Ever walked into your favourite store and realised that there are too many of aloe vera gel and juice products to go unnoticed? But what do they really do?
If you’re bombarded with the various aloe products on the market touting the beneficial aspects of this plant – and with all of the information on the world wide web – you might want to read on to find out if this plant and its extracts are safe to use.
This guide is meant to give insight into the uses of aloe vera and how to use this ancient plant safely. But first, let’s have a quick introduction.
Aloe vera is often christened the ‘plant of immortality’ for the reason that it doesn’t necessarily require soil to thrive. Aloe refers to a genus that constitutes over 500 species of assorted flowering succulent plants. To be specific, aloe vera belongs to the Liliaceae family.
Additionally, the plant packs a load of nutrients with over 75 potentially-active compounds – including minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, fatty acids, as well as polysaccharides.
12 Uses for Aloe Vera
- Alternative to Mouthwash
- Keeping Garden Produce Fresh
- Heartburn Relief
- Natural Laxative
- Natural Hair Conditioner
- Lowering Blood Sugar Levels
- Skin Care
- Relieves Second-Degree Burn Wounds
- Remedy for Foot Ulcers (Diabetes-Induced)
- Relieves Throat Infections and Possibly Fights off Asthma
- Remedy for Anal Fissures
- Potential to Fight Off Breast Cancer
What is Aloe Vera?
According to England’s Royal Botanical Centre of Excellence, Kew Gardens, Aloe Vera is among the world’s most popular and widely used plant for its medicinal aspects.
These thick short-stemmed shrubs are typified by their leaves that have a dense rosette appeal; the leaves are erect, prickly, succulent and grey-green in colour. Aloe vera is cultivated globally – chiefly as the crop for ‘Aloe gel’ which is harvested from the leaves.
Brief History of Aloe Vera
The earliest record of aloe vera use by humans is drawn from the Ebers Papyrus – an Egyptian medical record that dates back to the 16th century. A report featured in the Indian Journal of Dermatology shows that ancient Egyptians referred to aloe vera as ‘that plant of immortality.’ According to the authors of this report, there’s evidence to support the therapeutic use of the plant in Japan, China, Egypt, Greece, and India.
Over the centuries, aloe vera managed to weasel its way all over the world by adapting to every climatic condition thinkable. With lots of studies linking aloe to a plethora of health benefits, it is no surprise why it is widely adopted for use in traditional remedies. Case in point, the plant is used to relieve sunburns, lower blood-sugar levels, and ward off dental plaque.
Today, aloe creams, ointments, and gels are typically used as remedies to several skin conditions. It’s also sold in a liquid or capsule form for oral use to promote one’s health and overall well-being.
How to Harvest Aloe Vera
You might be delighted to know that it’s fairly simple to harvest this plant for its gel and juice extracts. All you’ll need is a full-grown plant for a superior concentration of its active ingredients.
You might want to sit out a couple of weeks prior to harvesting the same plant again. Therefore, it is wise to have a couple of these plants on rotation if you’re planning on harvesting regularly. Here are the steps to harvesting an aloe vera plant for its gel and juice:
- Cut about 3 to 4 aloe vera leaves at a time. You might want to opt for the outer and thicker leaves that are healthy, undamaged, and free of moulds. Also, your harvest technique ought to be close-to-the-stem cuts and avoid snipping the plant’s roots.
- Use a knife to trim the prickly edges of the harvested leaves.
- Thoroughly wash and dry the harvested leaves.
- Use your fingers, or a knife, to extract the interior gel so that it’s separate from the outer section of the leaf. This interior gel is what you want to use.
- Let the yellow sap (aloe vera latex) drain from the leaf. If you have plans to use the latex, you can use a clean container to catch it. Otherwise, just dispose of it.
- Use a sharp knife to cut your aloe gel into cubes or slices.
