Natural Health and Fitness

12 Surprising Uses and Benefits of Aloe Vera: Healing Effects and More That You Need to Know

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benefits of aloe veraAloe vera is the most widely known plant of the genus Aloe.[1] The name aloe vera means “true aloe”. It is so-named because it is cultivated as the standard source for pharmaceutical purposes. The cactus-like plant is used for decorative as well as medicinal purposes. In this post, we shall look at some of the uses and benefits of aloe vera (or simply aloe).

Frankly, studies on the health benefits of aloe vera have not been consistent, with some studies have contradicting others. However, the plant has been used for centuries and remains popular for its medicinal properties. Centuries of consistent positive feedback can’t all be wrong.

Aloe vera is a key ingredient in many oral and topical health and beauty products.

To be honest, we cannot fit all information about aloe vera uses and benefits in one post. That would require a whole book. And books have been written about it. Now the benefits.

Aloe Vera Uses and Benefits

1. Natural Medicine for Healthy Skin

Aloe vera has proved to be beneficial in skin problems and may help improve skin tone by increasing fibroblasts. These produce collagen and elastic fibers and give the skin its structure.[2] Studies have shown than aloe vera may be effective in treating psoriasis, acne, seborrhea, dandruff, and even genital herpes.

Scientific evidence suggests that using aloe gel topically may improve symptoms of genital herpes in men. Two studies showed that men who used aloe vera cream containing 0.5% aloe saw lesions heal faster than those who got a placebo cream.[3]

Aloe vera gel may also help keep skin clear, hydrated, nourished. It is also used to treat sunburn and has been shown to aid skin healing.

2. Aloe Vera and Dental Health

The uses of aloe vera for dental health are numerous, and various studies have proved its efficacy. Due its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, it is used in the treatment of gingivitis and periodontitis.[4]

Clinical studies have shown that aloe vera may be a safe way to reduce plaque and gingivitis. One study showed aloe vera can be an effective natural mouthwash and could help reduce plaque and gingivitis, thus help prevent teeth loss due to periodontal disease.[5]

Aloe may also help stop or reduce bad breath. It contains an anti-inflammatory compound called B-sitosterol which is thought to calm acid indigestion that is often the cause of bad breath.[6]

3. Promote Digestive Health

Digestive issues are among the most commonly reported health issues in the world. They can range from discomfort – such as gas – to acute discomfort or pain. They can interfere with our daily lives. Therefore, preventing these would be a good thing, as well as easing or stopping them when they do occur. Aloe vera may help in both.

Because of its anti-inflammatory and laxative components, aloe vera may promote digestive tract health. Being a natural laxative, aloe can help with regularity and elimination of toxins.

You are probably aware of the benefits of probiotics for gut health as well as general health. Probiotics require prebiotics to flourish. Aloe vera is a prebiotic.

Research shows that the anti-inflammatory actions of aloe vera gel may have therapeutic effect in inflammatory bowel disease (IBS).[7]

4. High in Vitamins, Minerals

Aloe is often associated with medicinal properties and not nutritional value. However, the plant does supply many important nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Vitamins include including A (beta-carotene), C, E, folate (folic acid), B1, B2, B3 (niacin), and B6. Aloe Vera is also one of the few plants that contains vitamin B12.

Among the 20 minerals the plant provides include calcium, chromium, sodium, potassium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.

5. Provides Amino Acids

Aloe vera provides 20 of the 22 amino acids required by humans, including 7 of the 8 essential amino acids.[8] Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which the body requires to make new cells and tissues. Essential amino acids are those that the body can’t make on its own and therefore must be obtained through the diet.

6. May Support Weight Loss

Though many people take aloe products – especially aloe vera juice – for weight loss, sufficient scientific research in support of this is hard to come by. One study showed significant reduction in body fat in aloe gel-treated mice.

The results of that study suggest that aloe vera gel intake may reduce fat accumulation, and “might be beneficial for the prevention and improvement of diet-induced obesity”.[9] Whether similar effect could be obtained in humans is not clear.

Some weight loss benefits may also be obtained from nutrients and phytonutrients in the plant.

7. Lowers Cholesterol and Triglycerides

Aloe has also been linked to decreased blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides).[10]

Research indicates that aloe consuming may lower LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol). One study published it may lower the production of cholesterol by as much as 30 percent.[11]

8. Reduces Blood Sugar

Studies suggest that intake of aloe vera juice can help improve blood glucose (blood sugar) levels and may therefore be beneficial in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

One study showed that diabetic people who drank aloe vera juice for 42 days experienced a 40 percent reduction in blood sugar and triglycerides.[12]

Aloe seems to work by stimulating the production of insulin in the pancreas. It is therefore only helpful for those whose pancreas is still producing insulin, that is, those with type 2 diabetes. Aloe does not appear to cause weight gain, a common side effect of diabetes medications.[13]

9. Improves Healing of Wounds

Aloe has been used for thousands of years to treat cuts and burns. While studies on its benefits for treating burns have been inconclusive and sometimes conflicting, research shows it may help speed up wound healing. A review study on properties of aloe vera in healing of cutaneous wounds showed aloe to be “useful” for wound healing.[14]

10. Reduces Inflammation

Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties that may be beneficial for both internal and external use. This means it can help in a number of health conditions and diseases. As previously mentioned, the anti-inflammatory properties may help alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel disease (see digestive health, #3 above) and other inflammatory disorders of the gut. Using aloe topically may also help ease inflammation of joints.

Drinking aloe vera juice may also help alkalize the body, thus possibly soothing symptoms caused by acidity.

