Uses & Health Benefits
“You ask me what were the secret forces which sustained me during my long fasts. Well, it was my unshakeable faith in God, my simple and frugal lifestyle, and the Aloe whose benefits I discovered upon my arrival in South Africa at the end of the nineteenth century”. – Mahatma Gandhi
Common Names: Aloe vera, Aloe, Lily of the desert, Burn plant, Elephant’s gall
Latin Names: Aloe vera, Aloe barbadensis
Aloe vera’s use can be traced back 6,000 years to early Egypt, where the plant was depicted on stone carvings. Known as the “plant of immortality,” aloe was presented as a burial gift to deceased pharaohs. Native to Northern Africa, Aloe vera (syn. A. barbadensis Mill., A. vulgaris Lam.) is a stemless or very short-stemmed succulent plant growing to 80–100 cm tall, spreading by offsets and root sprouts. The leaves are lanceolate, thick and fleshy, green to grey-green, with a serrated margin. The flowers are produced on a spike up to 90 cm tall, each flower pendulous, with a yellow tubular corolla 2–3 cm long. Clinical evealuations have revealed that the pharmacological active ingredients are concentrated in both the gel and rind of the aloe vera leaves. These active ingredients have been shown to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.
Various Uses of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is being used topically to heal wounds and for various skin conditions, and orally as a laxative, since centuries. Today, apart from the people traditional uses, people also take aloe vera orally to treat a variety of conditions, including diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, and osteoarthritis. People use aloe topically for osteoarthritis, burns, and sunburns. Aloe vera has been used to treat various skin conditions such as cuts, burns and eczema.
Aloe vera gel can be found in hundreds of skin products, including lotions and sunblocks. Cosmetic manufacturers add sap or other derivatives from Aloe vera to makeup products, tissues, moisturizers, soaps, sunscreens, shampoos and lotions.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved aloe vera as a natural food flavoring. In Japan, Aloe Vera is commonly used as an ingredient in commercially available yogurt. Many companies in East Asia produce Aloe Vera beverages. Pashtuns in the Hazara region of the North West Frontier Province have been using Aloe Vera for centuries to improve physical endurance, probably due to the high nutrient content of the gel. People in Rajasthan, India prepare Aloe Vera as a vegetable with fenugreek seeds. Similarly, people in Tamil Nadu, another state of India prepare a curry using Aloe Vera eat along with Indian bread or rice.
Among the recent uses of Aloe vera includes using it as a Food preservative. Researchers at the University of Miguel Hernández in Alicante, Spain, have developed a gel based on Aloe vera that prolongs the conservation of fresh produce, like fresh fruit and legumes. This gel is tasteless, colorless and odorless. This natural product is a safe and environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic preservatives such as sulfur dioxide. The study showed that grapes at 1°C coated with this gel could be preserved for 35 days against 7 days for untreated grapes.
Aloe vera Gel and Juice are different?
People often assumed incorrectly that Aloe vera Gel and Juice are the same thing, which they are not. Let us understand the Aloe leaf structure first. It is made up of four layers – Rind, Sap, Mucilage and Gel. Rind is the outer protective layer; Sap is a layer of bitter fluid which helps protect the plant from animals; Mucilage and the Gel, which is the inner part of the leaf that is filleted out to make Aloe Vera gel.
The term Juice refers to the bitter sap or Latex that resides just under the skin of the leaf and contains a potent laxative – Aloin. This juice should not be used by human unless desired or recommended by a doctor.
What does it contain?
Aloe Vera contains over 75 known active ingredients (and probably many more). Also included are 19 of the 20 amino acids required by the human body and 7 of the 8 essential amino acids (that the body cannot make), as well as vitamins and minerals. There are 20 “critical” Amino Acids in human metabolism, but the body can only make 12, the other 8 have to be obtained from food. These are Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Valine, and Tryptophan.
Aloe Vera contains also contain useful enzymes like Amylase, Bradykinase, Catalase, Cellulase, Lipase, Oxidase, Alkaline Phosphatase, Proteolytiase, Creatine Phosphokinase, Carboxypeptidase. Most of these are beneficial to human metabolism. Lignin gives Aloe Vera its penetrating powers, but is not considered to have any other benefit. Aloe Vera contains important minerals like Calcium, Chromium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Potassium, Phosphorous, Sodium, and Zinc.
As most of us know that the mono-saccharides are the familiar glucose and fructose. It is believed that the more complex long-chain sugars are the poly-saccharides give Aloe Vera its unique healing and immuno-stimulating properties. Aloe Vera contains useful vitamins. These include A (beta-carotene and retinol), B1 (thiamine), B2 ( riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cyanocobalamin), C (ascorbic acid), E (tocopherol) and Folic Acid. Salicylic Acid, a substance similar to aspirin that can help reduce fever and inflammation is also found in Aloe vera. It also contains Saponins and Sterols. Saponins are natural soapy substances that have both cleansing and antiseptic properties while Sterols are naturally occurring plant steroids with analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties.
Health Benefits of Aloe Vera
“Extracts of Aloe Vera first became popular as a proven skin healer. Aloe is said to improve collagen repair, heal burns and prevent wrinkles. It is a powerful detoxifier, antiseptic and tonic for the nervous system. It also has immune-boosting and anti-viral properties. Research has proven that adding Aloe Vera to ones diet improves digestion. As a general health tonic, there are benefits in taking a measure of Aloe Vera each day”
Patrick Holford, Founder – Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION) (Source: Metro Magazine August 2000)
Here are few benefits of Aloe Vera:
- Studies have shown that aloe vera speeds the healing process, particularly in burns, including those from radiation. It is also used by dermatologists to speed healing after facial dermabrasion, which helps remove scars from the top most layers of the skin. The other health benefits from the use of aloe vera include helping to soothe skin injuries affected by burning, skin irritations, cuts and insect bites, and its bactricidal properties relieve itching and skin swellings.
- Aloe Vera possesses incredible moisturizing properties. Studies show that Aloe Vera improves the skin’s ability to hydrate itself, aids in the removal of dead skin cells and has an effective penetrating ability that helps transport healthy substances through the skin.
- Aloe vera is also known to help slow down the appearance of wrinkles as it can actively repair the damaged skin cells that cause the visible signs of aging. Components of Aloe Vera have been found to reverse degenerative skin changes by stimulating collagen and elastin synthesis.
- Dermatologist James Fulton, M.D., of Newport Beach, California, uses topical aloe in his practice to speed wound healing. “Any wound we treat, whether it’s suturing a cut or removing a skin cancer, heals better with aloe vera on it,” he states.
- Top nutritionalists, around the world, recommend the use of Aloe Health Drinks to aid digestion, and many patients experience relief in the symptoms of problems such as Irritable Bowel Sydrome and Crohn’s disease.
- Aloe Vera is believed to reduce severe joint and muscle pain associated with arthritis, as well as pain related to tendinitis and injuries. When applied directly to the area of pain, Aloe Vera penetrates the skin to soothe the pain.
- Aloe Vera is considered as a miraculous plant by some for even hair loss treatment. It is assumed that no other plant more closely matches the human body’s biochemistry, hence, an excellent treatment for hair loss. It has anti-inflammatory properties of and therfore helps in fighting against Androgenetic Alopecia.