If you want to realise a smooth texture for your home-made aloe gel, right after you separate the aloe gel from the leaf’s outer section – you can put your aloe gel extract into a blender, pulse, and later strain the blend to get rid of the pulp.
While aloe vera is a plant with a plethora of uses, you might want to know that there are endless medicinal claims shadowing its reign – just as it’s with most herbs. Truth be told, some of these benefits are backed by accurate scientific studies whilst some aren’t. Here is a couple of aloe vera uses backed by research:
Alternative to Mouthwash
A study published back in 2014, in the Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences, reports that the aloe vera extract is an effective and safe alternative to the over-the-counter chemical-based mouthwashes in fighting cavities.
The researchers of this study analysed the bacteria-fighting ability of the aloe vera gel extract as compared to that of the commercial mouthwashes. They found the gel to be just as effective, and in some scenarios to be better than the mouthwashes, in warding off oral bacteria that cause cavities.
You might want to know that the aloe latex extract contains anthraquinones, which constitute a healthy count of vitamin C, that help to fight off plaque. Also, the natural ingredients in the plant can present relief if you have swollen or bleeding gums.
Keeping Garden Produce Fresh
Back in 2014, the Cambridge University Press had an online publication of analysis on tomato plants that were coated with aloe gel. The report of this study shows that the gel coating successfully protected the tomato fruits from harmful bacteria.
Findings from another study with apples depict similar results. So, there’s justified reason to deduce that aloe gel can help keep farm produce, like fruits and veggies, fresh. This might actually eliminate our need for the harmful chemicals we use to extend the shelf-life of farm produce.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD, is basically the digestive disorder that more often than not brings about heartburns.
A review that dates back to 2010, suggests that taking about 1 to 3 ounces of the aloe vera gel during meals may reduce severe GERD symptoms and also relieve other digestion-related problems. Given, this succulent plant’s low toxic counts make it a safe and gentle heartburn remedy.
There’s reason why you might want to consider aloe vera as a natural laxative. A handful of rigorous scientific studies examined the potential benefits of this succulent as a digestion aid. The findings appear to be varied though.
According to a study conducted on rats, by a group of Nigerian scientists, the gel extracted from usual aloe vera houseplants presented findings on constipation relief. But, findings from the National Institutes of Health study, an analysis of the consumption of aloe vera whole-leaf extracts, report significant tumour growth in the laboratory rats’ large intestines.
You might want to keep in mind that – back in 2002, the United States Food and Drug Administration directed that all of the over-the-counter aloe vera laxative products had to be reformulated or be entirely eradicated from the U.S market. According to the Mayo Clinic, this succulent should be used sparingly to relieve constipation; they recommend a dose of about 0.04-0.17 grams of dried aloe vera juice.
If you’re diagnosed with colitis, Crohn’s disease, or haemorrhoids, you might want to consult with your healthcare practitioner prior to consuming aloe vera. Why? It has been known to cause diarrhoea and severe abdominal cramps. Plus, if you’re on medication, aloe vera might impede your body’s drug absorption abilities.
Natural Hair Conditioner
This surely comes as no surprise, but it’s still an amazing topical use for this succulent plant. To condition your hair, you might want to first mix your aloe gel in water before adding your essential oil of choice into the mix.
The aloe will help to trap in the moisture and fight off external toxins that might damage your hair. Plus, the anti-fungal compounds in the aloe gel are known to get rid of dandruff for a healthier scalp.
Lowering Blood Sugar Levels
A study, featured in Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacy, suggests that taking two tablespoons a day of aloe vera juice can lower the blood sugar levels in people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
These findings are confirmed by another study, published in the Phytotherapy Research, which carried out an analysis on aloe vera pulp extracts. Therefore, this could actually mean that aloe vera may play part in the treatment of diabetes in the near future.
That said, if you’re a diabetic who’s ingesting glucose-lowering medications, you might want to consult with your healthcare practitioner before taking aloe vera juice. Why? You might end up lowering your body’s glucose count to harmful levels.
