Did you know that the manufacturing of aloe vera extracts is one of the largest botanical industries in the world? In the U.S., it has found widespread use in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food industries. If you walk down the health and beauty isles of your local grocery store, you’ll likely see multiple products made with aloe vera. But this well-known plant has a long history of medicinal use.
In traditional Indian medicine, aloe vera is used for constipation, skin diseases, worm infestation, infections and as a natural remedy for colic. And in Chinese medicine, it’s often recommended in the treatment of fungal diseases.
Aloe vera was officially listed as a purgative and skin protectant by the U.S. pharmacopoeia in 1820 and was clinically used in the 1930s for the treatment of radiotherapy burns to the skin and mucous membranes. Today, cosmetic companies commonly add sap or other derivatives from aloe vera to a range of products, including makeup, soaps, sunscreens, incense, shaving cream, shampoos, tissues and moisturizers. The plant is even used commercially as an ingredient in yogurts, beverages and desserts.
Most people have heard of the aloe plant and know that it has some benefits, but may not fully understand its potential as a therapeutic tool for the treatment of issues affecting your skin, digestion, immunity and more.
What Is Aloe Vera?
Aloe vera is one of approximately 420 species of the genus Aloe. The botanical name of aloe vera is Aloe barbadensis miller, and it belongs to the Liliaceae family. It’s a perennial, xerophytic, succulent plant that’s green and has triangular, fleshy leaves with serrated edges.
The geographic origin of aloe vera is believed to be in Sudan, and it was later introduced in the Mediterranean region and most other warm areas of the world, including Africa, Asia, India, Europe and America.
Aloe gel is the clear, jelly-like substance found in the inner part of the aloe plant leaf. Aloe latex comes from just under the plant’s skin and is yellow in color. Some aloe products are made from the whole crushed leaf, so they contain both gel and latex.
Most people use aloe gel as a remedy for skin conditions, including burns, sunburn, frostbite, psoriasis and cold sores, but there’s a host of other aloe vera benefits. And aloe latex is used to improve depression, constipation, asthma and diabetes.
Aloe vera is considered to be the most biologically active of the Aloe species; astonishingly, more than 75 potentially active components have been identified in the plant, including vitamins, minerals, saccharides, amino acids, anthraquinones, enzymes, lignin, saponins and salicylic acids. It provides 20 of the 22 human-required amino acids and eight of the nine essential amino acids.
Aloe vera contains many vitamins and minerals that are vital for proper growth and function of all body systems. Here’s an easy explanation of aloe vera’s active components:
- Aloe vera contains antioxidant vitamins A, C and E — plus vitamin B12, folic acid and choline.
- It contains eight enzymes, including aliiase, alkaline phosphatase, amylase, bradykinase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, cellulase, lipase and peroxidase.
- The minerals present include calcium, copper, selenium, chromium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, sodium and zinc.
- It provides 12 anthraquinones — or compounds known as laxatives. Among these are aloin and emodin, which act as analgesics, antibacterials and antivirals.
- Four fatty acids are present, including cholesterol, campesterol, beta-sisosterol and lupeol — all providing anti-inflammatory results.
- The hormones called auxins and gibberellins are present; they help with healing wounds and have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Aloe vera provides sugars, such as monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) and polysaccharides.
1. Soothes Rashes and Skin Irritations
There have been numerous reports that have explored the role of topical aloe vera administration in skin conditions and wound healing management, including the treatment of psoriasis, dermatitis, oral mucositis, surgical wounds and as a home remedy for burn injuries.
The first study of this kind was surprisingly done in 1935! Aloe vera extract was reported to provide rapid relief from the itching and burning associated with severe radiation dermatitis and skin regeneration.
A 1996 study done at the Department of Clinical Physiology in Sweden included 60 patients with chronic psoriasis who participated in a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial of aloe vera or placebo cream. The cure rate in the aloe vera group was 83 percent, compared to only 7 percent in the placebo group, and there were no relapses reported at the 12-month follow-up.
In 2009, a systematic review summarized 40 studies that involved using aloe vera for dermatological purposes. The results suggest that oral administration of aloe vera in mice works effectively to heal wounds, can decrease the number and size of papillomas (small growths on the skin), and reduce the incidence of tumors by more than 90 percent in the liver, spleen and bone marrow.
The studies also showed that aloe vera effectively treats genital herpes, psoriasis, dermatitis, frostbite, burns and inflammation. It can be used safely as an antifungal and antimicrobial agent.
2. Soothes Burns
Aloe vera gel has a protective effect against radiation damage to the skin. With the threat of nuclear warfare always looming, the U.S. government conducted research on the ability of aloe vera to treat thermal and radiation burns with the aim of introducing its use into the military.
By 1959, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of ointments made with aloe vera as an over-the-counter medication for healing burns on the skin. When aloe vera gel is used on burns, it prevents UV-induced suppression so the area can heal at a faster rate.
