Aloe vera is something of a wonder-plant that is receiving growing recognition for its medical, nutritional and cosmetic uses. While best known for treating burns, this versatile plant has many more surprising health benefits that are certainly far from garden-variety. Throughout the ages, this plant has been known by a range of flattering names such as ‘the silent healer’, ‘the wand of heaven’ and ‘heaven’s blessing’. We take a look at aloe vera’s merits and explore how this plant works its natural magic.
What is Aloe Vera?
It is a plant species that grows in tropical climates around the world and is cultivated for medicinal and agricultural uses. It can also be grown as a potted plant for decoration.
Hello to Aloe
Aloe vera is cultivated worldwide as an ornamental plant and is well known for its succulent leaves. Its uses extend far beyond the cosmetic — indeed, aloe vera has a long history of use in traditional medicines, particularly in Indian, Mexican and Chinese cultures. 2000 years ago, Greek scientists considered aloe vera to be the universal cure for all disease. Aloe vera is actually the most biologically active member of the Aloe species, possessing more than 75 active elements, including vitamins, enzymes, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids.
Aloe vera gel, which is found in the innermost layer of each leaf, is considered to be the safest and most nutritionally advantageous part to consume. This gel can be easily harvested at home whenever necessary, such as when a treating a minor burn or adding it to a smoothie.
Aloe vera is packed with goodness and is readily available, but what sort of miracles can it work?
Aloe Vera and the Skin
The first published use of aloe vera in the treatment of skin dates back to 1935, where fresh whole-leaf extract — applied topically — was found to effectively provide relief from burning and irritation caused by radiation-induced dermatitis. Additionally, the plant was found to aid the skin’s regeneration process. Since then, there have been a number of clinical trials supporting the validity of aloe vera’s healing properties in the treatment of numerous skin conditions, such as psoriasis, burn injuries and surgical wounds.
One study conducted by the Acne Research Institute in California investigated the effect of aloe vera on the recovery time of post-dermabrasion wounds, caused by the surgical removal of the epidermis — the outer-most layer of the skin. Researchers found that wounds treated with aloe vera healed an impressive 72 hours faster.
There are several contributing factors behind the wound-healing powers of aloe vera. This curative plant contains glucomannan, gibberellin, and allatoin, all of which stimulate growth factor receptors on the fibroblast, a skin cell found in connective tissue. It is these interactions which increase collagen synthesis, strengthening the skin and proving aloe vera’s effectiveness in healing dermal wounds as well treating acne.
Another reason aloe vera is fantastic for the skin is its rich content of mucopolysaccharides; these carbohydrate polymers effectively lock moisture into the skin. The enhanced moisturizing effect of cosmetic products containing aloe vera has been conclusively demonstrated by researchers at the Laboratory of Cosmetic Technology in Brazil.
Aloe Vera and the Body
Potential Therapy for Diabetes
The benefits on offer aren’t limited to skin — aloe vera is believed to be an effective remedy for managing diabetes, particularly among Latin American culture. Several animal and human studies have shown the juice or gel of the plant to be effective in lowering blood glucose levels. Although more studies are needed, researchers have confirmed that aloe vera demonstrates potential as a viable and natural therapy for diabetes.
Aloe vera has also been shown to hold significant merit in the treatment of various types of cancer. In one study, researchers orally administered aloe vera and melatonin to one patient group, while the other group received doses of melatonin alone. Researchers found that the aloe vera group experienced almost twice the amount of disease stabilization when compared to the control group. Scientists believe this to be due to two key elements found in aloe: glycoproteins and polysaccharides, both of which have potential anticancer effects.
Yet another use of this multipurpose plant is in the natural relief of constipation. This time the active ingredient lies in the latex, the yellow residue found directly under the skin of the leaf. Aloe vera latex contains a glucoside called aloin that is believed to be responsible for its pronounced laxative effect.
Note: If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or on any medication, speak to your doctor before ingesting aloe vera.
Aloe vera also features in dentistry. A study by the Uttar Department of Public Health Dentistry found that 100% pure aloe vera juice was just as effective as a brand mouthwash at treating dental plaque. This is attributed to its powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties, which inhibit the growth of candida albicans — the most common type of yeast found in oral cavities. Its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties also make it an effective treatment for both gingivitis and periodontitis.
The Bottom Line
You’d be hard pressed to find a plant with more tricks up its sleeve — mother nature’s Swiss army-knife really does seem to have endless applications. When we consider the mounting scientific evidence supporting the benefits of this folk medicine, it is easy to see why its roots permeate a broad spectrum of industries. It can be juiced, applied to the skin or added to your food. With so many ways to reap the rewards, why not take advantage today?
Nutritional Values of Aloe Vera Gel
By Kim Walker, Founder of 2B Nourished
The gel inside the aloe leaf contains at least 75 known ingredients, and there may be more which are yet to be discovered. These ingredients can be divided into the following groups:
Aloe contains a wide range of vitamins, with the most important being the antioxidant vitamins C, E and beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. It is also one of the very few plants in the world to contain vitamin B12.
These include magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, chromium, calcium, sodium, potassium and iron.
The human body requires 20 amino acids. Aloe vera gel provides 19 of them. More importantly, it provides 7 of the 8 essential amino acids that cannot be manufactured by the body and which therefore have to be included in your diet.
These include the important long chain polysaccharides, which boost the immune system.
These include lipases and proteases, which break down food and aid digestion, as well as a carboxypeptidase, which is involved in anti-inflammatory processes.
Aloe contains the 3 main types of plant sterols, which act as powerful anti-inflammatory agents.
These are soapy substances that exert a powerful anti-microbial effect against bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeast such as candida or thrush.
This compound gives aloe vera its penetrative quality, allowing its healing properties to be absorbed by the skin.
These strong painkillers, the most important ones being aloin and emodin, also possess anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. In their pure form they are powerful laxatives.
The aspirin-like compound is anti-inflammatory when taken orally. Used topically it helps exfoliate the skin.
Which type of Aloe
In terms of consumer products, the International Aloe Science Council (IASC) allows the term ‘Juice’ to be used for a liquid containing only 15% certified aloe vera. To qualify as ‘Gel’ the product must contain at least 85% certified aloe vera. When buying aloe products, look for the Seal of Approval of the International Aloe Science Council.References