Aloe vera is one out of about 420 species of the genus Aloe. Botanically, aloe vera is known as Aloe barbadensis miller. The perennial succulent plants is green and triangular in design, and features serrate borders and fleshy leaves. While the plant is indigenous to the Sudan, it was later introduced to the Mediterranean area, as well as warm regions in Africa, Asia, Indian, the US, and Europe.
The gel that is known to offer health and healing is a jelly-like substance. Aloe vera also holds a yellow substance beneath the leaf’s skin, known as latex. Some aloe products that you may buy are made from aloe vera’s crushed leaf, and therefore contain both the gel and latex or sap.
The Most Active of Aloes
Biologically, aloe vera is considered to be the most active of aloes. Over 75 potentially active element have been identified, including minerals, vitamins, amino acids, anthraquinones, lignin, saponins, enzymes, and salicylic acids. Indeed, the plant is a healthy source of nutrition, as if provides 20 of the 22 needed amino acids for health and all eight essential amino acids.
A Breakdown of the Components
To break down the components, more specifically, aloe vera contains the following:
- Antioxidant vitamins C, A, and E, plus choline, folic acid and vitamin B12.
- Eight enzymes, including alkaline phosphatase, aliiase, bradykinase, amylase, catalase, carboxypeptidase, lipase, cellulase, and peroxidase.
- Minerals, including chromium, manganese, magnesium, calcium, selenium, copper, potassium, zinc, and sodium.
- Twelve anthraquinones – compounds known as laxatives. One of the main compounds is *aloin (found in the sap of the leaf (or the latex). This substance also is categorized as an analgesic, antiviral, and antibacterial.
*However, this aloe one substance that should not be ingested directly as it can cause severe stomach upset and lead to electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, and diarrhea. This is a hazardous byproduct of the plant that should be avoided. The substance, which is found in the latex coating beneath the skin, or the inner rind of the leaves of the plant. As long as it is removed, or the latex, the gel is perfectly safe.
- Four fatty acids, including campesterol, betasisosterol, lupeol, and cholesterol – all which provide anti-inflammatory support.
- Auxins and gibberellins – hormones that assist with wound healing, and possess anti-inflammatory properties.
- Sugars, such as polysaccharides and monosaccharides (fructose and glucose).
Some of the Major Health Benefits
Given these elements, aloe vera provides the following major health benefits.
1. Soothes Skin Irritations, including Rashes
Applying aloe vera topically lends to wound healing and the treatment of skin conditions, such as psoriasis, oral mucositis, and dermatitis. You can also use the gel to treat minor burns. Studies show that aloe vera can be used effectively to treat frostbite, and provide antimicrobial and antifungal relief.
2. Heals Cold Sores
Apply aloe vera gel to a cold sore several times a day to ease the discomfort of a cold sore and induce healing. You can also take the gel by mouth for the same effect. The anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties in the gel boost healing and reduce cold sore pain. In fact, the gel can be used to treat or get rid of any mouth sores.
Sores heal because of the plant’s amino acids and B vitamins, including vitamins B1, B2, and B6. Vitamin C also supports the healing process. The vitamin B6 in the gel serves as a natural pain treatment by creating antibodies in the immune system, meant to protect and heal.
3. Moisturizes the Scalp and Hair
If you have an itchy scalp or dry hair, you can take advantage of aloe’s nourishing properties. The vitamins and minerals in the gel keep the hair healthy and strong. Because aloe vera is an antifungal and antibacterial substance, it can eliminate dandruff. The enzymes in the gel eliminate dead cells on the scalp, thereby regenerating the skin tissue surrounding the follicles.
Aloe stops the itching related to dried scalp or dandruff. By adding the gel, you can keep your scalp free of uncomfortable side effects and harmful bacteria.
4. Treats Constipation and Aids Digestion
The anthraquinones in the plant’s latex provide potent laxative properties, increasing intestinal peristalsis. These contractions break down food and combine with chyme for digestion. However, again, you need to be careful about using the sap. Don’t ingest the substance or treat constipation with this method without consulting a physician.
You can use the juice, however, without the latex, to normalize your acids and alkalines, or pH balance in the intestines. When the juice is consumed, yeast formation is reduced and digestive bacteria increases, regularizing the bowels.
One study that was recorded in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences showed that drinking aloe vera juice twice daily reduced irritable bowel syndrome discomfort in patients. While the study suggests that drinking the juice may be beneficial to people with IBS, more research still needs to be performed. You are more likely to suffer from IBS if you are a woman, under the age of 50, or other family members had IBS. You may also contract the condition if you suffer from depression or anxiety.
Soothing Stomach Ulcers
Aloe vera juices and gels have been used to soothe and heal stomach ulcers because of their antibacterial qualities. The natural healing properties of aloe vera restores the intestinal lining back to health.
5. Boosts Immune System Health
Enzymes in aloe vera gel break down proteins that are consumed into amino acids, which, in, turn energizes the body. Consuming aloe vera also contributes to better cell functioning. The bradykinase in the gel stimulates the immune response, which kills infections. People with a zinc deficiency can also consume aloe to restore this nutrient. Zinc is needed to maintain immunity.
