In this article:
- Aloe vera is a succulent plant that is used for a variety of medicinal purposes.
- Due to its minimal requirements of water for growth, aloe vera is also known as “lily of the desert.” Aloe gel consists of 96% water, allowing the plant to survive in arid regions.
- Aloe vera has a long life expectancy of up to 25 years, depending upon the environmental conditions.
- Traditionally, aloe is utilized for health and beauty purposes.
- Even though aloe vera is typically regarded as safe, allergic reactions to its aloin compound may occur.
Aloe vera, also known as “plant of immortality.” is widely utilized in alternative medicine. The most common form used in aloe-based products is derived from the Aloe barbadensis Miller plant.
The use of aloe vera can be traced back to 6000 years ago in early Egypt in which the plant was depicted in carvings.
Aloe vera, when translated from Arabic and Hebrew, means “true shining, bitter substance.” (1)
Aloe vera has broad, long, fleshy, and thick leaves. The leaves fan out from the center of the plant and have serrated edges. The part most often used from the plant is the succulent leaves, but the flower can also be utilized.
Based on the variety, the leaves may or may not have spots on them. If the leaves are spotted, it is Aloe vera var. Chinensis.
Aloe vera plants can grow up to 2-3 feet high. When grown outdoors, the plant tends to bloom yellow, red, and orange flowers in late winter or spring. However, if grown indoors, flowers rarely bloom.
Different Components of the Aloe Vera Plant
Aloe Vera Gel: Aloe vera gel is a colorless and odorless liquid that is derived from the innermost layer of the leaf.
Aloe Vera Juice: Obtaining the juice from the aloe vera plant requires grinding up the entire aloe vera leaf. Enzymatic treatment by adding cellulose breaks down the rind and other heavier materials and works as a filtration system. This process separates the aloe latex from the aloe vera juice.
Aloe Latex: Yellow in color and bitter in taste, aloe latex sometimes seeps through the leaf when cut. This part of the plant has laxative effects on the body when ingested. Oral consumption of aloe gel is safe when taken in limited quantities. However, latex poses certain safety concerns on ingestion.
In 2002, the FDA required removal or reformulation of OTC aloe laxatives from the US market due to insufficient evidence of safety by the manufacturing companies. It appears that aloe latex or whole-leaf extract consumed orally was unsafe, especially in high doses. (2)
The latex from aloe vera plant in its natural state may have the potential to cause cancer. Other side effects to be aware of include abdominal cramps and diarrhea.
Children under 12 years of age should not consume products containing aloe latex as it may do more harm than good.
Nutritional Profile of Aloe Vera
Some of the antioxidant vitamins include vitamins A, C, and E. Antioxidants are beneficial as they neutralize damaging free radicals. Other present vitamins include vitamin B12, folic acid, and choline. (1)(3)
Purported Benefits of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera has historically been used for preventing hair loss, treating hemorrhoids, etc.
The polysaccharides found in the gel of aloe vera leaves are thought to be very beneficial for its biological activities. Such activities lead to a variety of indications of its use including, wound healing, antifungal activity, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and immunomodulatory. (4)
Furthermore, modern sciences support that aloe vera has strong potential in pharmacotherapeutics. (4)
Here are some of the benefits you may get from aloe vera.
1. Produces Laxative Effects
Aloe latex, the organic component in the outer layer of aloe leaves, contains anthraquinones such as aloin. These components give aloe its laxative effects and stimulate the bowel movement. They also work as astringents, producing constricting or binding effects.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder diagnosed when bowel habits change or abdominal discomfort occurs without an organic cause. IBS can be constipation, diarrhea, or a mix of the two.
A study found that using aloe improved the intestinal muscle tone of those with constipation-predominant IBS or mixed IBS. (6)
Another study found that aloe vera reduced abdominal pain and flatulence in those suffering from constipation-predominant IBS. However, it was unable to decrease the urgency and frequency or improve the consistency of the stool. (7)
More placebo-controlled studies may be warranted with larger population sizes to solidify such results.
Aloe vera has been found in many studies to have a laxative effect and has been generally used as a laxative historically.
2. May Promote Wound Healing and Fight Inflammation
Aloe vera today is available in a variety of topical medications for wound healing and skincare. The research behind aloe vera’s wound healing properties has been done in a few human studies only. Most of them have been done on animals. (5)
Collagen is necessary for the wound healing process. Aloe has been found to increase the turnover rate of collagen and possibly increase collagen production.
