The ancient Aloe vera (A. barbadensis) plant with its spear-like, succulent leaves has made its way from native Africa, to your favorite health food store, and even your own home. There are more than 300 types of aloe, but it is Aloe vera that is used most commonly. The Liliaceae family in which Aloe belongs is also home to garlic, asparagus, and onion. What a powerful Family! Aloe has been traditionally used to help treat burns and other wounds, and as a purgative (constipation aid). Yet, over the years, more and more uses for aloe have been discovered. With more active research taking place, the list of incredible healing powers of this herb is sure to lengthen.
Aloe vera contains 75 potentially active constituents who all work synergistically. These include anthraquinones, saccharides, vitamins, non-essential amino acids, essential amino acids, inorganic compounds, and enzymes. It is this powerful combination of molecules that allows the plant to repair itself if the skin becomes damaged. This is visible when you break off a piece of the leaf to use, the next day there is a seal and the plant is protected again.
The anthraquinones are part of the aloe latex, the bundle of sheath cells from its skin. These cells stimulate the walls of the digestive system to contract, essentially aiding in the relief of constipation. This practice should be guided by a health practitioner as it may cause severe cramping. Other plants (cascara and senna) from the same family as aloe are considered to be gentler laxatives. Some of the enzymes found in Aloe vera include carboxypeptidase and bradykininase. These enzymes, along with the amino acids tryptophane and phenylalanine, are involved in relief of pain and reduction of inflammation and swelling. The mineral zinc in the aloe gel also aids in the anti-inflammatory properties of this plant. The polysaccharides, especially glucomannan, in the gel are thought to greatly increase the health of the skin.
Aloe vera has been proclaimed as a strong preventative agent for ulcers and other digestive problems. A research article on the International Aloe Science Council’s website noted an interesting study whereby an individual was given aloe gel before an ulcer-inducing stressor. This group resulted in a 80% reduction in the number of ulcers compared to a control group that was given saline. If the aloe was given after the ulcer had formed, the participant healed three times faster than the control group.
The health benefits of Aloe extend to heart related diseases as well. A study on Albino rats that were fed a high cholesterol diet along with aloe polysaccharides had decreased total cholesterol levels, decreased phospholipids levels, and increased HDL (the “good”cholesterol) compared to the control group. According to a Natural News article, aloe can reverse blood that is clumpy and sludge-like in appearance. This would allow the blood to carry greater amounts of oxygen, reducing the chances of a heart attack or stroke.
Cancer is a terrible disease that will affect 40% or more of us in our lifetime. There are many herbs and plants that contain anti-cancer compounds, including Aloe vera. Aloe’s effects are twofold; it builds up the immune system and destroys tumors. An experiment using mice with Sarcoma-180 tumors that were fed aloe exhibited reduced tumor growth. Another study using a molecule from aloe called Aloctin-A showed anti-tumor capabilities via increased immunity.
Burns, cuts, and wounds are commonly treated with aloe. Its antifungal and antibacterial capabilities make it Mother Nature’s band aid. The gel actually creates a physical barrier to prevent bacteria from entering the wound while simultaneously drawing blood to the needed area. This allows for faster healing.
These are just a few examples of the amazing capabilities of Aloe vera. New research is exploring aloe’s immune boosting abilities and how it can be used to treat HIV/AIDS, its anti-cancer molecules, and its ability to save soldiers who have lost extreme amounts of blood. I hope that you go pick up an aloe plant (or two) and start using it right away! Your body will thank you.
I add aloe to my smoothies, use it to keep my summer tan, and apply the gel directly to my face for firm, smooth skin. It really is an awesome herb to have available in your home. If you can't find a plant, then head to your local health food store as they have 100% aloe vera gel to purchase.
Foster, Steven & Johnson, Rebecca L .(2006). Desk Reference to Nature's Medicine. Washington,D.C. : The National Geographic Society.
Hutchens, Alma R.(1973). Indian Herbology of North America. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications , Inc.
Duke, James A, ph.D. (1997). The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, PA:Rodale Press