In my last blog post, I wrote about our time in Glasgow helping Desert Harvest on their stand at the annual conference of the British Association of Urological Nurses. Over the two days, many delegates visited the booth to collect goody bags (a high priority at any conference!) and to ask questions about the products. I obviously already knew quite a bit about the sample items, how each is used, and some background information about Desert Harvest, because it’s my job to know about the products we stock at Tiny Pioneer and the suppliers we use! However, listening to Heather, Chief Operating Officer of Desert Harvest, interact with the nurses was a truly educational experience – not only does she know her business inside out, but she knows a LOT about aloe vera in general. I learnt loads of interesting things about the field-to-bottle journey taken by Desert Harvest’s aloe plants and I thought they’d make an excellent topic for a blog post. Read on to find out what makes Desert Harvest’s Super Strength Aloe Vera Capsules so special and why you can’t just drink juice to get the same effects!
Did you know it takes a whole aloe vera plant a whole year to grow enough leaves for a single pot of aloe capsules? And I’m not talking about a pot plant like you might have on your kitchen window for burns – each plant grows to between three and four feet high and three feet wide before being harvested. Desert Harvest grow the Barbadensis Miller species of aloe vera, as this is the best established variety for medicinal use, and they do so using organic methods, meaning no chemical pesticides or fertilizers contaminate their capsules or the environment.
Once cut, the aloe leaf loses almost all its nutritional value within two hours, so processing begins immediately out in the field, to preserve its healing properties. It is the polysaccharides in the leaves that are responsible for aloe vera’s healing actions, but heat treatment damages these. Desert Harvest therefore use cold processing techniques to protect the polysaccharides and they do not add preservatives, as some manufacturers do. Once the initial processing has taken place at the field side, the harvested leaves are taken to Texas for the next stages of their transformation. Often only the inner gel is used in aloe vera products, while the rest of the leaves are discarded, but Desert Harvest uses as much of the leaf as possible so that more of the ingredients of the plant can work in synergy. Not all the leaf can be used though, so a patented filtration process in Texas removes the unwanted parts.
If you cut an aloe leaf open, you will see a brownish layer between the outer green leaf and the inner gel. This is the latex layer and it contains compounds called anthraquinones. Anthraquinones are irritating to the gastrointestinal tract and are carcinogenic with long term exposure – it is these that are responsible for the side effects that some aloe vera products carry. To ensure their capsules have no side effects, are safe for long term usage, and are gentle enough for sensitive stomachs, Desert Harvest filters out the anthraquinones. Insoluble fibre is also removed from the leaves, both to reduce irritation to the digestive tract and give a higher concentration of active ingredients. The capsules would have to be much larger, or you’d have to take many more of them if the insoluble fibre was left in!
In order to retain the nutritional value of the aloe leaves without the need for added preservatives, Desert Harvest has them freeze dried. This removes the water from the leaves without exposing them to heat and greatly extends their shelf life. Freeze dried foods will last for at least 25 years unopened, although Desert Harvest choose to use a three year shelf life to be on the safe side while they continue to test the nutritional content of archived samples. In reality, there is certainly no need to worry about your unopened capsules going off and your opened ones will last until at least the end of their official shelf life too. On that note, because I get asked about this on a regular basis, Desert Harvest don’t currently print a best before date on their bottles of supplements, because the rules are different in America. They print a date of manufacture instead and yes, I know it seems weird that they have to put a best before on their skincare and not on their supplements, but that’s just the way they do things there. I’m told they are going to start printing best before dates on their supplements as well before too long, so European customers can rest easy once that starts!
Once opened, if you don’t keep your capsules cool and dry, the powder inside them may darken in colour and go clumpy. They’re still fine to use – they just look less appealing – so don’t keep them next to your kettle or in your bathroom if you want lovely, pretty white powder! Desert Harvest use NO artificial ingredients, NO fillers and NO preservatives in their aloe capsules – not even in the capsule shells, which are suitable for vegans. To put it bluntly, if you want a healthy, ethical, all-natural product, free from anything nasty, you can’t expect it to behave like a synthetic pharmaceutical. Your aloe capsules are essentially little cases of freeze dried leaves, so if you store them somewhere damp they’ll absorb moisture again.
