by Linda M Kennedy
Aloe Vera is a cactus-like succulent that thrives in warm, arid temperatures. It has thick, tapered, spiny leaves that contain a mucilaginous tissue referred to as aloe vera gel. Aloes, or aloe vera juice is also produced from the plant, although this comes from the peripheral bundle sheath cells.
For centuries the aloe vera plant has been used medicinally in many cultures. It contains 75 potentially active constituents including vitamins, enzymes, minerals, sugars, lignin, saponins, saclicylic acids, and amino acids.
It is claimed that aloe vera can help such diverse problems as arthritis, asthma, candida, ulcers, skin problems and digestive and bowel disorders. Pharmacologically it is claimed that aloe vera is anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, will reduce swelling, relieve itching, anaesthetise, and cleanse and detoxify. This article will address some of these claims while looking at the healthy benefits of aloe vera.
Aloe vera is commonly used to aid wound healing, especially in burn victims, with various scientific studies proving its beneficial effects. One trial on patients suffering from acne vulgaris, documented the wound healing effects of aloe vera after a full-faced dermabrasion. Each patient dressed half their face with an aloe vera dressing, and half with a standard wound gel. Overall wound healing was approximately 72 hours faster on the aloe vera side, with reepithelisation up to 90% complete by day 5, compared to only 40-50% on the control side.
Similarly a study comparing wound healing and post-operative pain performed on patients having a hemorrhoidectomy, found that use of an aloe cream provided significant pain relief and improved wound healing. Initially, rapid healing and pain relief following the use of aloe vera gel are facilitated by its anti-inflammatory properties, prostaglandin, and bradykinin hydrolysing enzymes.
It is hypothesised that a number of polysaccharides contained in aloe vera gel aid in up-regulating white blood cell activity, and stimulate active growth substances, especially in epithelisation, both of which are important in wound healing. A constituent of aloe vera that induces fibroblastic proliferation also promotes collagen deposition and tissue reorganisation. Aloe vera juice also contains anthraquinones, which are believed to be beneficial in minimising infection.
The use of aloe vera as an oral supplement has also been promoted for treating diabetes mellitus and dyslipidemia. Several clinical studies have evaluated fasting blood glucose levels in patients suffering with diabetes or prediabetes, and concluded that oral aloe vera use resulted in a significant reduction in those levels, as well as blood triglyceride levels. Animal studies have also shown that aloe vera can have a hypoglycaemic effect.
Total cholesterol levels have been shown to reduce when aloe vera is taken, with some studies showing a significant decrease in LDL cholesterol levels. Aloe vera has the ability to suppress adipogenic gene expression, as well as increasing the clearance and decreasing production of the major transporters of endogenously synthesised cholesterol and triglycerides. The reduction in hyperlipidaemia has been attributed to the saponins and phenolic compounds found in aloe vera.
Aloe vera has also been used to aid digestion and ease bowel disorders. Clinical studies have evaluated its effect on irritable bowel syndrome, as well as inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis. A study of patients with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis that were given oral aloe vera, or a placebo, resulted in reduced clinical and histological disease activity for those taking the aloe vera.
The mechanisms by which aloe vera act in this case are unclear, however its beneficial action may be due to the phenolic antioxidants it contains, as well as the superoxide dismutase enzymes. The anthraquinones in the aloe vera juice are attributed with its strong laxative effect, which can stimulate the colon to induce bowel movements. This may not only aid digestion, but will help to ease constipation.
Aloe vera, a succulent commonly found in hot, dry climates is beneficial to humans for a range of problems. In fact, the health benefits of aloe vera have given rise to a relatively new type of dietary supplement referred to as glyconutrients. Side effects of the supplement are rare, although there have been reports of allergic skin reactions and bloating. Recommended dosages should be followed as oral aloe vera can be a very strong purgative and laxative.