Health Benefits of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera has been used as a herbal medicine for over 2000 years, with mentions of it as far back as the Ebers Papyrus, written in the 16th century BCE.
Historically aloe vera is perhaps best known for its topical uses for hydrating the skin or relieving sunburn. Today, however, there is mounting evidence that consuming aloe vera may offer additional health benefits.
To date, more than 75 biologically active ingredients have been found in the aloe species, including a wide array of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids and fibres. Many of these seem to offer unique benefits to our health, with significant ongoing research painting an ever more interesting picture.
Interest in the health benefits of aloe vera has also led to it becoming available in different forms, from skin creams and lotions to supplements and juice. So, with all the excitement around aloe vera here are some of the best-known potential benefits it offers...
Immune System Support
One key manner in which our bodies fight disease uses cells known as “macrophages”. These cells literally “eat” dangerous micro-organisms before digesting them. In this way, pathogens are rendered harmless to us. Studies have found that aloe vera contains a number of different polysaccharides that seem to activate these macrophage cells, encouraging them to do their job. The most important of these seems to be “acemannan” though research on this topic is still in its infancy.
UV Radiation Protection
A protein called metallothionein is produced by the skin when it has been exposed to aloe vera gel. It is believed by experts that metallothionein helps to protect the skin from the dangers of ultraviolet light, by offering antioxidant protection. What is more, UV light has been shown to reduce the body's immune response. It seems that metallothionein acts to suppress the release of chemical signals that otherwise reduce immune function, offering further protection to the body.
A topical treatment of aloe vera seems to encourage the healing of wounds. A study involving 371 patients found that individuals supplemented with aloe vera generally healed eight days sooner than those being given a placebo.
Quite why this occurs is still being investigated, but it seems there are two potential aspects at play. Firstly, aloe vera's ability to keep wounds moist encourages cell regeneration to occur faster.
Secondly, it seems that aloe vera may help collagen to mature faster, this rebuilding the skin at a faster rate.
Aloe vera contains powerful anti-inflammatory agents that can benefit the body inside and out. Topically, it is a key ingredient in soothing balms for inflamed skin, such as sunburn, acne, or psoriasis. Internally, it can reduce irritation to the lining of the digestive tract and speed up healing.
Some IBS sufferers find relief with aloe vera, particularly those with the constipation-dominant form. Aloe vera also shows some benefits for the treatment of stomach ulcers, colitis and other inflammatory gut disorders.
Aloe vera contains anthraquinones that provide potent laxative effects, and so is often used to treat constipation. It is thought that these anthraquinones stimulate mucus secretion and increase intestinal water to help promote regular bowel movements. Aloe vera can also stimulate the production of bile in the gall bladder, helping to break down fats that can build up and cause constipation.
Maintains Steady Blood Sugar Levels
Aloe vera helps to stabilise blood glucose levels and has been used as a treatment for type 2 diabetes. And there are many studies to back this up.
One study involved 3167 diabetic patients who supplemented their existing treatments with a combination of aloe vera gel and psyllium husks. After two months, 94% of patients found that their fasting blood levels fell to normal levels.
A separate study involved 39 diabetic patients who consumed one tablespoon of aloe vera juice daily for two months. They also experienced beneficial drops in blood sugar.
Promotes Weight Loss
While aloe vera isn't a proven fat burner, many people find that the digestive improvements have a knock on effect for weight loss. This is because an efficient digestive system lightens the toxic load and improves the absorption of nutrients from food, helping the whole body to function at its best.
One study involving 136 participants found that daily consumption of aloe vera gel significantly reduced overall body weight and body fat mass, and increased insulin resistance. A separate animal study found that aloe vera gel significantly reduced visceral (abdominal) fat in rats.
Reduces Skin Inflammation
Aloe vera gel contains 18 to 20 of the 22 amino acids necessary for health, alongside skin-boosting B vitamins, zinc and selenium. Applied topically, these nutrients reach skin cells in the epithelial level of the skin and speed up the healing process. Aloe vera also has antibacterial agents that help to soothe acne, reduce scarring and lighten blemishes. It may even slow the ageing process; used daily for three months, aloe vera improves collagen production and skin elasticity.
The anti-inflammatory agents help to heal the protective outer layer of the skin and protect against sunburn, wounds, and insect bites. Aloe vera also maintains the pH balance of the scalp and repairs dead skin cells to reduce dandruff. More recently aloe vera has also become popular for its internal benefits too, nourishing the skin from the inside out. A healthy gut results in radiant skin.
How to Use Aloe Vera
For maximum effects, you need to make sure you are purchasing a high-quality aloe vera product. For topical use, try growing a potted aloe vera plant in the home. The plant is low maintenance and favours sunny, dry conditions. Simply cut a small section off a leaf and apply the gel straight to a cut, wound or bite.
Alternatively, there are many aloe vera creams, balms and lotions available. For internal use, it is best to purchase a high-quality aloe vera supplement or juice that has been cold stabilised to preserve the delicate nutritional content. Avoid products containing whole leaf aloe vera as the outer leaf is toxic and should not be consumed.