Aloe, or aloe vera, is a prickly, gray-green succulent native to Africa but cultivated around the world. It is perennial with leaves that can grow up to two feet (sixty centimeters) long, and it bears spikes of yellow or orange flowers. The leaves contain a clear gel that that is applied in the skin treatments. A dried yellow sap taken from the leaf base, aloe bitters, is used internally.
EVIDENCE OF BENEFITS
Aloe is an immune stimulant, laxative and anti inflammatory agent. It also promotes the absorption of nutrients through the digestive tract and normalizes blood sugar.
Benefits of aloe for specific health condition include the following:
Burns and other wounds. Scientific studies with animals have shown that aloe vera sap activates macrophages, the immune cells that fight bacterial infection. This allows burns to heal cleanly. The sap stimulates the circulation of blood at the body’s surface, which accelerates wound healing. Aloe vera juice speeds healing because it increases the amount of oxygen carried by the blood to the cells. Aloe gel is a mild anesthetic that relieves itching, swelling and pain. Aloe also helps repair damaged cells and prevents burns from scarring. Moreover aloe contains enzymes, carboxypeptidase and bradykininase, that relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and decrease redness and swelling. Clinical studies have confirmed burns and cuts treated with aloe vera gel heals as much as three days faster than burns and cuts that have been treated with unmedicated dressings or with chemical antiseptic gels.
Cancer . Alo A, a medically active complex sugar in aloe stimulates and regulates various components of the immune system. It stops both the processes of inflammation necessary for tumor to gain new blood supplies and the growth of tumors themselves. In skin cancer study involving animals, aloe gel and vitamin E cream together produce remission approximately 33 percent of the time, compared with 3 percent when no treatment was given.
In addition, certain compounds in aloe seem to prevent cancer- causing substances from entering liver tissue. Because it keeps potential carcinogens from entering the liver, rather than changing the chemistry of the liver itself (like many other cancer treatments), aloe compounds do not cause the liver to create new carcinogens while it deactivates others. Some clinics have used aloe vera to increase the effectiveness of cancer treatment with the chemotherapy agents cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar) and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU). Several studies indicate that aloe vera gel can protect both the immune system and the skin from the effects radiation treatment. In addition at least one study suggests taking aloe internally can reduce the likelihood of lung cancer in smokers.
Constipation. Aloe bitters are a fast and effective remedy for constipation used widely outside the United States. When compared with other herbal stimulant laxatives such as cascara sagrada or senna, aloe draws less fluid into the large intestine from the rest of the body. This makes less likely than cascara or senna to cause dehydration or electrolyte disturbances. Aloe juices have the same effects as bitters on constipation but are less reliable and offer less relief.
Crohn’s disease. Aloe juice is an effective anti-inflammatory for Crohn’s disease. It also ensures soft stools. Aloe bitters and aloe laxatives, however, should be avoided by people with crohn’s disease, since they may cause painful cramps. Cathartic preparation of aloe should be avoided.
Diabetes. In one five- years study, 3,167 diabetic patients with atherosclerotic heart disease were given 120 grams parboiled aloe leaves for lunch and dinner each day. The patient showed marked decreases in level of cholesterol, triglycerides, and sugar. While aloe leaves are unlikely to be eaten as a vegetable in the United States, this research demonstrates the ant diabetic potency of the herb. In another test, diabetic patients were given a spoonful of a much more palatable aloe extracts with water everyday at every meal for fourteen weeks. Their average fasting blood- sugar level fell from a very high 273 milligrams per deciliters (mg/dl) to a slightly elevated 151 mg/dl. Aloe seems to act by stimulating the pancreas to secret insulin. For this reason, it is potentially helpful for people with type 2 diabetes whose body still produce insulin. However, one of aloe’s strengths is that it does not cause weight gain, a common side effect of some diabetes medications.
Frostbite. Aloe prevents a decrease of blood flow to the frozen tissues, which is the common cause of tissue loss in frostbite. People treated with aloe vera cream are more likely to heal with no tissue loss or amputation.
Hangover. An aloe compound called aloin helps prevent alcoholic intoxication, probably by preventing the passage of alcohol from the intestine into the bloodstream.
Hemorrhoids. Aloe gel helps heal wounds and can be applied topically. India’s ayurvedic physicians recommend drinking ½ cup of aloe juice three times a day until hemorrhoid flare-ups are gone.
