Aloe is a very versatile plant. In fact, it has so many uses, it glows like a halo for the light it shines on treating medical conditions. It is also used because of its soothing and healing properties in many self-care products such as cosmetics and lotions. There are 2 parts of the aloe plant that are used, one being the gel-like substance and the other being the leafy flesh underneath the skin, called the latex.
Believe it or not, there are about 420 species of aloe, and aloe vera is the most biologically active as it contains more than 75 active ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, saccharides, amino acids, anthraquinones, enzymes, lignin, saponins and salicylic acids. Here is a snapshot of substances in aloe vera:
- Minerals-calcium, copper, selenium, chromium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, sodium and zinc. Zinc promotes wound healing and immune function.
- Anthraquinones-compounds known as laxatives such as aloin and emodin, which act as analgesics, antibacterials and antivirals.
- Vitamins-A, C and E, B6, B1, B2, B12, folic acid and choline support the immune system as well as B6 helps reduce pain. Vitamin E is a powerful anti-oxidant helping to prevent inflammation and decrease aging. Vitamin C helps with wound healing.
- Enzymes-aliiase, alkaline phosphatase, amylase, bradykinase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, cellulase, lipase and peroxidase. Enzymes help to break down proteins to provide energy to cells. Bradykinase stimulates the immune system and helps to fight bacterial and viral infections.
- Fatty acids-Contains cholesterol, campesterol, beta-sisosterol and lupeol which reduce inflammation.
- Hormones-Contains auxins and gibberellins help reduce inflammation and promote wound healing.
- Sugars- Contains monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) and polysaccharides. Aloe contains some novel sugar fructans (fruit sugars) which may function as pre-biotics. [i]
Aloe is used for the following conditions:
- Asthma-While aloe has been used for asthma for its anti-inflammatory and healing properties, it is best taken consistently and not during an asthma attack.
- Bowel diseases-Aloe has been show to work in a variety of bowel conditions.
- Burns, sunburn, radiation damage- protects against radiation damage to the skin. A recent study showed significant improvement in burn injury healing with aloe vera. [ii]
- Cold sores-antiviral and anti-inflammatory as well as reduces pain and heals the sore.
- Constipation- increases intestinal water content, stimulates mucus secretion and increases intestinal peristalsis, which are contractions that break down food and mix the chyme.
- Chemotherapy damage-Aloe has been useful in managing pain and inflammation in mouth sores caused by chemotherapy,[iii]
- Depression-Aloe because of its vitamins and minerals helps to naturally prevent depression through supporting a balanced mood.
- Diabetes- Aloe may help promote glycemic control for pre-diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes. [iv],[v].
It also helps to improve the lipid profile.[vi]
- Frostbite-Aloe has been recommended topically to manage frostbite. [vii]
- Inflammation-Aloe is a strong anti-inflammatory and is one reason why it is used in inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, and bowel diseases.
- Itching-Provides soothing relief.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)-Aloe vera has been reported to be safe and effective to manage IBS symptoms.[viii]
- Osteoarthritis-Aloe can be used topically to help with pain.
- Peridontal Disease-Because of it’s effects on wound healing, inflammation, and anti-infective properties, it may help with periodontal disease. [ix]
- Skin Conditions-Acne, Dandruff, Skin Irritation. It was also shown to be effective in treating psoriasis. [x] Aloe is a great moisturizer and natural anti-inflammatory and wound healer. When used on the scalp, the enzymes can help with removing dead skin cells and promoting skin repair around the hair follicle growth.
- Sun-damaged skin and photo-aging-Aloe has been shown to reduce photo-aging and wrinkles in sun-damaged skin.[xi]
- Stomach ulcers-restores stomach lining because of the anti-inflammatory, wound healing and anti-bacterial properties. It is also cost-effective for treating this condition. [xii]
- Vaginal atrophy-Aloe has been shown to reduce post-menopausal vaginal atrophy.[xiii]
Aloe is a great ingredient to find in self-care products. Using products that contain more natural ingredients is important. Many chemicals in self-care products can make people prone to skin reactions or irritation. Aloe, of course provides the opposite effects. Aloe is frequently included in products, such as makeup, soaps, sunscreens, incense, shaving cream, shampoos, tissues and moisturizers.
Aloe is also used in food production and may be added to yogurts, beverages and desserts. It is used as a fresh food preservative. Aloe vera juice helps digestion because it helps to balance acid/alkaline pH balance, reduces yeast formation, supports digestive bacteria and promotes regular bowel movements. As it may cause some intestinal cramping, it is not recommended for pregnant women or younger children. Also, it should be discontinued at least 2 weeks prior to surgery.
