Aloe, often referred to as aloe vera, is an attractive, spiky, succulent plant that many grow indoors to have a soothing, ready-to-use gel to put on burns and cuts. Its use as an ointment is as easy as slicing the long, tapered leaves to access the gel inside.
Aloe vera, which belongs to the Liliaceae family of plants, is derived from the Arabic word "alloeh," which translates to "shining bitter substance," while the Latin "vera" means "true." Aloe grows best in tropical or otherwise arid climates such as South America, the lower portions of the U.S., Africa, Asia and Europe.
There are at least 420 different plant species, but "aloe vera" refers specifically to the Aloe barbadensis Miller plant, used as a traditional medicine for thousands of years. Modern studies have found it to be the most biologically active type.
Aloe is used both internally and externally in several forms and applications, such as powders, capsules, concentrates, juice, flavorings and other commercial products. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences explains:
"The outermost layer is a hard rind that is 15 cells thick. This rind is very important because this is where the syntheses of all 75 nutrients that are contained within the plant occurs. Below this (layer) is the sap. This is a circulation system that basically moves materials up to the leaves and down to the roots." 1
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The same study shows that many vitamins and minerals in aloe have been identified as responsible for imparting health benefits. Others nutrients found in aloe include choline, folic acid, alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene. Further, the gel contains 19 of the 20 required amino acids and seven of the eight that are considered essential.
Enzymes provide another set of benefits in aloe vera , parsed as either digestive or anti-inflammatory; amylase to break down starch and sugar, or lipase, which breaks down fats. Sterols such as lupeol are both antiseptic and analgesic, and salicylic acid behaves like aspirin to relieve pain.
Then there is the sugar acemannan, which has been shown to be antiviral while boosting immunity, reducing infections and increasing the activity of large white blood cells (macrophages) to aid in wound healing.
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Benefits of Drinking Aloe Vera Juice
Many other studies indicate that a number of phytonutrients and compounds known to be immunomodulatory, antiviral and anti-inflammatory are found in aloe vera. Medical News Today recounts six specific health benefits from its use: 2
1. Treating constipation — While the dual-purpose plant is dried to make an oral laxative, aloe drinks are also used as a digestive cleanser and to relieve constipation. The National Institutes of Health says aloe acts as a laxative due to anthraquinone compounds in the latex, including aloin .
Research verifies the laxative effect, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves aloe vera only as an additive for flavor in foods. 3 That said, for people trying aloe vera juice for the first time, a small serving of 8 ounces is recommended.
2. Gum inflammation — A relatively small study 4 involved 30 people who underwent plaque removal at the dentist, 15 of whom swished with a mouthwash made from aloe vera juice, while the others did not. At the end of the study, those using the aloe had greater relief from gingival gum inflammation compared to the others.
The researchers attributed the inflammation relief to the antimicrobial and antibacterial properties of the aloe vera. In a 2009 study, 5 an aloe vera tooth gel successfully controlled bacteria and was identified as playing a significant role in several dental diseases :
Oral lichen planus is a chronic inflammatory disease, which aloe treated more effectively than placeboes in studies. 6
Oral submucous fibrosis is a precancerous condition that was found to be substantially alleviated when treated with both aloe vera and antioxidant capsules. 7
Radiation-induced oral mucositis, which causes painful, life-altering "oral candidiasis" in people with head or neck cancers, was found to be prevented with the use of aloe vera mouthwash. 8
Plaque-induced gingivitis was found to be less of a problem when patients used aloe vera mouthwash in addition to tooth scaling in a comparison study involving 45 patients. 9
Periodontitis, a common gum infection that can damage gums and destroy jawbones, also improved due to subgingival administration of aloe vera gel. 10
Alveolar osteitis (dry socket) incidence was significantly reduced with aloe vera gel compared with typical dental interventions. 11
In recurrent aphthous stomatitis, aka canker sores, aloe vera was found to decrease patients' pain scores, as well as the wound size and healing period. 12
In addition, aloe vera can be used in gel as a "drug delivery system" in dentistry, and aloe vera tooth gel may have better antibacterial effect against many different pathogens, such as Streptococcus mutans and Candida albicans , than commercial toothpaste. 13 It's also less expensive to use.
3. Controlling blood sugar levels — A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics 14 reports that aloe vera has potential for controlling blood sugar levels for people with both prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.
The study separated 470 study participants into groups, each group given different aloe vera preparations, including powders and juice, for consumption and evaluation. At the conclusion, the researchers reported improved fasting blood sugar levels among those who ingested aloe vera juice.
For instance, a study in 2011 highlights the antidiabetic and antihyperlipidemic potential of okra peel and seed powder in diabetic rats.16 Okra seeds have also been used in Turkey for lowering blood sugar levels,17 which further casts this humble veggie in a very good light by listing the science behind many of its health benefits.
As is often observed, the scientists also recommended further studies, and larger ones, to verify the effects of aloe vera juice on subjects with diabetes.
4. Providing vitamin C — Noted as vital for health, vitamin C is an important ingredient in aloe vera as it's both a natural antioxidant and helps combat inflammation. An 8-ounce serving of aloe vera juice contains 9.1 milligrams of vitamin C. 15
Specific benefits widely noted from vitamin C include improved function of your immune system and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, to name a few. In addition, however, vitamins A and E also provide essential antioxidants to fight free radical damage, and C specifically helps with healing wounds.
