Aloe - Medicinal Properties
Since ancient times, aloe has been used primarily to treat skin problems. It has also been used to treat oral and digestive problems. At present, some studies suggest it also might be useful to help treat diabetes and hyperlipidemia. Some recommend it in order to stimulate the immune system, treat genital herpes and protect from insect bites.
On the skin, aloe is used for cosmetic purposes as well as to treat injuries and infections.
A paste used as a poultice to place over wounds can be made with the pulp of the leaves. Today, aloe leaves are still used in Africa to help the cicatrization process of wounds. There, the leaves are cut in two halves along the pulpy part, so that the inner part of each half, the part exposing the pulp, can be bound with a bandage over the clean wound. It is also said that its juice is helpful for treating burns. Popularly, it is used as a protection against ultraviolet rays, but no scientific evidence seems to support this property (Vogler and Ernst, 1999).
Aloe is also used in folk medicine to treat fungal infections of the skin, such as athlete's foot. Fungal infections are treated by crushing the leaf pulp and placing the resulting paste over the affected area, as a poultice.
According to Vogler and Ernst (1999), aloe may be effective against psoriasis, a skin disease. They recommend applying the pulp or cream with aloe pulp three times a day for several months. The results are not fast.
The juice of the leaves is said to have cosmetic effects on the skin. It is said to reduce the opening of the skin pores, giving the face a more aesthetic appearance, and helping remove bacteria and fat deposits that clog the pores. It is therefore considered useful for the treatment of acne. In addition, it is believed that the minerals, vitamins, amino acids and enzymes present in it stimulate the reproduction of new cells of the skin. Some believe that this helps prevent premature wrinkles and retards wrinkles proper of aging, if used regularly. For this reason, aloe juice is extensively used to elaborate after-shave products; its properties would help regenerate many of the cells damaged by the passage of the blade over the skin. Among its other most popular cosmetic uses are the treatment of stains caused by the sun, dryness, scaling, itching, and cracking of the skin. Since aloe is astringent, it is a good idea to apply oil or a moisturizer after the aloe juice has penetrated the skin.
Hair/scalp troubles, such as oily hair and dandruff, are also popularly treated applying aloe juice directly to the hair/scalp. You can also take a piece of leaf, get rid of the thorny edges, cut it lengthwise along the pulp, and rub the side of the pulp over the head. Wait for a while or overnight; then, wash with water. This will brighten, protect and strengthen your hair.
On the mouth, folk medicine recommends chewing the leaf pulp to treat mouth sores and bleeding gums. For bucal herpes, apply the aloe without the bitterness, because it is caustic. To remove the bitterness of the leaves, washing them with water and rubbing them with your fingers is all what is needed. In a controlled test (De Oliveira et al., 2008), at the University of Fortaleza, Brazil, researchers found that both a dentifrice containing aloe and a fluorinated dentifrice significantly reduced plaque and gingivitis at the same rate; no significant differences between both treatments were found.
On the digestive system, aloe juice is used against heartburn and as a purgative. It is considered helpful against heartburn because it acts as a natural buffer of the gastric juices. In this regard, it is recommended to take it regularly on an empty stomach. The relief will come a few days after taking regular doses. Taken at night before bed, the bitterness has a laxative effect that takes place the next morning. It is important to note that until 2003, aloe juice and other products derived from it were widely used in the United States as a laxative. That year, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) banned free use of products containing aloin. Since then, many manufacturers began to produce aloe juice with no aloin. Unfortunately, it seems that aloe juice with no aloin has not a significant laxative effect. On the other hand, the juice without aloin can certainly be used with digestive purposes.
According to Langmead and colleagues (2004), oral administration of 100 ml of aloe gel, twice a day for 4 weeks, can improve, or even cure, cases of ulcerative colitis. More evidence is required to confirm these results, however.
There are other uses of aloe on the digestive system but do not have much evidence. Tincture, extracts and other preparations are attributed some cholagogue effect; that is, they are thought to stimulate bile secretion. The juice is also credited with beneficial effect to treat irritable bowel syndrome.
In the blood, aloe juice may be a good help to treat diabetes and hyperlipidemia. According to Vogler and Ernst (1999), oral administration of aloe may be useful to help reduce blood glucose levels of diabetic patients and to reduce blood levels of lipids in patients with hyperlipidemia. Apparently, these positive effects are due to the presence of compounds such as polysaccharides, mannans, anthraquinones and lectins. More research, however, is required to confirm this hypothesis.
Finally, the aloe juice is also often smeared on the skin to protect from insect bites. It has been suggested that the custom of hanging up an entire plant of aloe from the doorway to bring luck might have originated from this plant's ability to repel insects. The hanged plant can remain alive for many years due to the ability of its roots to absorb moisture from the atmosphere. In the United States, Europe and Japan, some people are consuming the pure juice to stimulate the immune system. According to Vogler and Ernst (1999), aloe may also be effective against genital herpes.
De Oliveira SM, Torres TC, Pereira SL, Mota OM, Carlos MX. (2008). Effect of a dentifrice containing Aloe vera on plaque and gingivitis control: A double-blind clinical study in humans. Journal of Applied Oral Science. 16(4):293-6, 2008 Jul-Aug.
Langmead L, Feakins RM, Goldthorpe S, Holt H, Tsironi E, De Silva A, Jewell DP, Rampton DS. (2004) Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral aloe vera gel for active ulcerative colitis. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2004 Apr 1;19(7):739-47.
Vogler BK, Ernst E (Octubre 1999). Aloe vera: a systematic review of its clinical effectiveness. The British journal of general practice: the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners 49 (447): 823-8.