Aloe vera is a very short-stemmed plant with thick succulent leaves. It usually grows in tropical climates and can be grown indoors as a potted plant. Aloe vera gel is a substance found inside the succulent leaves. Aloe vera latex is present just under the plant’s skin. Some aloe vera based products contain both the gel and latex, whereas some contain only the gel. The medicinal properties of aloe vera are due to its phytochemicals such as acetylated mannans, anthraquinones, anthrones, etc. It is a rich source of vitamins B, C, E, folic acid, and vitamin B12. It also contains small amounts of copper, calcium, selenium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and chromium. It has antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Aloe vera is widely used in the traditional herbal medicine of several countries. Aloe vera gel is used for topical application. The juice is a thick, sticky liquid made from the gel, which is used for internal consumption. A 4-ounce serving has essentially no sugar and very little calories. Powered aloe vera is generally used for cosmetic purposes. Aloe vera has many other uses. Several studies which have been conducted on the safety and efficacy of both the gel and juice ;have proven their benefits, though some studies have been inconclusive.
Let us take an objective look at the several uses of aloe vera and its side effects.
Treatment of Burns and Sunburn: Topical application of aloe vera gel is known to reduce the inflammation and redness associated with sunburn. It can help reduce the healing time of first- and second-degree burns.
Reduces Acidity: Aloe vera juice has a mild, tolerable flavor. It mixes easily with shakes and smoothies. Due to its alkaline nature, it is used in the treatment of heartburn or acidity.
Improves Hydration: The juice has lots of water content and plenty of nutrients. Its consumption keeps the body well hydrated, which is essential for proper function of internal organs as well as to nourish the skin.
Decreases Constipation: The latex component of aloe vera does the action. Aloin and barbaloin in the latex have well-established laxative properties. Excessive use can cause diarrhea, so one needs to be careful while taking this preparation for treating constipation.
Heals Genital Herpes: Applying an aloe extract 0.5% cream 3 times daily increases the healing rate of male genital herpes.
Relief from Psoriasis: Skin plaques in psoriasis are reduced by applying 0.5% aloe extract for 4 weeks. The severity of psoriasis is also decreased by applying creams containing aloe gel.
Cancer Treatment: There is some research which suggests that when lung cancer patients used 3 daily doses of a mixture containing fresh aloe leaves and honey dissolved in alcohol, in addition to standard chemotherapy, there was much greater chance of healing completely.
Improves Diaper Rash: Creams containing aloe gel and olive oil, when applied 3 times daily for 10 days, can reduce the severity of a diaper rash in young children.
Dry Skin Treatment: Aloe vera increases the amount of water in the outer skin layer, so it has been used traditionally in the treatment of dry skin.
Acne Prevention: Due to its gentle cleansing and anti-bacterial properties, aloe powder can be used to treat pimples and acne. It also works as an astringent and reduces pore size, preventing new acne formation.
Fights Aging: As it is rich in several vitamins and phytochemicals, it improves skin hydration, lightens blemishes, and prevents early wrinkle formation. Application of aloe vera gel to skin exposed to the harsh sun helps in faster recovery and prevents aging of the skin.
Ulcerative Colitis Treatment: There is some early research which suggests that mild-to-moderate ulcerative colitis can be treated by taking aloe gel by mouth for 4 weeks.
Wound Healing: Aloe can speed wound healing by improving blood circulation in the area of the wound and preventing cell depth around the wound.
Treatment for High Cholesterol: There have been positive reports from early research on the effects of aloe vera on cholesterol levels.
Internal Cleanser: Aloe vera being a laxative, it cleans our internal system and purges out impurities. It aids in the function of liver and kidneys.
Healthy Hair: Aloe vera powder can be used along with other herbal ingredients for nourishing and conditioning the scalp and hair. Due to its antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties, it prevents dandruff formation. It hydrates and balances the oiliness of the scalp and promotes healthy hair growth.
There are several claims of aloe vera being used for the treatment of depression, menstrual problems, asthma, bleeding problems, glaucoma, and varicose veins. Though these claims cannot be entirely refuted, there is no strong scientific backing to these.
Oral Uses: Rinsing the mouth with 100% pure aloe vera juice helps to reduce the formation of dental plaque and gingivitis. It acts on the oral bacteria like Streptococcus mutans and yeast. Due to its antiviral properties, it helps in treating herpes infections. Dental adhesives with aloe vera gel are a good alternative for individuals with oral ulcers and sensitivity problems. It can be used during root canal treatment as a lubricant and sedative dressing. Oral lichen planus can be effectively treated with topical aloe vera.
A Word of Caution: Always take any extraordinary claims of treatment with aloe vera with a pinch of salt. Excessive internal use of aloe vera juice may cause diarrhea, cramping, benign colon tumors, and rarely so colon cancer after long-term use. Some of the known drug interactions are with sevoflurane and drugs containing a substrate of cytochrome P450 3A4 and CYP2D6.