Top 5 reasons why aloe vera richly deserves its healing reputation
When you think of aloe vera, you likely think of a spiky, succulent-type house plant — and soothing relief from sunburns.
Amazingly, this common plant — which is distantly related to the lily family — has been used medicinally since the 1st century AD, and was referenced in Egyptian texts as early as 1,500 BC.
It’s folk-medicinal reputation rests on the transparent, gelatinous substance that fills and aloe leaf’s moist, dense, inner core.
Aloe’s succulent health secrets
Unlike drugs, which typically contain a single synthetic compound, aloe contains at several different types of substances with potential health benefits:
• Amino acids
• Essential fatty acids
• Aloin (natural laxative)
• Mucopolysaccharides (anti-inflammatory)
• Saponins (soapy antimicrobial compounds)
• Salicylates (aspirin-like anti-inflammatory substances)
• Beta-sitosterol (a sterol found to have anti-inflammatory properties)
Given this wide range of beneficial compounds, it’s not surprising that aloe vera has been found to ease and prevent several health issues.
Despite its ancient medicinal reputation, health claims for aloe often exceed the scientific evidence.
Let’s examine the five alleged benefits backed by the most and best evidence.
Aloe asset #1: Soothing and healing burns
Aloe vera is a time-honored remedy for the most common kitchen emergency — burns.
Many people apply aloe gel to sunburns or other minor burns, and find it very soothing, but what about the scientific evidence?
A small number of clinical and animal studies have found aloe far superior to topical placebos — and markedly superior to two topical drugs for burns, called silver sulfadiazine and nitrofurazone.
Aloe feel soothing for sure, but there’s also evidence that it accelerates two key burn-and wound-healing processes, called epithelialization and granulation.
Aloe asset #2: Digestive relief
Aloe vera may benefit digestive health in two different ways.
Aloe acts as an emollient that soothes the digestive tract and mucous membranes, and can also reduce intestinal inflammation.
This versatile plant has been shown to slow the emptying of the stomach after a meal and assist in the healing of peptic ulcers.
These effects are likely do to its soothing properties, its suppression of the enzyme pepsin when the stomach is empty, and its power against ulcer-causing H. pylori bacteria.
Aloe increases the bioavailability of water- and fat-soluble vitamins and improves the digestion and assimilation of dietary protein.
And dietary aloe may also reduce bacterial putrefaction in the gut — a potential property borne out by studies measuring the amount of urinary indican, which is a by-product of bacterial putrefaction of protein in the gut.
Researcher Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., found that urinary indican levels dropped by an average of 40 percent in people who drank six ounces of aloe vera juice daily for one week.
Lastly, aloe promotes a natural and gentle laxative effect to help with occasional constipation.
However, a note of caution is in order. Aloe contains a compound called aloin that can be toxic when consumed to excess.
If you plan to experiment with liquid aloe products, be sure to get one of the many such products that are clearly labeled aloin-free.
Aloe asset #3: Fighting bacterial infection
Thanks to its rich store of oligosaccharides — complex chains of sugars — aloe has been shown to be effective in combating harmful bacteria.
It appears particularly effective against E. coli, Bordetella pertussis (whooping cough), S. pneumoniae (pneumonia), and H. pylori (the cause of some peptic ulcers).
But, unlike conventional antibiotics, aloe doesn't work by directly killing the microbes.
Instead, it helps your body by preventing infection-causing microbes from colonizing in your bladder, upper respiratory tract, and other vulnerable spots.
Aloe asset #4: Reducing inflammation
Aloe contains three compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation:
- Salicylic acid
- Mucopolysaccharides (also known as glucosaminoglycans or GAGs)
In one study, researchers discovered that topical use of aloe vera decreased inflammation of skin lesions by 29.2 percent.7 In an animal study, aloe was beneficial in reducing acute inflammation in rats.8
Aloe’s anti-inflammatory properties are partially linked to salicylic acid — the naturally occurring counterpart to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid).
Finally, aloe also contains mucopolysaccharides, sugar-amino-sugar chains primarily known for binding to water and lubricating your joints.
Mucopolysaccharides also possess anti-inflammatory properties, and the ones found in aloe vera have been found to reduce inflammation in conditions like ulcerative colitis, arthritis, and gastric reflux.
Aloe asset #5: Blood sugar control
Several studies have shown that aloe helps to control blood glucose levels and improves insulin sensitivity.
The effectiveness of dietary aloe as an aid to blood sugar control was confirmed by the findings of three meta-analyses that covered 22 studies with a total of 1,168 participants.
The findings of these three evidence reviews demonstrated that dietary aloe can improve glycemic (blood sugar) control, fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol.
Supporting health with aloe
There are three main ways to use aloe.
- Topical use: Apply aloe gel (from a tube or the inner layer of the plant itself).
- Supplemental aloe: Consume a powdered concentrate, usually found in capsule form.
- Liquid aloe: Drink aloin-free aloe juice, which should contain at least 50 percent aloe vera gel.
When it comes to burns, the gel from the plant itself may be your best bet — but it’s not very convenient unless you’ve always got aloe plants in your house or garden.
If you purchase aloe gel, choose only products whose labels use the term "stabilized", or otherwise indicate that the active components are intact.
When it comes to aloe juice, aim for 1-2 tablespoons mixed into 2-4 ounces of water taken twice a day. If you prefer capsule-form aloe, aim for 125-250 mg of aloe per day.
Note: If you are extremely weak, fatigued, or devitalized, you should avoid aloe or take very small doses as tolerated, under the guidance of a physician.
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