In a study assessing aloe vera’s impact on wound healing in rats, it was found to improve the healing process. Aloe significantly stimulated fibroblast and keratinocyte cell proliferation and migration. Furthermore, aloe helped protect against keratinocyte death. (8)(9)
Aside from active wounds, aloe vera may also be beneficial in removing the scars left after a wound or cut has healed. (10)
Aloe vera gel is also used in many skincare products to treat a wide variety of skin issues. Its anti-inflammatory properties help to clear acne and pimples. However, aloe vera’s effectiveness on eczema is unclear due to the lack of human studies.
Owing to its anti-inflammatory properties, aloe may be helpful in rheumatoid arthritis, a condition in which painful inflammation occurs in the joints.
Aloe vera is widely accepted to have wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties. The wide variety of products on the market that incorporate aloe vera help validate the fact that it is effective for topically treating sunburns, acne, and other skin conditions. However, there is a lack of high-quality evidence supporting its topical use for wound healing.
3. Supports Oral Health
Aloe vera contains natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that can be beneficial for gum and oral health. It also contains properties that are immunomodulatory, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory.
Aloe vera can help reduce gum swelling, bleeding, and inflammation. It works as a powerful antiseptic in areas of the mouth that are difficult to clean. Its antifungal properties also help prevent denture stomatitis.
The gel from aloe vera plant may also be used as a sedative dressing in root canal treatment. (17)
Aloe vera has been found to support oral health in a large number of studies. However, more research is needed in order to rely more heavily on it.
4. Stabilizes Blood Sugar Levels
Preliminary research has found that aloe vera juice consumption can improve blood glucose levels. It may be a topic of interest in the management and prevention of diabetes.
The global epidemic of prediabetes increases the risk of type 2 diabetes fivefold and cardiovascular diseases twofold. Studies have shown that in a time period of 1-2 months administration of 300 mg and 500 mg aloe vera capsules helped with fasting blood glucose levels. (18)(19)
Over 8 weeks, aloe vera extract was also found to have the following positive effects:
- Increases insulin sensitivity
- Reduces fasting blood sugar levels
- Decreases A1c levels
Research indicates that aloe vera does have a positive hypoglycemic effect. However, further studies are warranted to further establish the efficacy of aloe vera.
5. Provides Immunomodulatory Effects
Herbs potent of stimulating an immune response, and rich in antimicrobial properties may provide alternative treatment options for infections. Both in vivo and in vitro studies have shown the antimicrobial properties of aloe vera. (20)
Immunomodulation is vital in today’s time when a number of bacterial species are immune to antibiotics. The body’s own defense mechanism which is the immune response, helps to fight these infection causing bacteria.
Larger-scale studies are required to further asses aloe vera’s effects on immunomodulation.
Varieties of Aloe Vera
Over 250 species of aloe are grown throughout the world. However, only two species are grown commercially:
- Aloe barbadensis Miller (Aloe vera)
- Aloe arborescens
At least two other species have been found to have medicinal properties:
- Aloe perryi Baker
- Aloe ferox
Although most aloe vera plants are not toxic, some have been found to contain a hemlock-like substance and are poisonous. (24)
Industrial Application of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is one of the most commonly used herbal medicines in western medicine. The manufacturing of aloe vera extracts is one of the largest industries worldwide.
Aloe produces two substances that are both used in medicine:
Aloe vera is used in three major industries:
- Cosmetic: Aloe vera is used as an ingredient of a wide variety of products including skin moisturizers, soaps, shampoos, sun lotions, makeup creams, perfumes, shaving creams, and other products.
- Food: Aloe is used in a variety of health drinks or to provide a bitter component.
- Pharmaceutical: Aloe topical gels and ointments are available as well as aloe oral tablets and capsules.
The medicinal components of aloe vera are typically found in the inner layers of the leaves and the corrugated lining below the outer layer. This is where saccharides, prostanoids, anthraquinones, and superoxide dismutases are found.
The clear gel is what is typically used in cosmetic products, whereas the bitter liquid (aloe latex) is what is added to juice drinks, oral tablets/capsules, and dental hygiene products such as toothpaste and mouthwash.
How to Store Aloe Vera
Using fresh gel from aloe is recommended as many active ingredients deteriorate with storage. Its shelf life is relatively short when stored in open air at room temperature.
The gel of aloe vera can be stored in a variety of ways in accordance with the use and how long you expect to store it:
- Pure extracted aloe vera gel refrigerated without any added preservatives will last 3-4 days.
- Storing the leaves in the refrigerator for a few days before extracting the gel prolongs their life.
- Adding honey to the gel and then refrigerating it can increase its shelf life.
- Freezing aloe vera gel in cubes allows you to use it as needed.
How to Consume Aloe Vera?
Aloe Vera Juice
You will need:
- 1 large aloe vera leaf
- 1 lemon to juice
- 2 cups water
- Rinse the leaf and cut it in half.
