Aloe Vera: The amazing things you can do with this antioxidant-rich gel


Last Updated June 24th, 2019

What is aloe vera?

Aloe vera is a cactus-like succulent plant.  Aloe vera belongs to the genus of the liliaceous plants.  The plant is either stem-less or very short-stemmed.  Stems are around 25 cm long with an average of about 20 leaves in a straight, dense rosette. The leaves grow to up to 40 to 50 cm long and 6 to 7 cm wide.  The leaves are thick, fleshy, water retaining, and concave on the top side.  The underside of the leaf is convex with a pale pink rim and is dressed with 2 mm long thorny teeth spaced at every 10 to 20 mm.  Each leaf can weigh as much as 1.5 to 2 kg.

Aloe: The plant

The roots of the aloe are relatively short and lay flat embedded in the earth.  Aloe is a genus that contains more than 500 species of flowering succulent plants.  Like other Aloe species, Aloe vera forms arbuscular mycorrhiza (type of mycorrhiza in which the fungus penetrates the cortical cells of the roots of a vascular plant), a symbiosis, which allows the plant better access to mineral nutrients in soil.  Many Aloe vera plants occur naturally in North Africa.  Aloe vera is also described as a wonder plant.  Aloe vera has been the subject of much scientific study over the last few years, regarding several claimed therapeutic properties.  Many uses are made of the gel obtained from the plant’s leaves.

What does Aloe Vera contain?

Vitamins:  Aloe Vera is rich in many vitamins, especially the antioxidant Vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E and even contains a trace of vitamin B12, one of the very few plant sources of this vitamin.

Enzymes:  It contains 8 enzymes namely aliiase, alkaline phosphatase, amylase, bradykinase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, cellulase, lipase, and peroxidase.  The enzyme bradykinase helps to reduce excessive inflammation when applied to the skin topically.  Other enzymes help in digestion and breakdown of sugars and fats.

Minerals:  Aloe vera is rich in minerals and contains Calcium, Sodium, Potassium, Manganese, Magnesium, Copper, Zinc, Chromium, and the anti-oxidant Selenium.   Minerals are essential for the proper functioning of various enzyme systems in different metabolic pathways.

Sugars:  Aloe vera contains monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) and polysaccharides (glucomannans/polymannose).  These sugars are extracted from the mucilage layer, which surrounds the inner gel of the plant and are known as mucopolysaccharides.  Mucopolysaccharides have the ability to enhance the immune system and help to detoxify.

These sugars are ingested whole from the gut, which is not broken down like other sugars, and appear in the bloodstream in exactly the same form and this phenomenon is called pinocytosis.  Once these sugars enter the bloodstream, they are able to exert their immuno-regulating effect.  Polysaccharides are not absorbed and stick to certain cells lining the gut and form a barrier preventing absorption of unwanted material and help to prevent leaking gut syndrome.

Anthraquinones:  Anthraquinones are phenolic compounds known as laxatives.  There are 12 phenolic compounds present in aloe vera.  These phenolic compounds aid in absorption from the gastrointestinal tract and have anti-microbial and pain killing effects.  Specifically, Aloin and Emodin, act as painkillers and also function as anti-bacterial and anti-viral agents.

Lignin:  Lignin is a class of complex organic polymers that form important structural materials in the support tissues of vascular plants and some algae.  Lignins are added in topical preparation, which gives aloe vera with a singular penetrative effect and by this, the other ingredients are absorbed into the skin.

Saponins:  Saponins are toxic compounds which are present in soapwort and makes foam when shaken with water.  These soapy substances have antiseptic properties and act as a powerful antimicrobial against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and yeasts.

Fatty Acids:  Aloe vera contains four fatty acids namely Cholesterol, Campesterol, b. Sisosterol and Lupeol.  These four plant steroids are important anti-inflammatory agents.  Lupeol is also known for its antiseptic and analgesic properties.

Salicylic acid:  Salicylic acid is a common ingredient available in many skincare products.  Salicylic acid is an aspirin-like compound possessing anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.  This along with benzoyl peroxide are two of the most well-known acne fighters.

Amino AcidsAmino acids are a simple organic compound.  Amino acids link together into polypeptide chains called proteins.  Aloe vera contains 20 amino acids and importantly contains 7 essential amino acids.

What are the health benefits of aloe vera?

Teeth and Gums

Aloe vera contains anthraquinones, which are phenolic compounds and known for their antibacterial effects.  Aloe vera is also known to have another component called salicylic acid, which is known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects.  Due to the presence of these substances, aloe vera is used in the form of tooth gel, which has shown promising results in combating cavity-forming bacteria and preventing cavities.

Constipation

Constipation is a condition in which there is difficulty in emptying the bowels.  Constipation can occur due to a number of reasons.  Anthraquinones present in aloe vera is known for its laxative effects.  Laxatives increase intestinal water content, stimulates mucus secretion, and increases intestinal peristalsis.  Aloe vera is available in a supplemental form called Aloe latex and are commonly taken in liquid or capsule form once daily for up to 10 days to help with constipation.