HIV/AIDS. In test –tubes studies, acemannan, apotent immune-stimulating compound in aloe, was shown to be active against HIV. Acemannan also may reduce requirements for Zidovudine (Retrovir, better known as AZT).The recommended amount of acemennan is up to 250 milligrams four times a day .It takes about a quart of the aloe juice to provide 1,600 milligrams of acemennan.
Kidney stones. Aloe juice contains aloemannan. This complex sugar concentrates in the kidneys, stimulates the growth of health kidneys cells ,and slow the rate of crystal formation
Radiation exposure. Aloe protects against skin-damaging x-rays. Aloe is an effective antioxidant that absorbs the free radicals caused by radiation.
Skin disorders and wrinkles. A clinical study found that using aloe vera cream twice a day for four weeks” cured” psoriasis inflammation, stopping skin outbreaks for at least a year. Aloe gels applied to the skin relieves the pain and inflammation of eczema and psoriasis. A potent ant-inflammatory chemical in aloe is as effective as hydrocortisone in treating skin irritation, without hydrocortisone’s detrimental effects on the immune system, and using aloe vera cream with hydrocortisone increases relief of inflammation. In a study involving sixty volunteers, daily use of aloe vera gel cleared up psoriasis in over 80 percent of volunteers, compared with 7 percent treated with placebo.
Research at the University of Maryland has found that another compound in aloe, (aloe emodin,) which is also responsible for aloe’s laxative effect, kills the viruses that that cause herpes and shingles. Aloe which has antibacterial and moisturizing effects also has been shown to rejuvenate sun-aged skin.
Surgery recovery. Studies have shown that patients who underwent surgical procedures and were treated with a dressing and aloe healed much faster than those who were treated with dressing and surgical gel.
Ulcers. Aloe soothes peptic-ulcer inflammation caused by excess acid, aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and alcohol, Studies shows that aloe vera leave sap heals ulcers so completely that researchers recommend it over the anti- ulcer drug cimetidine ( Tagamet ). In people with AIDS, it soothes the lining of the digestive tract, increasing nutrients absorption.
CONSIDERATION FOR USE
Use aloe gel for skin problems, bitters for constipation and kidney stones, and juice for other disorders. Aloe gel is available commercially and may also be taken from one’s own plants. Leaves up to one foot long may be removed from the plant without causing damage. The best time of day for cutting aloe leaves is mid-afternoon, when the plant has moved maximum amount of sap into the leaf.
Be aware that there are many so-called aloe vera products on the market that actually contain very little aloe vera. They are watered-down imitations that are not as beneficial as bona-fide aloe vera . Read products labels. Aloe vera should be listed as primary ingredient-that is, it should be the first – or second listed ingredient.
Aloe bitters and aloe juice should not be taken internally during pregnancy or menstruation, or in cases of rectal bleeding, although aloe gel may be used externally under these conditions. The laxative compounds in aloe are passed into the mother’s milk, so nursing mothers should avoid internally use of aloe.
Any laxative, herbal or otherwise affects the rate at which other orally administered drugs are absorbed into the blood stream. Therefore, prescription medication and aloe laxatives should be taken at different times.
Long-term internal use (more than two weeks) is not recommended because the fluid drawn into the stool can result in depletion of electrolytes, especially potassium. Loss of potassium is even better when aloe is taken internally with potassium-wasting diuretic drugs. Depletion of potassium by excessive use of aloe laxative theoretically could lead to toxic buildup of calcium in the blood stream and kidney damage in women who take calcium carbonate (such as Caltrate 600) for osteoporosis. Potassium depletion also can cause serious mineral imbalances in persons who take forms of lithium, including Cibalith-S, Eskalith, Lithobid, Lithonat, and lithotabs, for the treatment of bipolar disorder. The internal use of aloe should likewise be avoided by people who take potassium – depleting drugs for higher blood pressure congestive heart failure, such as hydrochlorothiazide (found in diuretic drugs sold under a wide range of brand names ) or furosemide ( Lasix ).
Ayurvedic medicines use aloe to stimulate fertility in women. Women who take birth control pills should avoid internal use of aloe, although application of aloe to the skin will not interact with oral contraceptives.