3. Heals Cold Sores
Research published in the Journal of Dentistry shows that when aloe vera gel is applied to a cold sore a few times a day, it helps to ease the discomfort and speed up the healing process. It’s also safe when consumed by mouth, so there is no need to worry about swallowing this natural treatment.
Aloe vera has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties that accelerate healing and reduce pain associated with cold sores — or any sores on the mouth.
The amino acids and vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6 and vitamin C are also extremely helpful. One of the vitamin B6 benefits, for example, is its ability to act as a natural pain treatment and create antibodies that our immune system uses to protect us.
4. Moisturizes Hair and Scalp
Aloe vera is a great natural treatment for dry hair or an itchy scalp. It has nourishing properties, and the vitamins and minerals that are present in the plant keep your hair strong and healthy. Because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties, it also helps with dandruff, and the gel’s enzymes can rid the scalp of dead cells and promote the regeneration of skin tissue around the hair follicles.
Aloe also helps stop the itching associated with dandruff or a dried scalp. Too many shampoos and conditioners are full of chemicals that damage hair and can even cause inflammation and skin irritations; adding aloe vera is an effective way to keep your scalp free of bacteria and uncomfortable skin reactions.
5. Treats Constipation
The use of aloe latex as a laxative is well-researched. The anthraquinones present in the latex create a potent laxative that increases intestinal water content, stimulates mucus secretion and increases intestinal peristalsis, which are contractions that break down food and mix the chyme.
In a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial of 28 healthy adults, aloe vera latex was reported to have a laxative effect compared to a placebo that was stronger than the stimulant laxative phenolphthalein — making aloe vera a natural constipation relief remedy.
6. Helps with Digestion
Because of its anti-inflammatory and laxative components, another aloe vera benefit is its ability to help with digestion. Juice from the plant helps digestion, normalizes acid/alkaline and pH balance, lessens yeast formation, encourages digestive bacteria and regularizes bowel processing.
One study reported in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that 30 milliliters of aloe vera juice twice a day decreased the level of discomfort in 33 patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Flatulence also decreased for the participants, but stool consistence, urgency and frequency remained the same. Although the study suggests that the juice can be beneficial to people with IBS, more data is needed to conclude that it can be used as an effective treatment.
Another study from the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine tested aloe vera on a group of rats with gastrointestinal problems. The gastric acid levels were significantly decreased in rats treated with the plant. The study also measured the gut-brain connection and reported data on the water content found in the brains of the rats with aloe vera treatment. The water content in the treated rats was reduced, which suggests that the brain influences the gut and gastrointestinal problems.
Aloe vera juice has also been used to soothe and heal stomach ulcers because it has antibacterial agents and natural healing properties that can restore the stomach lining back to health.
7. Boosts the Immune System
The enzymes present in aloe vera break down the proteins that we eat into amino acids and turn the enzymes into fuel for every cell in the body, which enables the cells to function properly. The bradykinase in aloe vera stimulates the immune system and kills infections. Zinc is also an important component in this beneficial plant — making it a great natural tool for combating zinc deficiency.
Zinc is essential to maintain immune function. It helps us ward off diseases, kill bacteria and protect the function of our cell membranes. Zinc is also a key structural component for a slew of hormone receptors and proteins that contribute to healthy, balanced mood and immune function.
A 2014 report points out that aloe vera is being studied for its uses in dentistry; this is because it has proved to be be an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antifungal plant, and it’s very good in building up the immune system without causing allergic reactions or side effects. It’s gaining popularity because it’s completely natural — and it’s being called a miracle plant.
8. Provides Antioxidants and Reduces Inflammation
Vitamin A, for instance, plays a critical role in maintaining healthy vision, neurological function and healthy skin because it’s an antioxidant that reduces inflammation. Vitamin C is another important component found in aloe vera; it protects the body from cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease and even skin wrinkling. Vitamin E benefits include being a powerful antioxidant that reduces free radical damage, fights inflammation and helps naturally slow the aging of cells.
These antioxidant properties are also helpful when you’re exposed to cigarette smoke or UV rays from sunlight — they protect the skin from skin cancer and fight skin inflammation after exposure to the sun. Aloe vera can also naturally treat acne and eczema since it helps the healing process in the skin. Bradykinase, also present in aloe vera, helps reduce excessive inflammation when applied to the skin topically.
9. Treats Diabetes
Some evidence in humans and animals suggests that aloe vera is able to alleviate the chronic hyperglycemia and perturbed lipid profile that are common among people with diabetes and are major risk factors for cardiovascular complications.
In two related clinical trials, 72 diabetic women without drug therapy were administered one tablespoon of aloe vera gel or a placebo for six weeks. Blood glucose and serum triglyceride levels were significantly decreased with aloe vera treatment.