Heartburn Relief

Heartburn is a painful burning feeling in the chest or throat.  Heartburn usually occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, the tube which carries food from the mouth to the stomach.  As we know that aloe vera contains compounds, which have a laxative effect.  Moderate consumption of aloe extract is known to provide a soothing effect for heartburn symptoms and can help prevent heartburn.

Healing properties

Aloe vera is known for its healing properties of wounds and burns and also diabetes-induced wound ulcers.  Aloe gel has the ability to increase the collagen content of the wound and can change the collagen composition and increases the degree of collagen cross-linking.  Due to this process, it helps in accelerating wound contraction and increased the breaking strength of resulting scar tissue.  Aloe gel has the ability to increase the synthesis of hyaluronic acid and dermatan sulfate in the granulation tissue of a healing wound following oral or topical treatment.

Antioxidant

An antioxidant substance such as vitamin C or E removes potentially damaging oxidizing agents in a living organism.  Antioxidants can clean out free radicals in the body that contribute to organ or tissue breakdown, inflammation, degeneration, and help reduce the effects of aging.  Aloe Vera is a rich source of antioxidant vitamins namely vitamin A, C, and E.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is caused by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the breast.  Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women.  Aloe vera consists phytochemicals namely aloe-emodin.  Aloe-emodin suppresses breast cancer cell proliferation by targeting estrogen receptor protein stability through distinct mechanisms.  Findings suggest that many phytochemicals derived from plants, including anthraquinone, have been reported to have anticancer potential.

Lowers Blood Sugar

Blood sugar is called glucose, which is the main sugar found in the blood.  It is formed from the food we eat and is the body’s main source of energy.  Blood carries glucose to all the body’s cells to use for energy.  Diabetes is a disease in which blood sugar levels are too high.  Studies have shown that the extract of aloe vera has the ability to stimulate the secretion of insulin and reduce blood sugar.  This is very beneficial to people, who suffer from type 2 diabetes.

Moisturizing and Anti-aging effect

Aloe vera is one of the widely used ingredients in many skin products for moisturizing and anti-aging effects.  Aloe vera is known to stimulate fibroblast which produces the collagen and elastin fibers.  Due to the stimulation of fibroblast, it makes the skin more elastic and less wrinkled.  It is also known for its cohesive effects and helps in binding the superficial flaking epidermal cells by sticking them together, which softens the skin.

The amino acids present in aloe vera is helpful to soften hardened skin cells and zinc acts as an astringent to tighten pores.  Due to the presence of essential amino acids and the water content, it is well known for its moisturizing effects, which is helpful in the treatment of dry skin.  Aloe vera gel is also very effective in fighting acne.

Antiseptic Effect

Aloe vera contains 6 antiseptic agents namely lupeol, salicylic acid, urea nitrogen, cinnamonic acid, phenols, and sulfur.  These agents are helpful in fighting harmful fungus, bacteria, and virus.

Are there any side-effects?

There are very minimal side effects of aloe vera and can be easily avoided.  Some of the side effects caused by topical use include redness, burning, stinging sensation, and rarely generalized dermatitis in sensitive individuals.  Side effects from oral use include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, red urine, hepatitis, dependency or worsening of constipation.

Regular use of the entire leaf, which includes the latex, can deplete potassium in the body.  Electrolyte imbalances due to this can lead to muscle weakness and cardiac problems.  Supplemental products containing the latex can exacerbate intestinal illnesses such as Crohn’s disease (a chronic inflammatory disease of the digestive tract) and ulcerative colitis (inflammatory bowel disease, which causes long-lasting inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract).

People suffering from diabetes should monitor their blood sugar levels when consuming aloe products.  Consuming aloe vera in any form is not advisable during pregnancy, as it may cause uterine contractions or miscarriage.  Excessive use of aloe latex has the potential to also cause kidney failure and should strictly be avoided by people suffering from kidney problems.

The many ways you can use Aloe vera

Aloe Vera Juice:  Aloe vera juice is made by crushing or grinding entire leaves, including the latex portion.  Since the latex has a bitter flavor and laxative effects, it is removed during processing using a stripping agent.

Aloe Vera Gel:  Aloe vera gel is made without the outer rind and aloe latex.  It is then ground into juice or kept in gel form.  Carrageenan is used to thicken this and commercially sold as aloe vera gel form.

Aloe vera concentrate:  Commonly made from the whole aloe leaf.  Since it is more potent, it is used by people who want to take a small dose once a day.

 Aloe vera powder:  The aloe vera gel is rinsed to remove remnants of aloin (the laxative ingredient in the latex) and dehydrated.  The dried gel is then ground into powder form and used in food and beverages.

Aloe vera capsules:  Aloe vera capsule is made from the whole leaf and freeze-dried into capsule form.  This offers a more concentrated form of aloe vera.  The main purpose of doing this is it does not need to be refrigerated and is travel-friendly.

Aloe vera has a wide spectrum of properties and uses and there is a number of ways to use the aloe vera plant and the various gels and extracts that can be made from it.  Aloe vera has been the subject of much scientific study over the last few years, regarding several claimed therapeutic properties.  Researchers are continuing to discover new methods to use this succulent plant.  It is always advisable to consult a medical professional when used to treat any diseases.


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