Dosing of aloe vera depends on the condition and way it which it is applied or taken. While there are virtually no side effects with topical application, there can be adverse affects with internal use such as intestinal cramping or drug interactions. I would recommend starting slowly when taking internally. Drugs.com provides a list of potential interactions with drugs and aloe. In particular, forms of insulin are listed. In addition to diabetic medications, talk to your provider before taking blood thinning medications, diuretic medications, or stimulant laxatives.
Many studies have shown how aloe can benefit health and the research continues. This supports that aloe indeed should wear a halo because of it broad applications to health and wellness. Consider growing an aloe plant in your home so you can break off a piece and use the aloe gel directly on a wound. While aloe may have an unpleasant taste, there are some forms available that taste like water…just be careful to start slowly and not take too much. Refer to the dosing on the bottle or consult your provider.
[i] Quezada MP, Salinas C, Gotteland M, Cardemil L. Acemannan and Fructans from Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis Miller) Plants as Novel Prebiotics. J Agric Food Chem. 2017 Nov 22;65(46):10029-10039. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.7b04100. Epub 2017 Nov 8. PMID: 29072072.
[ii] Hai Z, Ren Y, Hu J, Wang H, Qin Q, Chen T. Evaluation of the Treatment Effect of Aloe vera Fermentation in Burn Injury Healing Using a Rat Model. Mediators Inflamm. 2019 Jan 27;2019:2020858. doi: 10.1155/2019/2020858. PMID: 30837795; PMCID: PMC6374857.
[iii] Mansouri P, Haghighi M, Beheshtipour N, Ramzi M. The Effect of Aloe Vera Solution on Chemotherapy-Induced Stomatitis in Clients with Lymphoma and Leukemia: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Int J Community Based Nurs Midwifery. 2016 Apr;4(2):119-26. PMID: 27218109; PMCID: PMC4876780.
[iv] Suksomboon, N., Poolsup, N. and Punthanitisarn, S. (2016), Effect of Aloe vera on glycaemic control in prediabetes and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. J Clin Pharm Ther, 41: 180-188. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpt.12382.
[v] Dick WR, Fletcher EA, Shah SA. Reduction of Fasting Blood Glucose and Hemoglobin A1c Using Oral Aloe Vera: A Meta-Analysis. J Altern Complement Med. 2016 Jun;22(6):450-7. doi: 10.1089/acm.2015.0122. Epub 2016 May 6. PMID: 27152917.
[vi] Ghorbani A, Zarvandi M, Rakhshandeh H. A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Herbal Compound for Improving Metabolic Parameters in Diabetic Patients with Uncontrolled Dyslipidemia. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2019;19(7):1075-1082. doi: 10.2174/1871530319666190206213420. PMID: 30727929.
[ix] Bhat G, Kudva P, Dodwad V. Aloe vera: Nature’s soothing healer to periodontal disease. J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2011 Jul;15(3):205-9. doi: 10.4103/0972-124X.85661. PMID: 22028505; PMCID: PMC3200013.
[x] Syed TA, Ahmad SA, Holt AH, Ahmad SA, Ahmad SH, Afzal M. Management of psoriasis with Aloe vera extract in a hydrophilic cream: a placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Trop Med Int Health. 1996 Aug;1(4):505-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-3156.1996.d01-91.x. PMID: 8765459.
[xi] Cho S, Lee S, Lee MJ, Lee DH, Won CH, Kim SM, Chung JH. Dietary Aloe Vera Supplementation Improves Facial Wrinkles and Elasticity and It Increases the Type I Procollagen Gene Expression in Human Skin in vivo. Ann Dermatol. 2009 Feb;21(1):6-11. doi: 10.5021/ad.2009.21.1.6. Epub 2009 Feb 28. PMID: 20548848; PMCID: PMC2883372.
[xii] Avijgan M, Kamran A, Abedini A. Effectiveness of Aloe Vera Gel in Chronic Ulcers in Comparison with Conventional Treatments. Iran J Med Sci. 2016 May;41(3 Suppl):S30. PMID: 27840496; PMCID: PMC5103537.
[xiii] Poordast T, Ghaedian L, Ghaedian L, Najib FS, Alipour S, Hosseinzadeh M, Vardanjani HM, Salehi A, Hosseinimehr SJ. Aloe Vera; A new treatment for atrophic vaginitis, A randomized double-blinded controlled trial. J Ethnopharmacol. 2021 Apr 24;270:113760. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2020.113760. Epub 2020 Dec 28. PMID: 33383112.