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Discover the many uses of aloe vera


Discover the many uses of aloe vera

Credit: Daniel Hansen

Aloe vera (a member of the lily family) is well known worldwide for its variety of medicinal properties. This “medicine chest” of a plant is a succulent, needing very little water to survive. Its botanical name is Aloe barbadensis and it originated in South Africa. Today there are about 400 different species, many of which have similar properties, depending on climate and soil conditions.

Active ingredients

Aloe vera has more than 200 different biologically active substances, most of them in the inner gel (latex) of the leaves. Apart from the high water content (99 per cent), the leaves contain over 75 medicinally active compounds including proteins, lipids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, polysaccharides (polymannans including acemannan), phenolics and organic acids. Secondary metabolites are the anti-inflammatory, lipid lowering and antioxidant anthraquinones.

Therapeutic uses

Healing of burns & wounds

Aloe vera increases the rate of healing of burns and wounds when applied to the affected area. Research has shown it heals burns faster than one per cent silver sulfadiazine (a standard pharmaceutical treatment). It is also useful to treat sunburn and radiation burns.

Immune system

Aloe vera gel has strong broad-spectrum anti-inflammatory activity, reducing inflammatory cytokine production both externally and internally. It also inhibits both inflammatory cyclo-oxygenase (COX-1 and COX-2) pathways in human cells.

Gastrointestinal system

Aloe vera has been used to enhance the absorption of various pharmaceuticals, particularly in those with poor digestive function and abnormal gut microflora. Its anti-inflammatory activity inhibits intestinal polyps and colon cancer cell migration. The anthraquinones are also a mild laxative.

Aloe vera gel reduced the manifestations of gastric ulcers primarily by its antibacterial activity against Helicobacter pylori. It was also shown to be effective when used along with the antibiotics for this condition. In the mouth, it reduces the pain and inflammation in recurrent aphthous stomatitis (mouth ulcers) while increasing the healing.

Metabolic syndrome

Aloe vera contains five phytosterol compounds which reduce visceral fat accumulation, positively influencing the metabolism of glucose and lipids and enhancing the transport of insulin. Clinical trials show it may act safely to lower both glucose and cholesterol in type 2 diabetic patients. In one trial, aloe vera reduced body weight, body fat mass and insulin resistance in obese early-onset diabetics, showing improvement in both fasting and random blood glucose levels. The triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL levels were lowered significantly.

Cardiovascular system

Aloe vera contains measurable levels of antioxidants including vitamin E, carotenoids, vitamin C and flavonoids, and these antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds have cardioprotective activity. A combination of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus and aloe vera gel showed the potential to lower high cholesterol levels and thus reduce cardiovascular risk.

Liver

The phytosterols in aloe vera have the ability to downregulate fatty acid synthesis and oxidation in the liver, reducing abdominal fat and improving cholesterol and fat metabolism as well as preventing alcohol-induced fatty liver.

Cancer

An anthraquinone, aloin, has been documented for its potential therapeutic possibilities in cancer, showing chemoprotective effects and reducing angiogenesis. Other compounds have shown antiproliferative effects, triggering apoptosis in various cancer cells. Research has shown positive effects in squamous cell cancer, colon and bladder cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, lung cancer and neurological cancers.

Antimicrobial activity

Aloe vera gel is a known antibacterial and antifungal agent and has been shown to be effective against mycoplasma, various types of candida, Helicobacter pylori and both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. The polysaccharides have demonstrated direct antibacterial activity by stimulating the phagocytic white cells to destroy pathogenic microorganisms.

Antiviral activity

Compounds in aloe vera gel prevent virus absorption, attachment or entry to the host cell. They have antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus type 2 and influenza A and have been shown to be helpful in improving the immune system of HIV-infected persons by increasing CD4 T cells.

Reproductive system

Aloe vera improves ovarian hormone status in polycystic ovary syndrome.

Using aloe vera

Aloe vera is commonly used topically as a cream or gel, or internally as a drinking gel (juice). If growing it at home, use the leaf gel with the skin and the yellow “juice” removed.

Despite the wide use of aloe vera for many healing purposes, minimal toxicity has been demonstrated at recommended doses.

Aloe vera has been used for thousands of years for its multiple healing properties. These uses are being largely verified by research today. It can be an invaluable plant medicine, both internally and externally, and deserves a place in all first-aid kits for its efficacy in healing skin burns and wounds.



 

Dr Karen Bridgman

Karen Bridgman is a holistic practitioner at Lotus Health and Lotus Dental in Neutral Bay.