Health Benefits of Aloe Vera

Aloe vera, Image from Wikimedia CommonsAloe vera is a perennial, tropical & subtropical, succulent plant that grows up to 4 feet tall and has tough, fleshy, spear-like leaves that can grow up to 36 inches long. The inner part of the fleshy leaves contain transparent thick gel (Aloe gel/Aloe latex/Aloe juice) which has medicinal properties. Archaeological evidences suggest that Aloe vera has been medicinally used as early as the Egyptian civilization. Botanists and herbal doctors like Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder had written about Aloe vera plant and its medicinal uses. It has been the most prescribed herbal medicine throughout the 18th and 19th century. Today, Aloe vera is not only used as herbal remedy but also used as dietary supplement and additive for food, beverages, cosmetics, and skin care products. Aloe vera’s ability to treat various diseases such as cancer and diabetes is now being explored by scientists.

Aloe vera gel contains different types of glycoproteins and polysaccharides including mannans, polymannans, anthrones, anthraquinones, and lectins. The biochemical and pharmacological properties of each of these compounds are now being investigated both in animal and human studies.
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Health Benefits of Aloe Vera Gel

  • As a laxative, Aloe gel is taken orally to treat constipation. Laxative is a drug or substance that promotes bowel movements, either by irritating the lower colon or by bulking the stool. Aloe gel, however, is not recommended as herbal remedy for constipation because it can cause painful cramp. Gentler herbal remedies such as cascara and senna are recommended for constipation.
  • Aloe gel is a popular herbal remedy for minor cuts, burns, and sunburns. It will not only reduce pain and inflammation but also stimulate skin growth and repair. Several studies suggest wounds applied with Aloe gel healed faster (average 9 days) compared to wounds that weren’t treated with the gel. Open and deep wounds, however, should not be applied with aloe gel.
  • Preliminary studies show that Aloe gel improves the symptoms of herpes (viral skin disease), psoriasis, and other skin diseases.
  • Preliminary evidence suggests that Aloe gel may help lower blood sugar level in patients with type 2 diabetes. More studies are needed to know if Aloe gel is indeed helpful for type 2 diabetes patients.
  • Preliminary researches on the use of Aloe gel for ulcerative colitis (inflammatory bowel disease) give promising results. More researches are needed.
  • Aloe gel is traditionally used as moisturizer for dry skin. Results of early studies show that Aloe gel effectively reduces skin dryness. Many skin lotion brands in the market today contain Aloe gel.
  • Scientists are already researching the ability of Aloe gel to prevent cancer.
  • The effectiveness of Aloe gel in treating skin and mouth ulcers is also being studied.

Side Effects of Aloe Vera Gel

As mentioned earlier, Aloe gel can cause abdominal cramping when taken orally. It can also cause diarrhea.

Aloe gel can stimulate uterine contractions in pregnant women resulting to miscarriage. The safety of Aloe gel in breastfeeding women is unknown. But topical or skin use of Aloe gel is generally safe for breastfeeding and pregnant women.

There are reports of Aloe gel causing slow healing on surgical wounds.

Topical application of Aloe gel before sun exposure can cause rash in sun-exposed areas.

As a laxative, Aloe gel can cause electrolyte imbalance by lowering potassium levels in the body. Low potassium level can cause abnormal heart rhythms and muscle weakness. It can also aggravate the conditions of people with diabetes or kidney disease.

Like any medicinal plant, Aloe vera can cause allergy to human. Symptoms include rashes, itching, swelling, vomiting, nausea, breathing difficulty, and anaphylactic shock.

Drug Interactions

Aloe gel can interact with certain medications, increasing or decreasing their potency.

Aloe gel can reduce the effectiveness of heart medications by lowering potassium levels.

Aloe gel can increase the absorption of vitamins like Vitamin C and E.

Aloe gel can interact with contraceptives, hormone replacement medications, and cancer drugs.

Oral Aloe gel can lower blood sugar level so caution is advised to people who have diabetes and hypoglycemia, and to those who are taking medications (even herbal) affecting blood sugar.[ad#afterpost]
References

Aloe vera – MedlinePlus Supplements
Aloe vera – University of Maryland Medical Center
Aloe vera – National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine