number of issues. First of all the study only lasted 8 weeks. If you are wanting to know the weight loss effects of something, surely you are going to need to know how effective it is in the long term!

Secondly, there was no accurate measurement of the food intake or exercise levels of participants. They were required to visit the centre on only 3 occasions (day of recruitment, week 4 and week 8). They were told how much to eat but there is no evidence that this value was actually adhered to. As well as that the calorie figure quoted was around 1500kcals. By eating this amount, there is no question that there will be weight loss!  With no mention of exercise levels, this is a very important factor that should have been taken into account and carefully monitored in a weight loss trial! 

So, in conclusion, despite the popularity of Aloe Vera as a weight loss supplement, there really isn't enough research to back up any of the claims. The reason most people will decide to use it is someone else has told them it works. Whether this is a simple ploy to sell a product or is simply as a result of other factors such as a low calorie diet/exercise it really can't be put down to the effects of Aloe Vera due to the lack of evidence. 

Like I say with other weight loss supplements. There unfortunately isn't such as thing as a miracle weight loss solution. The healthiest and most effective method of weight loss is a well planned balanced diet and exercise. So, instead of spending a fortune on shakes and pills etc put this money to good use and buy healthier, better quality food and maybe a pair of trainers and take up running! (it is free).

References:

1. Choi HC, Kim SJ, Son KY, Oh BJ, Cho BL (2013) Metabolic effects of aloe vera gel complex in obese prediabetes and early non-treated diabetic patients: randomized controlled trial. 1-5

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