Can aloe vera or manuka honey help with your reflux symptoms?
Many patients will take medication for reflux, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), for long periods of time without understanding the risks.
Yet, official advice says PPIs shouldn’t be taken for more than three 14-day treatment courses in one year.
In our blog series on natural remedies, we look at alternatives people often use for relief from their reflux symptoms, such as heartburn and indigestion, and investigate whether there is any scientific evidence supporting the claims.
Here we look at Aloe Vera and Manuka honey.
Aloe Vera is a short-stemmed plant with thick and fleshy green leaves.
Gel obtained from the plant’s leaves has long been used in foods, cosmetics, supplements and herbal remedies – Cleopatra was even said to have used Aloe Vera to keep her skin soft!
Why is it used?
Traditionally, the clear gel from the Aloe plant is rubbed on the skin as an ointment to treat wounds and burns.
But the aloe vera food and supplement market has grown rapidly in recent years and some swear by drinking Aloe juice to help with their reflux symptoms.
It is claimed that Aloe Vera can decrease inflammation and stimulate production of hydrochloric acid, pancreatic enzymes and bile.
Aloe Vera preparations are often promoted for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders and to aid digestion. Health stores offer Aloe juice and advise you to take one tablespoon (15ml) one to three times daily – either directly or mixed with water or juice – to aide with digestion.
Is it safe?
Some Aloe Vera leaf products may have high aloin levels – a laxative which can cause diarrhoea if too much is consumed. There are very little data about what the levels of aloin are in consumer products.
Manufacturers of oral products containing Aloe Vera tend to use a charcoal filtration process to decolourise and remove some of the components from the leaf, including aloin.
In laboratory rats, a non-decolourised whole leaf extract of Aloe Vera caused intestinal tumours.
Another study associated the long-term oral use of Aloe Vera with liver injury.
Does it work?
Most of the evidence on Aloe Vera is based on anecdotal, historical use rather than scientific evidence.
However, a 2015 study investigated the use of Aloe Vera for the treatment of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) symptoms – heartburn, food regurgitation, flatulence, belching, dysphagia, nausea, vomiting and acid regurgitation – and compared its effects with those of omeprazole and ranitidine.
It found that Aloe Vera syrup was “safe and well tolerated and reduced the frequencies of all the assessed GORD symptoms, with no adverse events requiring withdrawal”.
Manuka Honey originates from New Zealand and is made from nectar collected by bees that forage on the wild Manuka tree.
It has a reputation for being a ‘healing superfood’ and thought to be particularly potent because it has high levels of a compound called dihydroxyacetone, which is present in the nectar of Manuka flowers.
This chemical produces methylglyoxal, a compound thought to have antibacterial and cell-killing properties.
Why is it used?
Some people swear by having a spoon of Manuka Honey up to four times a day, 20 minutes before meals and before bedtime.
Touted as having anti-bacterial properties, it has been associated with aiding sore throats, relieving coughs and helping skin conditions. Honey has also been suggested as potentially useful for various conditions of the gastrointestinal tract.
It is claimed Manuka Honey helps with reflux symptoms by ‘coating the stomach and oesophagus and healing the damages in the tissue and lining provoked by acid reflux’.
It is also reported that different types of Manuka honey have differing effects.
Is it safe?
You should avoid giving honey to babies less than 12 months old because it has been known to contain clostridium botulinum, which can cause a rare, but life-threatening condition called botulism.
People with diabetes should be cautious with honey because it does have a high sugar load.
Does it work?
A 2001 study cited how honey is 125.9 times more viscous than distilled water so ‘may be helpful in preventing gastro oesophageal reflux as it can form a coating on oesophageal mucosa’.
Other studies showing either health benefits or limitations of Manuka Honey include:
One study showed that Manuka suppresses the growth of H. pylori in gastric epithelial cells.
In 2014, researchers investigated the use Manuka Honey to prevent or reduce oesophagitis-related pain (inflammation of the oesophagus) caused by chemotherapy and radiation therapy but found that it was not more effective than standard medical care.
One study in 2016 investigated the gastroprotective effects of manuka honey against ethanol-induced gastric ulcers in rats. Manuka honey significantly decreased the ulcer index, completely protected the mucosa from lesions, and preserved gastric mucosal glycoprotein.
While a 2018 study into the antibacterial activity of Manuka honey concluded that it can be safely used as an alternative natural antibiotic for tissue healing and reducing microbial infections.
Without thorough scientific investigation, it is difficult to claim natural remedies really work and, of course, what works for one person may not always work for another.
Many people think that ‘they are safe because they are natural’ but this is not always true.
It is important to see your doctor for a full discussion about supplements and medication, especially if you develop new or worsening symptoms.
An early and objective diagnosis of reflux, such as Peptest provides, opens the door to lifestyle changes, and future treatment. Peptest can also be used after reflux treatments to assess the success or failure of any treatment. Find out more about Peptest and order your Peptest home testing kit now.
Disclaimer: This is an informational blog and does not constitute diet or lifestyle advice. We always recommend you do your own research on top to ensure it’s right for your specific circumstances. You can always get in touch if you have any questions. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. You should always consult your doctor prior to undertaking any treatment for reflux. This blog content was last updated in 2021.