By consuming aloe vera gel or liquid, you can protect the membranes of the cells and ward off disease. The gel has been used in dentistry as well. Because it offers anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antifungal, and antiviral properties, it builds up the immune response without triggering allergies or unwanted side effects.
6. Reduces Inflammation and Supplies Antioxidants
Because inflammation is the cause for most diseases, aloe vera is a good plant to use to fight inflammatory responses. The large number of minerals and vitamins in the gel fight free radical damage and lower inflammation.
For instance, vitamin A in the gel maintains healthy vision, better neurological functioning, and healthier skin because the vitamin reduces inflammation. Vitamin C in the plant safeguards the body from eye diseases, skin wrinkling, prenatal health issues, or heart disease.
As an antioxidant, vitamin E in aloe vera reduces the damage of free radicals and naturally slows cell aging. These type of antioxidant properties help when you care exposed to UV rays or cigarette smoke, as they fight inflammation or guard against the formation of cancer. Aloe vera gel can also be used as a natural acne treatment.
7. Treats Diabetes
Some research suggests that the use of aloe vera can alleviate chronic hyperglycemia – known in diabetics. Use of the product also aids in reducing the cardiovascular complications associated with the disease.
The first recordings of the benefits of aloe vera juice reach back about 6,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptians considered the plant the life-giver or blood that held mysteries to immortality, health, and beauty. In fact, Cleopatra used the nourishing liquid as part of her regular skin care routine.
The Plant of Eternity
Aloe vera was also used for embalming because of its anti-fungal and anti-bacterial qualities. Egyptians believed that by stopping natural decomposition, eternal life would be realized on a spiritual and physical level. Therefore, the plant, at the time, was often referred to as a “plant of eternity.” The plant’s pain-soothing effects was documented in a papyrus around 1,550 BC.
Used for Battle Wounds
During the time of Alexander the Great, aloe was used as a medicinal treatment in Asia. Alexander made sure the plant was transported in carts to treat soldiers during his various campaigns. Legend has it that Aristotle advised Alexander to focus on capturing the island of Socotra to obtain possession of aloe groves. This advice was well-taken, as it allowed Alexander to store sufficient quantities of the medicinal plant to heal wounds after battles.
Ancient Roman Remedies
During the reign of Roman emperor Nero, naturalist and physician Dioscorides traveled through Asia finding new sources of healing. The physician wrote several pharmaceutic books that demonstrated the positive influences of plant therapy. Dioscorides suggested using aloe vera juice for a number of physical conditions, including the treatment of gastrointestinal distress, arthralgia, gingivitis, skin irritations, hair loss, acne, and sunburn.
In the Chinese culture, aloe vera has been an important medicine since the times Marco Polo explored China. The treatment book, called Shi-Shen described the use of aloe vera as a “Method of Harmony.”
A Japanese Treatment
The Japanese also have and still do value the use of aloe vera. In ancient Japan, aloe vera was called the royal plant. While the juice was considered an elixir, the liquid was used by Samurai warriors as a type of ointment. They used the juice to relieve the pain from the strains and sprains of their occupation.
Touted by Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus, as well. Used aloe vera. The explorer grew aloe vera in pots on his ships, as the plant was used to heal wounds sustained by Columbus’s mercenaries. In fact, Columbus attributed “four vegetables” that were indispensable for a person’s well-being. These four foods were wheat, the grape, olives, and aloe. He noted that the first nourishes people, the second raises people’s spirits, the third provides harmony, and the fourth—aloe—cures people of illness.
Used by the Jesuits
Spanish Jesuit monks, in the 1500s, grew wild aloe vera, spreading the plant in spots where it had not before grown. Today, the monks are known for their knowledge as healers and phytologists (or plant biologists).
Processing the Plant
Aloe can lose its healing potency if it is not used when it is fresh. At least, that proved to be the case when the plant was imported for use. Scientists reasoned that oxidation affected the plant’s quality. Even in the 1950’s many processing methods were used to employ the gel for commercial use.
However, all the techniques failed, as the testers overheated the extract. When aloe is over-heated, it loses its potency. Twenty years later, scientists found that the gel could be stabilized for use in the marketplace by using cold pressing and natural ingredients.
Aloe maintains the distinction of being the only plant know to heal atomic-based burns. The U.S. government bought an entire aloe vera crops from a Texas grower to produce the salve to heal atomic burns.
One of the Oldest Medicinal Plants
History shows us that aloe vera is one of the oldest-mentioned medicinal plants known to civilization. The ancient Egyptians and Chinese used aloe vera for treating burns, healing wounds, and reducing fever. When aloe vera is grown commercially, it is done for its healing and moisturizing properties.
When Aloe Reaches Maturity
One of the most studied herbs in nature, aloe vera plants reach maturity at three to four years old. They can stand as high as 30 inches and feature as many as 21 leaves. The aloe leaf structure is technically comprised of four layers. The rind represents the protective outer layer while the sap is a layer of bitter fluid that safeguards the plants form animals. This sap is also called latex.
The mucilage gel is found in the inner part of the leaf. It is filleted out to produce aloe vera gel and liquid. The aloe vera or inner gel holds the eight essential amino acids the human body requires but cannot manufacture.
The Most Common Reasons for Using Aloe
When you review the reasons that people use the gel from the aloe vera plant, it almost boggles the mind. Not only can the plant’s gel be used for skin care, it can also be used to cure certain conditions or disease.
Before you use the plant, however, for medicinal purposes, you should check with your doctor about its use. Some medicines may contraindicate the use of the plan as a remedy. However, if you get the go-ahead for using aloe vera, by all means use the gel as a therapeutic agent.
Some Reasons People Use Aloe Today
Below are some of the common reasons that people use aloe:
- To heal abrasions
- To great colds
- The treat herpes simplex and zoster
- To treat staph infections
- To treat colic in babies
- To regulate monthly cycles and reduce menstrual cramping
- To treat ulcer and varicose veins
- To treat denture or gum sores
- To eliminate nausea
- To heal burns
- To treat Epstein-Barr virus
- To combat chronic fatigue hypertension
- To treat stings
- To regulate the digestion
- To cool sunburns
- To treat ulcerative colitis
- To reduce joint pain and discomfort and treat arthritis
- To treat dermatitis
- To get rid of parasites, particularly protozoan infections
- To treat vaginitis
- To get rid of radiation dermatitis
- To remove warts
- To treat the viral infections associated with AIDS
- To treat minor contusions
- To heal insect bites and stings
- To reverse allergic reactions
- To soften the hair and eliminate dandruff
- To treat boils
- To treat diabetes
- To heal bruises
- To reduce edema or swelling
- To treat both peptic and duodenal ulcers
The Risks of Using Aloe Vera
Side effects of aloe vera often result from chronic use. Therefore, using discretion and common sense will help you make the most of the gel’s use. Some of the commons side effects include the following:
- Skin irritation
- Cramping and diarrhea, if the latex is consumed, along with the gel
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Staining of the colon, which makes it hard to see the colon during a diagnostic test, such as a colonoscopy
When using aloe gel, orally or topically, make sure it is free of aloin (contained within the latex), as this component can irritate the gastrointestinal tract.
Never apply aloe vera topically to severe burns or deep cuts or gashes. Also, if you are allergic to onions, garlic, or tulips, you may be allergic to aloe vera. High doses of the substance can be dangerous. Never take aloe orally if you have digestive difficulties, hemorrhoids, heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems, or experience an electrolyte imbalance.
If you take certain drugs on a regular basis, consult with your doctor before using aloe in a supplement form. Supplements containing aloe may interact with medications or supplements, such as heart medications, laxatives, licorice root, or steroids.
Highlights of Using Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is rich in vitamins C and E, which make the gel an excellent choice for maintaining skin health and reducing the signs of aging.
Various research studies show that aloe vera can be used for weight loss.
Studies indicate that using aloe vera will keep your hair hydrated, smoother, and moisturized.
Aloe Vera for Skin Health: Skin Care Recipes
A Dry Skin Cure
You can use aloe vera as a home remedy for various skin conditions or beauty regimens. For example, if your skin is dry, use the gel in a mix made of a pinch of turmeric, one teaspoon of honey, a couple drops of rose water, and one teaspoon of milk. Blend the ingredients until it turns into a paste. Apply on the skin for about 20 minutes before rinsing it off. Your face will feel softer and look smoother.
Use one-half cup of aloe vera gel and combine it with a couple tablespoons of lemon juice and one cup of sugar. While the sugar exfoliates the skin, the aloe vera will deep cleans the skin. The lemon is added to smooth everything out. You can use the scrub on the body and the face.
If you need to treat acne, you can combine aloe vera with walnuts and honey, all which will, when blended, give the acne treatment, a flour-like texture. The healing properties of aloe vera, coupled with the other ingredients, will clear up this type of skin irritation.
Caring for Sensitive Skin
Aloe vera gel, along with yoghurt, cucumber juice, and rose oil can be used to treat sensitive skin. This paste-like facial should be left on about 20 minutes before your rinse it off.
Using Aloe Vera for Weight Loss
You can also lose weight more easily when you consume aloe vera. Because aloe vera gel is nutrient-dense, you can speed up weight loss and stay healthy. Aloe vera not only helps you lose weight, but enables you to absorb its vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for better health.
Preparing Aloe Vera for Juice
To prepare aloe vera juice, dice the gel, without the latex, into small pieces before placing it in a blender. Add a fruit or vegetable juice. You can also use the leaves, washing off the latex residue and combine them with honey and fruit juice before drinking.
As you can see, aloe vera is the ideal plant to maintain optimum health. Historically and currently, the gel or leaf from this plant has been used to nurture better health and keep people looking their best.