Boasting immune boosting, anti-microbial and wound-healing properties, the therapeutic uses of aloe vera are surprisingly diverse.
Here are my top 5 uses for this versatile supplement.
1. Digestive Support Aloe vera is often used by those with digestive complaints. Conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis are marked by long-lasting inflammation within the digestive tract. The natural anti-inflammatory properties of aloe vera have led to a number of studies investigating the possible benefit of this plant for these conditions.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of aloe vera in patients with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis demonstrated improved symptoms in patients taking aloe vera compared to those in the placebo group (1). Similar benefits have been reported in patients suffering with ulcerative colitis (2).
2. Immune Support Aloe vera contains a special type of sugar molecule called acemannan which boosts the activity of macrophages. Macrophages (from the Greek, meaning ‘big eaters’) are white blood cells which function to destroy or ‘eat up’ pathogens. Alongside this action, alcemannan also enhances T-cell function and interferon production. This type of immune enhancement is evident in studies which show that consumption of aloe vera gel is effective in combating candida infection (3).
3. Detoxification The detoxifying effect of aloe vera has been scientifically verified by lab tests of urinary indican levels. Indicans are molecules found in the urine, and they can be used to measure bacterial activity in the small and large intestine. Raised levels of indicans suggest compromised digestive health, including problems such as protein malabsorption and bacterial overgrowth (4).
Aloe vera has been found to reduce urinary indican levels after just one week. This suggests that aloe consumption can improve protein digestion and absorption, or improve bacterial balance in the bowel.
4. Skin Benefits Applied topically, aloe vera can be used to help heal damaged skin. A recent meta-analysis, which examined studies involving a total of 371 patients, concluded that aloe vera may be considered effective in treating first and second degree burns. In fact the studies showed that topical application of aloe vera reduced healing time by an average of 9 days (5). It is thought that naturally occurring substances in aloe help cells to regenerate, speeding up healing.
Aloe is especially useful in the summer months owing to its cooling and soothing properties. A common ingredient in aftersun lotions, aloe vera is believed to act as a natural anti-inflammatory agent.
Research is conflicting, although a recent randomised, double-blind trial found aloe vera to be more effective than hydrocortisone cream in reducing sunburn symptoms 48 hours after application (6).
5. Diabetes and blood sugar regulation There have been several studies investigating the efficacy of aloe vera in the treatment of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. One of the first studies involved a group of 3,000 diabetic patients who supplemented their existing treatments with a natural remedy containing aloe gel and psyllium seed husks. In 94% of these patients, fasting blood glucose levels fell to normal levels within two months (7).
In diabetic models, consumption of aloe vera has been found not only to reduce fasting blood sugar levels, but also to reduce levels of liver enzymes (a sign of liver damage), and cholesterol (8). Aloe’s high fibre content, glycoproteins and antioxidant benefits are believed to help the body to regulate blood sugar more effectively.
A further controlled study of 72 diabetic patients supports these benefits, showing that 2 tbsp daily of aloe vera resulted in a significant reduction in blood sugar levels over a period of 42 days (9).
Aloe appears to have a huge number of nutritional benefits and healing properties, making it a versatile nutritional supplement. Capsules are useful for those who prefer the convenience of a pill in a therapeutic dosage, as these often contain a concentrated form of aloe.
My personal preference is to take aloe as a gel because of its versatility which allows it to be used as a mouth wash, as a skincare product or simply added to a refreshing summer smoothie.
References 1. Langmead L et al (2004) Anti-inflammatory effects of aloe vera gel in human colorectal mucosa in vitro. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 19:521–527 2. Langmead L et al (2004) Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral aloe vera gel for active ulcerative colitis. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 19:739–747. 3. Jackson JA et al (2000) Urine Indican as an Indicator of Disease. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine Vol. 15, No. 1 4. Sun-A Im et al (2010) In vivo evident of the immunomodulatory activity of orally administered aloe vera gel. Arch Pharm Res Vol 333:3, pp. 451-456 5. Maenthaisong R et al (2007) The efficacy of Aloe vera used for burn wound healing: A systematic review. Burns. 33:713–18 6. Reuter J et al (2008) Investigation of the anti-inflammatory potential of Aloe vera gel (97.5%) in the ultraviolet erythema test. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology 21(2):106-110] 7. Agarwal 0P (1985) Prevention of Atheromatous Heart Disease. Angiology. 36: 485-92. 8. Okyar A et al (2001) Effect of Aloe vera leaves on blood glucose level in type I and type II diabetic rat models. Phytother Res.15(2):157-61. 9. Bunyapraphatsara N (1996) Antidiabetic activity of aloe vera L. juice 11. Clinical trial in diabetes mellitus patients in combination with glibenclamide. Phytomedicine. 3:245-248