- Remove the skin as much as you can starting from the sides.
- Cut your aloe leaf into smaller sections and place them in the blender.
- And a few drops of lemon and some water.
- Blend on medium-low for 30-45 seconds.
- Strain the mix through a cheesecloth.
- Bottle the aloe juice in glass containers.
Homemade Aloe Face Pack
You will need:
- 2 aloe vera leaves
- Rose water
- Lemon juice (optional)
- Take two aloe vera leaves. Wash them with water.
- Using a knife cut the aloe vera into large chunks or cubes instead of cutting lengthwise when attempting to remove the gel. Finely remove the side edges of the leaves. Slit open the top layer of each cube and scrape out the gel.
- Scrape off the aloe vera gel from the leaves and place it in a bowl.
- Add in a teaspoon of rose water and a few drops of lemon juice.
- Pour the aloe vera gel into a blender.
- Blend for 1 minute and pour the gel back into a bowl.
Note: Make sure your skin tolerates this mask well. Always do a patch test before a full-scale application to your face.
Adverse Effects of Aloe Vera
Orally consumed aloe vera latex can cause the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle weakness
- Potassium depletion
Contraindications for consuming aloe vera include:
- Gastrointestinal conditions
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
Drug preparations that contain aloe vera can be more toxic than pure aloe vera gel. Such preparations include herbal stimulant laxatives.
Topical application of aloe gel can have the following side effects if it does not suit your skin type:
- Burning and stinging sensation
Allergic reactions to aloe vera are mostly linked to its anthraquinone (aloin and barbaloin) content. It is recommended to test a small area of skin for allergic reactions. (16)
Aloe Vera Allergy
Avoid aloe vera if you have an allergy to any of the following plants in the Liliaceae family: (21)
Topical and oral use of aloe vera can cause the following: (22)
- Skin irritations
Prolonged consumption of aloe latex is associated with: (22)
- Diarrhea with electrolyte imbalances
- Abdominal pain
Drug Interactions with Aloe Vera
Use caution when using aloe vera together with the following medications:
- Antidiabetes medications: Aloe gel may decrease blood sugar levels. Consuming it in conjunction with diabetes medications can cause hypoglycemia.
- Sevoflurane: Sevoflurane is used to decrease the risk of blood clots. This drug interacts with aloe vera and should not be consumed orally within 2 weeks of having surgery as it increases the risk of bleeding.
- Laxatives and diuretics: There is a possibility for aloe gel to be contaminated with aloe latex. Therefore, those with gastrointestinal and kidney disorders should use caution.
Caution: Aloe vera gel is regarded as safe for external use with allergies being rare. Aloe vera intake is not recommended for children or adults suffering from intestinal obstruction, appendicitis, or abdominal pain. Oral intake of aloe vera should also be restricted by pregnant or lactating women. (23)
Is aloe vera gel good for your face?
The antioxidants in aloe vera make it very powerful for skin repair. Such beneficial nutrients include:
- Minerals: zinc, magnesium, selenium
- Enzymes: catalase, superoxide dismutase
- Amino Acids: cysteine, anthraquinones
- Vitamins: B2, B6, E, C
Aloe vera is 96%-97% water, so it helps promote hydration without the risk of clogging the pores of oily skin.
Studies show that aloe vera does promote skin health in the following ways:
- Increases flexibility and reduces fragility of the skin
- Improves skin integrity
- Retains moisture
- Reduces erythema
- Prevents skin ulcers
Can you eat aloe vera?
- Even though aloe vera is potentially safe to consume in the short term, it is not recommended to consume the aloe leaf as is.
- Small doses of aloe vera gel up to 15 ml is generally safe for intake for up to a month.
- Consumption of solution with up to 50% aloe vera gel has been marked safe, provided that it is not done for more than 4 weeks, twice daily.
- Standard preparation of aloe juice ensures the removal of aloin. If aloe juice is free from aloin-it is safe for consumption. If the juice is sold commercially, it should be sold in amber-colored glass bottles to prevent the light from affecting the bioactive components. (23)
- Oral consumption of unprocessed aloe latex is possibly unsafe and considered to be likely unsafe in high doses.
Does aloe vera treat vitiligo?
No direct scientific evidence supports the use of aloe vera for vitiligo treatment. It may have a positive impact on rehydrating the skin, though. Further studies are needed to establish the role aloe may play in treating vitiligo.
Aloe vera is widely available worldwide. Aloe gel, juice, and formulations are used in products that are medicinal and cosmetic.
As the aloe vera industry is growing fast, more studies are needed to assess the quality and quantity of the bioactive ingredients in final products.
Products claims need to be tested through clinical trials and verified and certified by governmental regulations to improve consumer confidence in the products and promote safety.