Aloe vera is a cactus-like plant that originates in hot, dry climates such as Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean countries.
The plant grows up to 12 to 18 inches in height and develops a circular arrangement of leaves.
Extracts from the aloe vera leaf contain vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids and a number of phytonutrients including aloin, lignans, saponins, glucommannans and salicylic acid.
These extracts have been used for medicinal purposes in humans for over 2,000 years. Because of the numerous nutrients contained within the leaves of this plant, aloe vera is used today to treat a variety of conditions, either by ingestion or as a topical ointment.
Aloe Vera Topical Application
The gel extracted from the leaves of the Aloe vera plant can be applied topically to treat a number of skin conditions and is included in many skin care recipes.
The premise of aloe vera topical applications is that an increase in circulation speeds the healing process and aloe vera acts to dilate capillaries. Furthermore, the phytonutrients contained in the aloe vera leaf have strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Aloe vera also contains magnesium lactate, which minimizes itching. The topical uses for aloe vera are endless, including wounds, infections, burns, frostbite, sores, abrasions, insect bites, stings and sunburn.
Clinical Studies of Aloe Vera Plant and Juice
Numerous clinical studies have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of aloe vera and aloe vera juice for topical use.
A recent meta-analysis concluded that compared to a control group, aloe vera reduced healing time of first-and second-degree burns by 9 days.
When used to treat acne, aloe vera gel healed 90% of skin lesions in 5 days, as compared to only 50% of the lesions healed by standard acne gel.
A randomized trial of 60 patients found that aloe vera cream cured chronic psoriasis in 83% of cases versus just 7% in patients treated with a placebo cream.
Strong evidence also exists for use of aloe vera cream for patients with genital herpes. Two separate randomized double-blind studies compared aloe vera cream with placebo and showed that the cure rate was 70% with aloe vera cream, 45% with aloe vera gel, and less than 10% with placebo. Furthermore, patients treated with aloe vera healed 2 to 3 times faster than the placebo.
A fairly new application of aloe vera is in the field of dental hygiene. A recent Brazilian study found that an aloe vera gel reduced plaque buildup and gingivitis after only 30 days of use.
Aloe vera gel and aloe vera juice preparations can be purchased over-the-counter. Gel can even be extracted from the plant itself by splitting the skin to expose the interior and applying the gel directly to the affected area of skin. This topical application can typically be applied up to three times per day.
Aloe Vera Juice Health Benefits
Aloe vera is a nutritious food source and contains numerous vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and other healthy compounds. The health benefits of consuming aloe vera juice are many and include improved circulation, lower blood pressure, stabilized blood sugar levels, reductions in joint inflammation and anti-bacterial effects resulting in a stronger immune system.
The traditional use of aloe vera has been as a laxative because it limits water absorption in the bowel, thereby speeding movement through the digestive tract. Aloe vera also acts as an anti-inflammatory in the digestive system and can be used to lessen symptoms of heartburn, peptic ulcers, constipation and Crohn’s Disease.
Aloe vera juice also has immunity benefits, primarily from the high content of the phytonutrient acemannan, which inhibits tumor growth and the spread of some cancers, particularly in the lung.
Aloe vera extracts have been shown to increase production of white blood cells, which strengthens the immune system.
Aloe vera has even been considered a potential treatment for AIDS patients because acemannan has been shown to slow the AIDS virus from spreading.
Aloe vera consumption increased the lifespan of rats by 10%, reduced risk for leukemia and arterial blood clots and resulted in no adverse outcomes.
Similar reductions in chronic disease risk have been observed in humans.
Aloe vera has been shown to lower triglycerides, cholesterol, blood sugar and increased good cholesterol in 5,000 subjects. It also assists with the digestion of carbohydrates, fat and protein and it inhibits fat buildup in the liver and arteries.
Aloe Vera for Weight Loss
Secondly, aloe vera contains high levels of collagen that require additional energy to digest.
Third, the collagen protein in aloe vera helps maintain lean body mass during weight loss, which will prevent the metabolism from slowing.
Finally, aloe vera increases transit time of food in the digestive system. This allows fewer calories to be absorbed through the small and large intestines, thereby assisting with weight loss efforts.
Recommended Dosage and Aloe Vera Side Effects
The ideal dosage of aloe vera is actually quite small. Two to four ounces a day, with or without food, is recommended to aid digestion, improve circulation and to detoxify the body and cleanse the colon. The dosage of aloe vera to treat chronic conditions varies widely and a physician with knowledge in herbal supplements should be consulted for these uses.
The recommended dosage of aloe vera should be adhered to since it is possible to consume too much.
Although very rare, intake of too much aloe vera can result in lowered potassium levels. Aloe vera should not be consumed in pregnant or breast-feeding women since no studies have evaluated the safety of aloe vera in these groups.
There are no known overdose effects with topical application of aloe vera other than minor skin irritation.
The aloe vera plant has numerous and diverse uses for many health conditions with rare side effects when used in moderation.