The Aloe Vera plant has long been kept in the houses of the masses because it’s a well known fact that Aloe cures ‘everything’. The term ‘Everything’ is used in the loosest sense of the word, however applications of Aloe Vera cover a wide range of health ailments and is frequently referred as nature’s “miracle plant”.
The Aloe Vera Plant
Other names for plant include the Aloe Barbados and the Aloe Vera Burm. Unbeknownst to most people the Aloe Vera plant actually comes from the same family as the Lily and is native to Africa particularly South Africa and Madagascar, but can also be found in India. It has now since been cultivated and grown all across Europe.
Aloe Vera is a slow growing plant that rarely reaches a metre in height. Its leaves and appearance are very distinctive. Aloe produces hanging budded yellow flowers from a thin spiked stem. Furthermore, the leaves are green, thick and fleshy with a spongy texture. When cut open it possesses a viscous transparent gel which is responsible for its health properties.
The plant can be grown in almost any pH or moisture concentration. However, it is unable to grow in a shaded place, to grow optimally it must be placed in direct sunlight.
How is it grown?
Due to its high adaptability it is very easy to cultivate Aloe away from its endemic habitat. In fact it needs no special requirements, just moist compost, sunlight and warmth.
Its processing is extensive including crushing, grinding and pressing of the Aloe Leaf in order to extract the Aloe gel. After this point the gel undergoes stabilization and filtration to then extract the state required for said product, e.g for tablets, powders or topical gels. Often this can leave the product with no actives, which makes the product useless to health. To avoid this from happening this phase must be conducted between heat specific boundaries (under 60°C).
The History of its use
Evidence has shown that Aloe Vera was used as far back as Ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome. In the year 1550BC an Egyptian papyrus scripture was written that described how the Queens used Aloe Vera to enhance their beauty. In 220BC, the first Aloe Vera Tablet was thought to be created using clay as a base. Alexander the Great went to vast lengths for Aloe Vera, conquering the Socotra Island in order to steal and use their native Aloe Vera resources for wound healing. Moreover, Hippocrates did great work in Aloe use, describing it as ‘purgative’, by that he meant internally cleansing. During the Roman era Aloe juices were described to have “...the power of inducing sleep… it loosens the belly and cleanses the stomach” [4,5].
Its Nutritional Benefits and Active Ingredients
You may be questioning, what makes it so great? Simply put it is packed full of vitamins, minerals and active ingredients that possess potent health properties. To name but a few:
- Vitamins- A (beta-carotene), B1, B2, B6, B9 (Folic Acid), C and Choline
- Enzymes- Cyclooxygenase, superoxide dismutase (SOD), Lipase, oxidase and amylase.
- Minerals- Calcium, Chlorine, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, manganese, Selenium. Potassium, Sodium and Zinc.
- Amino Acids-Alanine, Arginine, Glycine, Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Proline, Threonine, Tyrosine and Valine.
- Other-Glucomannan, Cellulose, Glucogalactomannan, and Salicylic Acid.
The active ingredient of Aloe vera is Aloverose which is a complex sugar that has been shown to produce majority of the health benefits. The higher the Aloverose content the more active the extract will be .
Health Benefits of Aloe Vera
As mentioned previously the health benefits are extensive. Shown below are some approved claims and some detailed scientific evidence to support these.
The topical application of Aloe Vera is well known for its healing properties on wounds and grazes. It is also thought to have beneficial effects on Psoriasis and Eczema too. One study of 60 patients found that the use of daily Aloe Vera healed 80% of Psoriasis ‘plaques’ within just four weeks. On the other hand, only 8% reported this with the Placebo .
The cells of the skin and the digestive system are both a type called “Epithelial” cells. As shown by numerous studies on the skin Aloe Vera has been hugely beneficial in treating inflammation or general disruption of these cells. Therefore, it makes sense that it has the same effect on the cells of the digestive tract. Aloe Vera has been shown to be beneficial for disorders such as in digestion, Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),constipation and diverticulitis.
The benefit of this is that it contributes to a strong immune system. A study showed that Aloe Vera actively inhibits the growth of bacterias Streptococcus Pyogenes and Faecalis, among others. Aloe Vera is naturally full of a compound called Anthraquinone which acts in the same way as antibiotic Tetracycline. It does so by blocking its ability to produce proteins in order to reproduce [6,8]. The Anthraquinones also have an effect on viruses such as Herpes simplex and influenza. Additionally, Aloe Vera has been shown to inhibit the growth of Candida Albicans, which is the fungus responsible for Yeast infections .
Studies have shown that the water soluble elements of Aloe Vera possess glucose lowering properties, preventing large fluctuations in blood glucose concentrations. In addition, Aloe Vera has been shown to reduce body weight, and fat mass which are both factors that may lead to the onset of type-2 diabetes .
Periodontal disease is thought to be increasing due high dependency on fizzy drinks, tea, coffee and sugar laden foods. One study found that Aloe Vera improved the symptoms of this disease .
Little is known of them but they are vital for health. We are constantly battling free radical exposure. Free radicals are molecules that are highly reactive due to a missing electron in their outer shell. In order to satisfy their reactivity they steal electrons from body tissues such as protein, fat/lipids and DNA. This has been proven to lead to disease such as Alzheimer’s and Atherosclerosis. Aloe Vera Contains Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and flavonoids that all act by destroying free radicals and reducing oxidative stress, leading to improved health .
How to take Aloe Vera?
There are a number of ways to take Aloe Vera as it is such a popular product. The options that exist include gels, capsules and tablets. Please note that Aloe Vera should not be taken during pregnancy as it is believed to bring on contractions and can lead to miscarriage.
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- New World Encylopedia. (2008). Aloe. Available: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Aloe.
- Foster.M, Hunter.D, Samman.S. (2011). Chapter 3:Evaluation of the Nutritional and Metabolic Effects of Aloe vera. In: CRC Press Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. . 2nd ed. Florida: CRC Press. Pg. 67-82.
- DW. (2016). Aloe Vera Plant History Uses and Benefits. Available: http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/aloe-vera.shtml.
- Said.S. (2004). Aloe Vera History. Available: http://www.aloeria.co.uk/html/aloe_vera_history.html.
- Gupta.V, Malhotra.S. (2012). Pharmacological attribute of Aloe vera: Revalidation through experimental and clinical studies. An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda. 33 (2), Pg. 193-196
- Brewer, S.Dr.. (2002). Aloe Vera. In: Grapevine Publishing Services The Daily Telegraph Encyclopediaof Vitamins, Minerals and Herbal Supplements. . London: Constable & Robinson. Pg. 13-16.
- Radha.M, Laxmipriya.N. (2015). Evaluation of biological properties and clinical effectiveness of Aloe vera: A systematic review. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. 5 (1), Pg. 21-26.
- Bhat.G, Judva.P, Dodwad,V. (2011). Aloe vera: Nature's soothing healer to periodontal disease. Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology. 15 (3), Pg. 205-209.