Aloe vera is well known for its health benefits. Aloe has been used for medicinal purposes since 1500 B.C
. It has been used by Egyptians, Indians, Mexicans, and Greeks among many others.
In current times, the COVID pandemic has forced us to look deeper into optimizing our health. Rapidly developing new strains of the coronavirus that evades vaccines means we have to fall back on our immune system to help prop us up.
Aloe vera has been used to aid weight loss and control blood sugar naturally.
It’s time to revisit this natural plant and review the scientific evidence behind Aloe’s medicinal properties.
What is aloe vera?
Aloe vera is a succulent plant species of the genus Aloe. Aloe is a plant that is found across many continents. There are over 500 different species. The inner gel of the plant is known to have medicinal properties and has been used for centuries as a natural remedy.
Beneficial components of Aloe Vera
I don’t want to overwhelm you with complicated names of chemicals!
However, the sceptic in us refuses to take anything seriously till we see components of natural substances.
We forget that many of our medications are actually derived from natural substances.
“Up to 50% of the approved drugs during the last 30 years are either directly or indirectly from natural products”, as remarked by Prof. (Dr.) Ciddi Veeresham
A word of caution: natural supplements are not regulated by drug authorities and you must always take supplements under the supervision of a doctor.
Aloe Vera has over 75 beneficial constituents
, including vitamins, minerals, polysaccharides, amino acids, saponins, anthraquinones, enzymes, lignin, and salicylic acids.
- Polysaccharides with long chains of glucose and mannose. The main polysaccharide is Acemannan. Acemannan is known to have antiviral properties and acts agianst HIV, measles and influenza virus. It has antifungal and antibacterial effects.
Acemannan is antibacterial and antioxidant. It helps to heal infections, especially infections of the mouth and gum.
Acemannan improves immune function by acting at multiple levels of our immune system – improved T- cell activity, Interferon production, and improved macrophage function.
- Aloesin, aloin and Aloe imodin are other useful substances. They can help in treatment of constipation. They may help in healing infections, lowering cholesterol and have antioxidative properties.
Aloin has anticancer effects.
- Vitamin E and C , along with flavonoids and tannins have an antioxidative effect.
- Phytosterols like lophenol and cycloartanol have liver protective effects.
Health benefits and uses of Aloe Vera
The list of conditions that Aloe Vera is effective against is extensive. Some of these conditions are:
- Wound healing and healing of burns.
The polysaccharides in Aloe, when applied to wounds, helps in collagen formation and tightens the wound area so that it heals well with less scarring.
In a clinical study
, A. vera
gel was compared with 1% silver sulphadiazine cream as a burn dressing. Silver sulphadiazine is used commonly as a burn dressing. It was seen that the healing of burn wounds was remarkably early in patients treated with Aloe vera as compared to Silver sulphadiazine.
- Skin diseases – Aloe Vera gel has been used to treat a variety of skin conditions successfully like psoriasis, eczema, acne and even surgical wounds.
- Treatment of constipation – A double blind randomized controlled trial involving 28 adults found aloin to be more effective than the laxative phenolphthalein.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Aloe vera as an oral preparation has been used in the treatment of both IBS and IBD. There is no standard dose as such as different preparations of Aloe Vera have different active components of the plant. Generally speaking, it is wise not to take oral preparations in excess or for long periods of time without a break.
- A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of the effectiveness and safety of aloe vera gel for the treatment of mild to moderate active ulcerative colitis was conducted. 44 patients took part in the trial. They concluded that taking Aloe Vera for 4 weeks improved symptoms and was safe.
- 3 randomized controlled trials including 151 patients showed that Aloe Vera was safe and effective in the treatment of IBS.
- Diabetes – Aloe Vera has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels in many studies in patients with diabetes. It has been used alone and in combination with traditional medication like insulin and oral hypoglycaemic medication.
- High Cholesterol – Numerous studies have shown that Aloe Vera can improve the lipid profile by reducing the “bad” cholesterol and increasing the “good” cholesterol.
- Advanced cancer – In patients where cancer has spread to other parts of the body and there is no treatment available, a hormone called melatonin has been used to improve anticancer immunity. A study found that when Aloe Vera was used along with Melatonin in patients with advanced untreatable cancer, it improved stabilization of cancer and survival.
- Hypothyroidism – An underactive thyroid can cause tiredness, weight gain, depression, cold sensitivity amd muscle aches and pains. A study involving 30 patients with underactive thyroid, showed significant improvement of thyroid function after taking 50 ml oral Aloe Vera for 9 months.
- PCOS ( Polycystic ovary syndrome) affects 1 in 10 women in the UK. You may gain weight, have excessive facial and body hair, acne, irregular periods, thinning of hair, and some women will not be able to conceive as ovulation is irregular.
published in Austin Journal of Reproductive Medicine and Endocrinology showed that Aloe Vera significantly improved hormonal profiles in animal models with PCOS with increased chances of pregnancy.
More studies are needed, but Aloe Vera may improve the chances of pregnancy in women with PCOS and also improve symptoms like excessive weight gain, acne, and irregular periods.
- Obesity – Obesity is a world pandemic. In a recent artcle in The Lancet, published in July 2021, the prevalence of obese individuals has tripled between 1975 and 2016. 2.8 billion people die of obesity and obesity related illnesses ever year.
The COVID pandemic has made it clear that obese individuals have an array of other features like diabetes, hypertension, and poor immunity, to name a few. Obese people are more likely to be severely ill with COVID and die of COVID.
In July 2021, The UK government started a campaign, “beat coronavirus (COVID-19) and protect the NHS”. This focuses on healthy eating habits, active lifestyles, and an urge to lose weight.
There are many studies that focus on the role of Aloe Vera in weight reduction. One such study
recruited 136 patients who were obese with prediabetes. At the end of 8 weeks of taking oral Aloe Vera, there was reduced body weight, body fat mass (BFM), and insulin resistance (improvement in diabetes).
- Arthritis – animal studies have shown that Aloe Vera improves inflammation in Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is a painful conditions where you have flares of the disease with pain and swelling which may impair your day to day activities. Traditionally pain killers have been the main treatment. Taking too many pain killers is harsh on the stomach. Aloe vera has been suggested as an alternative – decreasing pain and inflammation and also soothing the stomach.
“There is no reason that so-called ‘nutraceutical’ agents should not be subjected to the same rigorous randomized, controlled, double-blind trials as other ‘mainstream’ drugs.” as remarked by Cowan
There are calls for standardization and rigorous trials of natural supplements in treating many conditions. Till that happens, you must use caution when using supplements and follow the instructions of your doctor.
are derived from Aloe vera
and used for oral consumption and to apply locally:
- Whole leaf extract
- Aloe Vera gel
- Aloe Vera latex
The gel is primarily used for wounds and skin problems and can be taken orally.
Aloe Vera may cause an allergic reaction when used on the skin in a small number of people. Test the gel on a patch of skin before using.
use of the gel orally for a few months is reported to be safe generally.
Aloe gel if used orally should be free of Aloin.
Aloe gel should not be taken orally in high doses for very long periods.
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Take medications for the heart and diabetes and steroids. Always check with your doctor before taking any supplements especially if you are on any medication.
Aloe Vera should not be taken orally by pregnant and breastfeeding women and by children.
There are numerous health benefits of Aloe Vera which are especially relevant in the COVID era. Used in small doses for a short period of time, it can help you lose weight and control diabetes. Eating healthily and exercising regularly should go hand in hand.