11. Reduces Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

Taking aloe vera internally may help improve circulation and therefore cardiovascular health. Its cholesterol-lowering properties may help prevent heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis.

One study looked at 5,000 patients who had angina symptoms (chest or heart discomfort caused when your heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood) over five years. Researchers found that when patients added psyllium husks and aloe vera to the diet, they reported reduced frequency of angina attacks, such that drugs for the condition were tapered.[15]

12. Heartburn Relief

We all experience the occasional heartburn, which is often treatable with over-the-counter medication or lifestyle modification.[16] However, we are talking about a more serious condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is a long-term condition that causes symptoms such as heartburn, chest pain, regurgitation, dry cough, and troubled swallowing.

Left untreated, GERD can lead to irreparable damage to the esophagus due to erosion of from stomach acid. This can even result in esophageal cancer.

Aloe vera can be used to decrease the severity and frequency of heartburn caused by GERD.

Rather than neutralize acid levels (the acids are required for digestion), aloe works by alkalizing your body. The plant can therefore be used as a natural, low toxicity remedy for GERD. Be sure to work with your doctor on this, all the same.

Aloe Vera Dosage

Aloe vera products come in different dosages, depending on use. According to WebMD, creams for minor burns contain about 0.5% aloe vera, while those used for psoriasis may contain as much as 70%. For constipation, some us use 100-200 milligrams, or 50,000 milligrams of aloe extract.

There is no recommended daily allowance (RDA) or dose for oral supplementation of aloe vera (as at the time of this post). However, high doses should be avoided. Working with a licensed health care professional is highly recommended.

Safety and Side Effects

Aloe Without recommended doses, allowances, or intake, there is no clear guidance as to what safe doses might be. Aloe is likely safe when applied to skin for inflammation, sunburn and skin conditions such as psoriasis, and wound healing.[17]

Aloe may also be safe when taken orally and appropriately in the short-term.[18] Long-term use is not recommended; an on-off schedule may a good idea.

Those with known allergy or sensitivity to aloe should avoid it. Those with sensitivity or allergy to plants or parts of plants in the Liliaceae family, such as garlic, onions, and tulips may also want to avoid aloe. An allergic reaction to aloe should be considered a medical emergency.

Products made from whole-leaf aloe contain a compound called aloin, which may be harmful and potentially carcinogenic.[19] Ingesting products that contain aloe latex should be avoided as this too can be harmful. Therefore whole-leaf products that contain latex and/or aloin should be avoided.

The laxative effects of whole-leaf aloe vera may be a welcome thing for some people, but not to others as this may cause lose stools and diarrhea.

Also to be avoided are products that contain carrageenan, an element from seaweed used as thickening agent. Carrageenan has been linked to digestive problems, therefore counteracting the digestive health benefits of aloe vera.

Aloe may lower blood sugar levels. This may be beneficial for someone with elevated blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) but not for someone with low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). People with diabetes should be aware of their blood sugar levels as well as factoring in blood sugar reducing medications before ingesting it. Talk to your doctor before starting to take aloe.

Pregnant women should avoid consuming aloe vera.

And there is the matter of product quality. Products can vary significantly, and this includes ingredients and concentrations. The best bet is to go for reputable manufacturers.

Getting Aloe Vera

You can actually eat raw aloe vera (some even say it is a superfood). However, you should peel away the skin (which is bitter and contains latex) with a sharp knife and crush the meat on the inside and eat that. If you find the gel unpalatable, you can wash it away, but you might lose some of the active ingredients.

To make it more palatable, you can try juicing the skinned plant. You do this by mixing pieces of the meat and gel with water, which you can then drink. Skinned aloe pieces can also be added to salads, juices, or smoothies.

Aloe vera products are derived from two substances from the plant, clear gel and yellow latex. Aloe gel is found in the inner part of the plant’s leaf. Aloe latex comes from under the skin and is yellow in color. Whole-leaf aloe products contain both gel or latex. As mentioned earlier, these should be avoided.

Aloe vera supplements are available too and come in powder, liquid, or capsules.

By the way: Non-whole-leaf aloe, which is recommended for internal use, is also known as decolorized aloe.

Aloe vera products can be bought at most health stores and pharmacies online and offline. Aloe is not a magic pill, but it is an all-natural element that provides nutrients as well as phytonutrients to support a healthy lifestyle.


References:

[1] Wikipedia: Aloe Vera

[2] See # 4

[3] UMD: Herpes simplex virus

[4] PMC: Aloe Vera in Dentistry

[5] PubMed: Effect of Aloe vera mouthwash on periodontal health

[6] HIS: More than a cooling gel

[7] PubMed: Anti-inflammatory effects of aloe vera gel in human colorectal mucosa in vitro

[8] PMC: ALOE VERA: A SHORT REVIEW

[9] PubMed: Administration of dried Aloe vera gel powder reduced body fat mass…

[10] Diabetes UK: Aloe Vera and Diabetes

[11] PubMed: Efficacy of dietary aloe vera supplementation on hepatic cholesterol…

[12] Diabetes without Drugs: The 5-Step Program to Control Blood Sugar Naturally… By Suzy Cohen

[13] Prescription for Herbal Healing by Phyllis A. Balch

[14] PMC: The Review on Properties of Aloe Vera in Healing of Cutaneous Wounds

[15] Angiology: Prevention of Atheromatous Heart Disease

[16] WebMD: Is It Heartburn or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?

[17] MayoClinic: Aloe

[18] WebMD: ALOE

[19] NIH: Aloe Vera

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