The benefits of aloe vera have been known since the earliest history of the world.
The light green, succulent plant is native to the dry and hot Arabian Peninsula but can be grown in Britain in pots and in sunny borders.
The first known description of aloe vera comes from the Mesopotamian Ebers Papyrus, a guide to medicinal plants compiled some 6,000 years ago!
The Papyrus lists the benefits of aloe vera and provides recipes for treatment of burns, ulcers, skin diseases and allergies.
Ancient Egyptians called aloe vera ‘the plant of immortality’. Its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties were utilised to make embalming mixtures to preserve the bodies of pharaohs to help them reach eternal life. We are told that a mixture of ‘myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds’ was also used to embalm the body of Jesus.
But aloe vera was often in short supply and Alexander the Great invaded the Middle Eastern island of Socotra, famous for its abundance of quality aloe vera, and secured a stock to treat his wounded soldiers.
Today, aloe vera remains one of the main ingredients of the popular health tonic: the Swedish Bitters which according to its 15th century creator ‘guarantees longevity’ when taken regularly.
The healing benefits of aloe vera are linked to the incredible number of its bioactive agents – over 200 of them! In particular it contains:
- sugars – polysaccharides, including acemannan
- antioxidants – anthraquinones, such as emodin, aloin, and aloesin
The healing benefits of aloe vera arise because it is packed full of enzymes, minerals, amino acids, sterols, hormones and vitamins A, C, E, B12.
MS Guardio is writing a series of short articles about the healing properties some plants, flowers and foods at this time of pandemic and national crisis.
Main benefits of aloe vera
One of the best known benefits of Aloe vera is probably its skin moisturizing and protective activities. It is commonly used externally as gel applied to skin to moisturize it, pre-vent wrinkles and to heal wounds.
I cover the amazing benefits of aloe vera gel in greater detail in my next blog – so look out for it!
But the benefits of aloe vera go far and beyond its moisturizing and wound healing properties. The antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties of aloe vera have recently been investigated for potential in treating eye diseases.
A study published in February 2021 concluded that eye drops containing aloe extract may be used to support standard treatment for cornea deterioration. Aloe vera can also:
• Support digestion,
• Lower blood sugar,
• Potentially protect the heart and bones, and
• Have anti-cancer effect.
The Universidad Complutense de Madrid has published a useful article and diagram showing the Properties of Aloe Vera and its Major Active Constituents.
Benefits of Aloe Vera for digestion support
Studies have shown the various benefits of aloe vera for digestive health.
Another of the many benefits of Aloe vera is as a strong laxative used to cleanse the colon and treat constipation.
There has been some controversy around the ability of aloe vera to support other digestive problems.
However, a controlled study in 2015 concluded that consuming aloe vera juice improves digestion and relieves hyperacidity, and reflux symptoms.
Another study confirmed that aloe vera juice can reduce pain and discomfort in patients with irritable bowel syndrome.
I suffered for a number of years with silent reflux, with symptoms of a postnasal drip, sensation of a lump in my throat and discomfort around my ears. I changed my diet, and took 100ml of aloe vera juice twice a day for four weeks.
I combined it with a daily tablet of DGL liquorice, and soon re-balanced my digestive health with none of the side effects of the standard pharmaceutical treatment. I have been symptom free for two years now.
Aloe vera can help lower blood sugar
Aloe vera is a traditional medicine used to treat raised blood sugar in many countries in the world. But there is good scientific evidence that aloe vera extract may help improve blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.
In two other trials, involving non-insulin dependent patients, a normalisation of blood sugar level was shown after a six-week treatment with aloe vera extract.
If you are receiving treatment for diabetes, do consult your doctor before embarking on supplementation with aloe vera juice. But it is definitely worth a try if you want to reduce a slightly raised blood sugar.
The benefits of aloe vera for heart and bones
The benefits of aloe vera for heart and bones are interesting but less well researched.
The vitamins and other nutrients in aloe vera plant combat oxidative stress and may help prevent heart disease.
Aloe vera may also have some protective effect on bone, and in particular in osteopenia and osteoporosis. Research has shown that the anti-inflammatory properties of aloe vera can be helpful for arthritis sufferers, without the usual side-effects caused by the arthritis drugs.
Anti-cancer properties of aloe vera
Further research into the benefits of aloe vera’s anti-cancer properties and efficacy is needed.
An article published in the Lancet, one of the best-known medical journals globally, describes a laboratory study which looked at combining aloe vera extract with standard chemotherapy in breast cancer and cervical cancer. The experiment resulted in an increased rate of cancer cell death and a reduced cancer growth.
Cancer Research UK quotes several studies which looked at emodin extracted from aloe vera. Amazingly, the compound was able to block the growth of neck and head cancers in test tubes, and may slow down the growth of glioblastoma cells, a type of brain cancer.
Carefully goes it!
Just as with pharmacological medications, nature supplements and plants used as for health reasons can have side effects and should be used with care.
Aloe vera is a powerful laxatives and can cause severe diarrhoea if taken in large doses.
Aloe vera might interact with other drugs or herbs. Make sure you talk to your doctor if you plan to combine it with medicines.
Aloe vera can result in low blood sugar when taken in excess orally.
Make your own!
You can buy aloe vera juice in most chemists and health food shops. You can also enjoy the benefits of aloe vera juice by making it yourself. You will need a fresh aloe vera leaf – some greengrocers, including Planet Organic stock them regularly.
Cut the spiky edges from the sides and very carefully slice off the skin on the flat side of the leaf to remove the gel from inside. This gel is the edible part of the plant.
But sure to remove all traces of the green skin and the sticky yellow-red latex-like sap which is immediately under the skin of the leaf. A study on consumption of a whole leaf (including the skin and the sticky stuff) by mice found some evidence of carcinogenic activity. Commercially available aloe vera juice have the potentially carcinogenic compounds removed.
Blend the gel until smooth, then add water to the desired consistency. You can:
• drink the juice on its own.
• add aloe vera juice to smoothies and desserts.
The geographic location, growing conditions, and post-harvest treatments determines the efficacy of aloe vera, so be sure to obtain your fresh leaves or commercially available aloe products from a reputable supplier.
People have been enjoying the benefits of this amazing plant since the earliest history of the world. While further research into aloe vera is needed, most science supports the claims made by traditional wisdom, and those all over the world who use it and enjoy the therapeutic benefits.
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