Further, adequate amounts of vitamin C, also found in broccoli, oranges and tomatoes, allows your body to absorb iron from plant-based foods more efficiently and makes collagen, which helps keep your bones and joints strong. B vitamins are also present, and aloe vera is one of the only plants with vitamin B12. 16
Try new foods. So many illnesses and health-related problems could be avoided if we just ate more produce. Replace one thing that you would normally eat with a new fruit or a vegetable. Not only does this keep healthy eating interesting, but you also may end up trying something that you didn’t know you liked.
5. Preventing stomach ulcers — Aloe vera's ability to help digest foods includes the added ability to reduce the development of stomach ulcers , a 2014 study reported. 17 Scientists believe the vitamin C content and other compounds that discourage inflammation may help explain that advantage.
6. Treatment of skin conditions — Numerous clinical trials have concluded that aloe vera is positively associated with treating, healing and managing such conditions as acne 18 and psoriasis and possibly atopic dermatitis. 19
Additionally, one study notes that aloe vera "has shown very good results in skin diseases and it is often taken as a health drink. It is also found effective in treating wrinkles, stretch marks and pigmentations." 20
Another advantage of drinking aloe vera juice is its ability to hydrate. An 8-ounce glass contains only 36 calories, 21 and is an excellent choice compared to sugary fruit juices, carbonated sodas and other drinks. At the same time, it depends on the manufacturer; checking the sugar, especially added sugar, and the carbohydrate content is always a good idea.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the added sugar in such beverages to no more than 24 grams or the equivalent of 6 teaspoons per day for females and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day for males, but the reality is that virtually everyone would benefit from zero added sugars in their diet. 22
Nutritional Aspects of Aloe Vera
The book, "Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects," addresses the nutritional and metabolic effects of aloe vera and notes that as a traditional medicine, aloe vera has made its mark in treating parasites, constipation, colic and numerous infections. Depending on the area of the world, besides the interventions already mentioned, it's been a remedy for hypertension and fungal diseases, among many others. The authors note:
"Aloe has been used extensively by the Egyptians, Assyrians, Mediterranean civilizations and in Biblical times. The first authentic record of Aloe as a plant with healing properties is accredited to a Mesopotamian clay tablet (circa) 2100 B.C.E.
However, the first detailed depiction of the plant's medicinal value is found in the Papyrus Ebers, an Egyptian document (circa) 1550 B.C.E. which sets out multiple Aloe-containing preparations for the treatment of external and internal ailments.
The Aloe vera plant is described in detail in the Greek Herbal of Dioscorides (circa 70 A.D.), and its use promoted for the treatment of wounds, hair loss, genital ulcers and hemorrhoids. Aloe vera was officially listed as a purgative and skin protectant by the U.S. pharmacopoeia in 1820." 23
Current use of aloe vera, especially in the West, includes the cosmetic and toiletries industry, which spans a wide array of products such as lotions, perfumes, shaving creams, moisturizers, shampoos and many others. Due to its antibacterial and antifungal aspects, aloe is also very popular in pharmaceutical products , both topically and orally.
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Aloe Vera Juice Precautionary Measures and Intake Recommendations
A Memorial Sloan Kettering study 24 notes that drinking aloe vera juice has caused an upset stomach for some people and electrolyte imbalances, as well, which is why medical experts stress that starting with small amounts and drinking it in moderation could save you from some uncomfortable moments. As for how much aloin is in commercial products, NIH notes:
"Industry usually processes the aloe vera leaf to make a decolorized whole leaf extract to remove aloin. Industry has a self-regulated upper limit standard of 10 ppm of aloin in orally ingested products, but there are no labeling requirements for aloin content." 25
For this reason, some aloe vera juice manufacturers reportedly list the aloin contents of their juices, and scientists suggest the precautionary measure of limiting your consumption. The NIH also found that mice in a 2010 lab study 26 that consumed non-decolorized aloe vera leaf extract had an increased risk of cancer. Its review of aloe vera states:
Use coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter) or leftover fat from pasture-raised meats for sautéing. Avoid heating olive oil and other oils – use them to flavor food after cooking. Choose oils high in monounsaturates and low in polyunsaturates. Avoid corn, canola and soy oils.
"The two-year NTP study on consumption of non-decolorized whole leaf extract of aloe vera found clear evidence of carcinogenic activity in male and female rats, based on tumors of the large intestine.
From what we know right now, there is nothing that would lead us to believe that these findings are not relevant to humans. However, more information, including how individuals use different types of aloe vera products, is needed to determine the potential risks to humans." 27
One other thing you should be aware of is that several lawsuits have been filed against such retailers as Target and Walmart after some of their private labeled aloe vera products were tested and no aloe vera was present. Instead, altodextrin, a less expensive look-alike substance , was used as a substitute.
While there have been claims that aloe vera isn't really as healthy as some claim it to be, the compounds and many phytonutrients it contains have a long history of generating health and treating various diseases. Far beyond the relief gained by rubbing the gel from the aloe plant on wounds and burns, studies verify its very evident effectiveness.
Interestingly, scientists, case reports and anecdotal evidence indicate the clinical viability of aloe vera and note that the number of trials are steadily increasing due to the positive results being found. 28 In conclusion, as one study observes:
"Aloe vera has also found application in wound healing, treatment of burns, protection against skin damage caused by X-ray, intestinal problems, reduction of plaque and gingivitis, regulating the levels of plasma lipoproteins, reduction of blood sugar levels and improving the immune system.
Other biological activities of aloe, such as antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anticancer and immunomodulatory have also been documented in numerous studies." 29