In the second trial, the effects of aloe vera gel or placebo in combination with glibenclamide, a commonly prescribed antidiabetic medication, were investigated; this, too, resulted in significant reductions in blood glucose and serum triglyceride concentrations in the aloe vera group.
Aloe Vera Products and How to Find
It’s easy to find aloe vera products — including aloe gel, latex, juice and extracts — in your local health food store. But you’ll want to choose a product that’s made by a reputable company to ensure that the extraction and processing methods didn’t reduce the plant’s therapeutic properties.
The processing method has the largest effect on the number and amount of active ingredients in an aloe vera product. The commercial production process of aloe vera products typically involves the crushing, grinding or pressing of the whole leaf to produce juice, followed by various steps of filtration and stabilization to achieve the desired extract. Although this is easier for the manufacturers, it can result in a product that contains little or no active ingredients.
It turns out, after extracting the gel, heating it and using fillers to make aloe vera products, the health benefits are minimized. In order to stop the common misrepresentations in the industry, and the false idea that all aloe vera products produce the same benefits, the International Aloe Science Council developed a certification program that validates the quality and quantity of aloe vera in approved commercial products. When looking to purchase aloe vera, read the labels carefully and look for this important certification.
In addition to purchasing an aloe vera product, you also have the option to grow your own aloe plant at home. If you buy a potted plant, keep it in a window that gets a good amount of sunshine because aloes love the sun; the pot can even be moved outdoors during the summer months.
Aloe is a succulent and therefore stores a lot of water within its leaves, but it needs to be watered at least two or three times a month. In the winter, aloe becomes somewhat dormant, and during this time you should water the plant very little. Having your own plant is an easy and inexpensive way to experience all of these amazing aloe vera benefits every day.
These recommended aloe vera doses are based on scientific research and publications. Make sure to read the label on each product before using it, and notify your doctor if you experience any side effects.
- For constipation, take 100–200 milligrams of aloe vera daily.
- For wound healing, psoriasis and other skin infections, use 0.5 percent aloe extract cream three times daily.
- For dental plaque and gum disease, use a toothpaste that contains aloe vera for 24 weeks, or add a teaspoon of aloe vera gel to this Homemade Mineralizing Toothpaste.
- For high cholesterol, take one capsule of aloe vera containing 300 milligrams twice daily for two months.
- For inflammatory bowel disease, take 100 milliliters of aloe vera drink or juice twice daily for four weeks.
- For skin burns, use a 97.5 percent aloe gel on the burn until it’s healed.
- For dry scalp or dandruff, add a teaspoon of aloe gel to this Homemade Honey Citrus Shampoo.
- To protect your skin from infection and bacteria, add a teaspoon of aloe gel to this Homemade Body Butter Lotion.
Risks and Side Effects
Aloe latex should not be taken in high doses because it may cause adverse side effects, such as stomach pain and cramps. Long-term use of large amounts of aloe latex might also cause diarrhea, kidney problems, blood in the urine, low potassium, muscle weakness, weight loss and heart issues.
Don’t take aloe vera, either gel or latex, if you’re pregnant or breast feeding. There are some reports of aloe causing miscarriage and birth defects. Children younger than 12 years old may experience abdominal pain, cramps and diarrhea, so I don’t recommend aloe vera for child use either.
- If you have diabetes, some research suggests aloe might lower blood sugar, so if you take it by mouth and you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels closely.
- If you have intestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or obstruction, don’t take aloe latex because it’s a bowel irritant.
- Don’t take aloe latex if you have hemorrhoids because it could make the condition worse.
- High doses of aloe latex have been linked to kidney failure and other serious conditions, so don’t take it if you have kidney problems.
- Aloe might affect blood sugar levels and could interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. Stop taking it at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
- If you take digoxin (Lanoxin), don’t use aloe latex because it works as a stimulant laxative and decreases potassium levels in the body; low potassium levels can increase the risk of side effects when taking this medication.
Before taking aloe vera, consult your doctor if you take the following medications:
- Diabetes medications
- Sevoflurane (Ultane)
- Stimulant laxatives
- Warfarin (Coumadin)
- Diuretic medications (water pills)
- Aloe vera is a perennial plant that belongs to the Liliaceae family.
- The plant produces two substances used for medicine: a gel that’s obtained from the cells in the center of the leaf, and the latex, which is obtained from the cells just beneath the leaf’s skin.
- Aloe vera contains more than 75 potentially active components, including vitamins, minerals, saccharides, amino acids and enzymes. It is these components that give aloe its therapeutic potential. The plant is commonly used for burns, wounds, digestive concerns, skin and hair health and inflammatory issues.
- Aloe vera products, including aloe gel, latex, juice and extracts, can be found in many grocery and health food stores. Be sure to choose a product that’s made by a reputable company to ensure that the extraction and processing methods used don’t reduce the plant’s beneficial properties.
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