Aloe vera is a succulent plant with lance-shaped, fleshy leaves. Out of over 200 different species, only three or four are used medicinally, of which the most useful is Aloe vera Barbadensis.
Aloe vera gel is squeezed from the fleshy leaves and contains a unique mix of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other factors that:
- reduce inflammation such as sunburn, and itching (anthraquinones, vitamins C, E, carotenoids) and natural plant steroids)
- are soothing and analgesic (salicylic acid, bradykinase and the anthraquinones aloin and emodin)
- promote cell regeneration and wound healing (fibroblast growth factor)
- are cleansing and antiseptic with antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties (saponins and anthraquinones).
Aloe vera juice is made by diluting the fresh, stabilised, liquid gel or from powdered aloe.
Aloe vera health benefits
Aloe vera may be taken orally as a general digestive tonic and to soothe intestinal conditions such as indigestion, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.
Aloe vera is also used externally to moisturise skin, and to treat wounds, acne, skin infections, burns, scabies, ulcers, inflamed gums and wrinkles. Its soothing benefits are so well recognised, that Aloe vera extracts are now added to baby wipes and luxury brands of toilet paper.
Aloe vera boosts vitamin absorption
Oral Aloe vera gel has been shown to increase the absorption and bioavailability of vitamin C by 304% and vitamin E by 369%. It also help them last longer within the circulation. As Aloe is the only known supplement to increase the absorption of both these vitamins, the researchers who discovered this suggest that Aloe vera should be considered as a complement when taking these antioxidants.
Aloe vera and glucose control
Aloe vera can improve glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes, and may contain a blood glucose lowering agent whose identity and mode of action is currently uncertain.
If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor before taking any supplement, monitor your blood glucose levels closely, and ensure you know how to adjust your diet and/or medication if glucose control changes.
Aloe vera and irritable bowel syndrome
Aloe vera contains natural laxatives (anthraquinones such as aloin and emodin). These are removed from many commercial brands, but some products retain them as a natural treatment for constipation (and many products declaired ‘aloin-free’ still contain them, too.
Aloe vera can improve IBS associated with constipation, especially when used together with psyllium fibre supplements. A pilot study found it also helped improve symptoms in people with diarrhoea-predominant IBS.
In a study involving 68 people with irritable bowel syndrome 55% of those receiving aloe vera improved compared with 31% of the placebo group. Similarly, 33% reported adequate relief for at least half the time, compared to 14% in the placebo group, although these results were not statistically significant.
If using aloe latex for its laxative effect, start with a small dose of gel (eg 1 teaspoon) and slowly work up to around 1–2 tablespoons per day to find the dose that suits you best. Some people find Aloe vera too stimulating, however.
Aloe vera and ulcerative colitis
In a study involving 44 people with ulcerative colitis, clinical remission was seen in 30% of those taking oral Aloe vera gel, compared with 7% of those taking placebo.
Aloe vera for external use
Aloe vera gel is used on the skin to treat sunburn, cracked or sore lips, cold sores, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, acne, shingles, ulcers, burns, scars, rashes, bites and stings. It may even interfere with the formation of age spots and help those that are already present to fade. It helps to dilate blood capillaries, improve blood flow, reduce inflammation and promote tissue regeneration when wounds are shallow. It also coats the skin in a moisture-rich film to prevent damaged skin from drying out.
Aloe vera gel and acne
Aloe vera topical gel is traditionally applied to sooth acne inflammation and reduce infection. A trial involving 60 people with mild to moderate acne found the combination of Aloe vera topical gel (50%) plus tretinoin cream (0.05%) was more effective than tretinoin alone in reducing non-inflammatory lesions (blackheads, whiteheads), inflammatory lesions (pimples) and reduced the total number of lesions and redness. It is also useful for reducing acne scars.
Aloe vera gel and lichen planus
Lichen planus is a long-term inflammatory disease affecting mucus membranes such as those in the mouth and around the genitals. Applying Aloe vera gel can improve symptoms by at least 50 per cent (a good response) in two out of three people with oral lichen planus, and in women with vulval lichen planus. Burning pain disappeared in one in three people treated, and complete remission occurred in a 7 per cent – significantly better than with placebo. In a clinical trial involving 40 people with oral lichen planus, Aloe vera gel was more effective than a prescribed corticosteroid, triamcinolone acetonide.
Aloe vera gel and psoriasis
A study involving 80 people with mild to moderate plaque psoriasis compared Aloe vera cream against the prescribed topical corticosteroid 0.1% triamcinolone acetonide. After eight weeks treatment, psoriasis severity scores decreased from 11.6 to 3.9 in those using Aloe vera gel, compared with a decrease from 10.9 to 4.3 in the triamcinolone group. The researchers concluded that aloe vera cream may be more effective than 0.1% triamcinolone acetonide cream in reducing the clinical symptoms of psoriasis.
Aloe vera dose
Aloe vera tablets: A typical dose is 50mg concentrated Aloe vera gel extract, equivalent to 10,000mg of pure Aloe vera gel.
Aloe vera juice: A typical dose is 50 ml to 100 ml, once to three times daily.
When selecting a juice, aim for one made from 100% pure aloe vera. Its strength needs to be at least 40% by volume to be effective and ideally approaching 95% to 100%. You may find it more palatable to choose a product containing a little natural fruit juice (eg grape, apple) to improve the flavour.
Aloe vera safety
Do not take aloe vera gel or extracts orally during pregnancy or breast-feeding. Unfortunately, Aloe vera is often promoted for use in pregnancy which is not advisable, as the anthraquinones it contains may trigger uterine contractions. Scientific analysis has shown that many Aloe vera products that claim to be ‘aloin-free’ still contain significant amounts of aloin.
Aloe vera gel should not be applied to deep (eg surgical) wounds as some evidence suggests it may increase the time taken for wounds to heal.
A few people have developed hypersensitivity reactions to topical Aloe vera gel.