The summer season is finally upon us. It’s a time when one ill-planned day activity can result in the all too familiar red complexion that is the consequence of too much exposure to the sun. One of the more popular topical applications for sunburn relief in recent years is Aloe vera gel. While once considered a folk remedy, studies on the gel of the Aloe plant have shown that it is indeed not only soothing to cuts, scrapes and burns, but also speeds the healing process. We see it in many products that go on the skin – sunscreens, moisturizers, soaps, shampoos, even facial tissues, although the effectiveness of the Aloe gel in these formats is questionable. The processing of the Aloe often damages the polysaccharides responsible for its healing properties, making the addition of Aloe in these products little more than a gimmick in many cases.
Perhaps a less mainstream use of Aloe, in nutrition circles people have lately been borrowing from the knowledge of indigenous peoples by consuming the gel of the Aloe plant for internal healing. Ailments as diverse as joint and arthritis pain, muscle pain, gastro-intestinal problems and coronary heart disease have all been treated with internal Aloe vera supplementation. While the science has yet to confirm the effectiveness of this treatment, anecdotal evidence abounds.
What the science has confirmed, however, is that Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immunological benefits.
What’s more, ingestion of a fibre supplement in conjunction with Aloe gel showed positive effects on lipid metabolism, carbohydrate metabolism (blood glucose levels in diabetic patients) and a decreased frequency in angina attacks in a study of 5000 patients (Agarwal).
In a review of the literature, Dr. Ivan E. Danhof reported on a study which also showed that Aloe vera consumption had a positive effect on lowering blood LDL cholesterol and total blood lipid levels. The gel has also been found to have beneficial effects on fat metabolism in general. Another study found this type of gel supplementation to lower cholesterol levels by 30%, which may be due to the gel’s strong antioxidant effects.
For over 300 years the residents of the Rio Grande Valley of Northern Texas have recommended Aloe vera gel for maladies of digestion, particularly ulcers. Studies (Galal, et. al, for example) have confirmed that its consumption has both a preventative and healing effect on ulcers in animal studies, finding that ulcers healed 3 times faster with Aloe treatment or were 80% more likely to prevent ulcer formation versus placebo.
Aloe has also been found to prolong life in studies on rats. Longevity was increased by greater than 10% in rats that were fed Aloe vera daily versus a group on a normal lab rat diet. They also proved to be less diseased overall than the control group.
Some dentists have even reported benefits of Aloe treatments for periodontal problems. One dentist has found that this gel has had a significant healing effect on mouth damage from toothbrushing, flossing, chemical burns (aspirin), tooth extraction, mouth ulcers and canker sores and even mouth sores resulting from AIDS and Leukemia. While this dentist is only reporting his own annecdotal findings, he has 14 years and 6000 documented cases to work from.
One ingredient in the Aloe vera plant of particular interest is called Acemannan, a mucopolysaccharide found in the gel of the leaf. This substance has been found to shrink tumors in fibrosarcoma (a type of cancer) in dogs and cats in conjunction with surgery and radiation. In U.S. this substance has even been approved for treatment in dogs and cats with fibrosarcoma. Although it has not been approved for use in humans as of yet, the future could hold promise for cancer treatment with Aloe extracts.
Now before you start spooning back mouthfuls of Aloe vera gel by the dozen, know that it has a laxative effect, and should be taken in moderation. Until the turn of the century the plant extract was boiled to remove all the water and sold as an over-the-counter laxative. Although this action won’t be extreme, and may not even be noticed, when taken in its non-concentrated form, a little caution is still recommended. And, as always, you should consult your health care practitioner about taking a supplement such as Aloe vera.