Some of you might remember the micronutrients article series, which I started last winter. As it is always good to have a couple of related articles for a particular topic, I thought it’ll be nice to start another series. This time, I am writing about phytotherapeutics (plant remedies) and start today with aloe vera.
Aloe vera can be used in various ways – it is part of skin emollients but can also be taken orally. And it is thought to provide numbers of curative effects.
Ingredients and mechanism of action
There are 500 different aloe plants, which are part of the Asphodill family. Aloe vera is the single known representative that provides medical activity. The latin name affix “vera” means “real”.
The plant contains numbers of active ingredients which are used either in aloe gels or juices made from the leaves of the cactus-like plant. The gel is made of water (90%), sugars (mannose, glucose, galactose), water-soluble vitamins, amino acids and salicylic acid. It is produced from the inner core of the aloe leaf. The juice is made from the outer parts of the aloe leaf and contains the laxative anthrachinonglycosides aloin A and B.
Aloe juice is mainly used as laxative, while the gel is often used for skin treatment. This implies skin irritations, wounds, burns and psoriasis. Preparations for oral intake may also be used to lower increased blood glucose levels or to support treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.
Researchers have conducted several studies to investigate aloe vera activity. They predominantly used aloe vera gel for their investigations. It has been shown that skin moisture was significantly increased by using aloe vera gel and chapped skin became much smoother.
Aloe vera preparations contain so-called glucans, which showed anti-inflammatory, wound-healing and proliferative activity. It is thus useful to use aloe vera gels to treat minor injuries.
A placebo-controlled double-blind study from Pakistan with 60 patients shows, that a gel, which contained aloe vera could improve the disease state of 83% of psoriatic patients, while merely 6% of the control group experienced the same effect.
Oral administration of aloe vera has also shown recognizable results. The plant seems to provide immunostimulant activities, which may be exerted by polysaccharides aloctin A and acemannan. This may be useful in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes mellitus (type II).
Limitations and adverse side effects
Aloe vera juice, which is mainly used as laxative, can cause severe hyperemia in the lower abdomen and must not be used during menstruation and pregnancy, nephritis or hemorrhoids.
The juice should only be taken for max. 2 weeks, since it shows cancerigenic and genotoxic activity.
Adverse side effects may include skin burn, itching as well as allergic eczema. However, these are usually reversible.