99.5% of an aloe leaf consists of water and insoluble fibre, so the filtration and freeze drying processes in Texas allow Desert Harvest to produce extremely high strength capsules. On leaving Texas, the aloe vera leaves are in powder form and they are taken to Florida for encapsulation and lab testing at a GMP facility compliant with ISO 9000 requirements. The powder’s appearance and colour are checked, the concentration of the capsules is verified, and tests are performed for mold, E. coli and yeast. Capsules which pass all the tests get to visit Mickey Mouse before being shipped to Desert Harvest headquarters in North Carolina. (No, they don’t.)
Each Super Strength Aloe Vera Capsule contains 600mg of freeze dried aloe vera powder, providing 200mg of active ingredient. 200 mg may not sound a lot – especially when some brands claim to provide 10,000mg or 20,000mg of aloe vera per serving. However, if you look more closely, you will see that such brands only provide the equivalent to 10,000mg or 20,000mg of aloe gel or juice. They actually contain 50mg to 100mg of dried aloe concentrate, whereas Desert Harvest capsules contain 600mg of freeze dried powder. Less than 1% of aloe gel or juice is the precious active polysaccharide. That means if you were to drink 20,000mg of juice (or take a tablet equivalent to 20,000mg of juice) you’d receive less than 200mg of polysaccharide – i.e. less than found in a single Desert Harvest capsule. The bottom line is, Desert Harvest capsules are extremely concentrated – to my knowledge they are the most potent in the world.
The more concentrated the aloe capsule, the less of them you need to take each day to achieve the same level of polysaccharides. Although many who are new to aloe vera supplements balk at the Desert Harvest’s six a day recommendation, if you moved to another brand, you’d need to take even more than this to achieve the same results. Being encapsulated rather than tableted, Desert Harvest are also able to keep their products free from fillers and binders, unlike many alternative brands.
Now we’ve looked at how the capsules compare to other brands of capsule or tablet, what about how they compare to juice? During our time in Glasgow, we were asked several times what the advantage of Desert Harvest capsules over aloe vera juice is. The main downside of juice is that is MUST be preserved, as aloe vera juice cannot retain the nutritional value of the leaves if it is not somehow preserved. If it is not preserved, the liquid you subsequently drink has lost the majority of its healing properties. Since preserving often entails adding citric acid, which is a no-no for most IC sufferers, and since many types of preservatives are not very good for you in any case, it’s a distinct disadvantage to need to add them to your juice. If the carcinogenic anthraquinones were left in the juice, it would also be unsafe to drink long term and would likely cause gut irritation.
Another disadvantage of aloe vera juice is that it is often sweetened or flavoured with other ingredients. Aloe vera naturally tastes and smells horrible, so to drink pure juice in large enough quantities to confer healing benefit would be stomach churning, while to sweeten it cancels out lots of the healing benefits you’re hoping to gain! Aloe vera juice is mostly water, so you’d need to drink a lot of it to get the same hit of polysaccharides that a single Desert Harvest capsule provides and juices are also wrought with dilution and labelling issues. Did you know that under FDA regulations it is perfectly legal to take a 9,999 gallon vat of water, add to it a single gallon of aloe vera juice and label it as 100% pure stabilized aloe vera juice? Did you also know that there are over 1,000 brands of aloe vera juice on the market, privately labelled by about 20 producers and that of these 1,000 brands, less than 1% contain acceptable levels of aloe vera according to research carried out by Lee Ritter, author of ‘Aloe Vera: A Mission Discovered’? With juices, it’s just very difficult to be sure of what you’re getting and how much of it you’re getting. It’s also impossible to get ONLY aloe vera, that is nutritionally active, with no added preservatives, and which has had the anthraquinone laxatives removed.
One thing Desert Harvest are really proud of is the clinical research that has been done on their capsules – VERY few nutritional supplements have official research to back them up, as it’s difficult and costly to carry out. They also have a ‘white paper’, which shows the results of a survey completed by 614 IC patients who took the Super Strength Aloe Capsules for at least three months. Of these IC patients, 92% reported that they had experienced relief while taking the capsules. Copies of the clinical research and the white paper were given to all delegates at the conference and it might be nice to tell you more about those in a future blog post. In the meantime, they are available to view on Desert Harvest’s website should you want to learn more.
I was fascinated to discover so much about Desert Harvest’s processing methods in Glasgow and I was really excited to share what I learnt with you. If you’ve never tried Desert Harvest Super Strength Aloe Vera Capsules before and have perhaps tried other brands of aloe without much success, I hope you’ll understand now why that might have been the case and will consider giving Desert Harvest a chance to work for you. If you’re a regular customer, I hope you’ll have enjoyed learning more about how your capsules were made and will view them in a different light when you next go to take them!