CSPI Says Consumers Should Avoid Aloe Vera Taken Orally

Government Tests Point to Cancer in Rats

August 21, 2013

Drinks and dietary supplements containing aloe vera are increasingly popping up at online retailers and in health food stores boasting of the plant's "powerful healing properties," including claims that it "balances stomach acidity," detoxifies, or promotes "overall well-being." But carefully conducted studies by the U.S. government found clear-cut evidence that aloe vera extracts caused intestinal cancers in male and female laboratory rats. For that reason, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest is giving aloe vera an "avoid" rating in its Chemical Cuisine guide to food additives.

Taken orally, aloe vera can cause cramps and diarrhea. In 2002, the Food and Drug Administration banned it from over-the-counter laxatives, but that hasn't stopped manufacturers from using it in juice drinks and supplements.

"Save it for sunburns," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "Used topically, aloe vera is safe. But the fanciful health claims manufacturers are slapping on various drinks and pills are unfounded, so people simply shouldn't expose themselves to the risks."

In Chemical Cuisine, CSPI has also downgraded the preservative tert-butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, from "safe" to "avoid." That's because in a government study, which was better designed than previous studies TBHQ increased the incidence of tumors in rats. TBHQ is used in such fat-containing products as Grandma Utz's Handcooked Potato Chips and the frying oil McDonald's uses for French Fries, Chicken McNuggets, and other deep-fried foods.

CSPI also downgraded the seaweed extract carrageenan from "safe" to "certain people should avoid." Used as a thickener and stabilizing agent in many dairy products, a World Health Organization committee concluded that it is inadvisable to use carrageenan in liquid formula designed for infants under one year of age. Carrageenan is still used in some varieties of Similac, though not varieties sold in the U.K.

Not all food ingredients with strange or scary names are unsafe. A new entry in Chemical Cuisine for Yellow Prussiate of Soda rates that anti-caking agent, used by salt manufacturers, as safe. (Even though the ingredient contains cyanide, it is not toxic because the cyanide is tightly bound to iron atoms.) Similarly, the group rates erythritol, polyglycerol polyricinoleate, and sodium carboxymethyl cellulose as safe. In fact, CSPI says that some of the most dangerous substances in the food supply are things that the Food and Drug Administration considers "generally recognized as safe": salt, sugar, and partially hydrogenated oil.

Besides making information about food additives to the general public, CSPI's advocacy work has led to restrictions or bans on the use of such additives as sodium nitrite, sulfites, the fake fat olestra, Violet dye 1, and others. It has also been leading efforts to eliminate the use of partially hydrogenated oil and reduce the use of salt. Chemical Cuisine is also available as a free iPhone or Android app.


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