It’s amazing that you can use aloe vera to keep your skin hydrated and clear. This might actually be attributable to this succulent plant’s will to thrive in the driest and unstable of climatic conditions.
Aloe vera stores water in its leaves to power through the harsh conditions. It is when these succulent leaves associated with the distinct plant compounds known as complex carbohydrates that they turn into an effective pain reliever and face moisturiser.
Relieves Second-Degree Burn Wounds
A group of plastic surgeons conducted an analysis on aloe vera gel as a remedy for wounds brought about by second degree burns in comparison to the of 1% silver sulphadiazine (SSD) cream healing aspects.
Their report, featured in the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association, holds that the patients who were subject to aloe gel treatment had a considerably quicker pain relief and healing of their wounds as compared to the individuals treated with the SSD cream.
Just to quote the authors of the report, “The thermal-burns patients dressed with the aloe gel exhibit a significant advantage in contrast to those who were dressed with SSD in regards to early pain relief, wound epithelialisation, and cost-effectiveness.”
Remedy for Foot Ulcers (Diabetes-Induced)
A study conducted on diabetic laboratory rats at the Sinhgad College of Pharmacy, India, featured in the International Wound Journal, analysed the ability of aloe vera in the treatment of ulcers in contrast to a commercial product.
Reports show that the gel, created with aloe vera and about 1% carbopol (974p), has noteworthy wound healing and closure aspects in the diabetic rats in comparison to the commercial product. The researchers also conclude that the aloe gel is a promising product in the treatment of a diabetic’s foot ulcers.
Relieves Throat Infections and Possibly Fights off Asthma
Are you asthmatic? Or do you have a throat infection? You might want to try this out! Simply harvest your aloe leaves, cut them in half, and scrape off a tablespoon worth of its aloe vera gel to boil in water.
According to The Express Tribune, all you ought to do is inhale the steam when your aloe gel is boiling in the water. Amazingly, you ought to be breathing a whole lot better moments after.
For the sore throat, you might want to add the aloe gel in some warm water and gargle – just as you would do with saltwater. Amazing, huh?
Remedy for Anal Fissures
In the unfortunate case that anal fissures are a concern for you to deal with, you might want to dress the affected area with a recommended aloe vera cream several times a day. It might actually speed up the healing and relieve the pain.
A study that dates back to 2014, shows that the individuals who used the cream that contained aloe vera juice powder, at least three times a day for a span of six weeks, were relieved of the pains and their chronic anal fissures healed; these results were considerably different in comparison to those of the control group.
Nonetheless, you might want to keep in mind that even though this report is promising, there’s the need for more scientific research to advance these findings further.
Potential to Fight Off Breast Cancer
A recent study, featured in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, analysed the therapeutic aspects of aloe-emodin – a compound found in the leaves of this succulent plant.
The report shows that aloe vera exhibits the potential of slowing down the growth rate of breast cancer. That said, you might want to keep in mind that there’s the need for more scientific studies to advance this theory further
How Much Aloe Vera Should You Use?
You might want to be advised that the aloe vera cream and gel products have variant dosages; some of these cream products for minor burns contain merely 0.5% aloe vera whilst some of the products used to treat psoriasis may include up to 70% aloe vera.
Even though there’s no set dose for aloe vera as an oral supplement, the recommended daily dose for constipation concerns is about 50 milligrams of aloe extract, or about 100-200 milligrams of aloe juice, as needed. In case you’re diabetic, you might find it wise to take a tablespoon of the gel a day.
*Please keep in mind that professional healthcare practitioners advise that excessive oral doses of aloe, or aloe latex, are dangerous for you. You ought to seek medical advice on the proper use of aloe.
Aloe Vera: Side Effects, Risks, and Drug Interactions
According to researchers, the chronic use of aloe vera can be detrimental to your overall health. Even so, they point out that if the aloe product doesn’t contain aloin – an extract found between the plant’s outer leaf and its gooey stuff that triggers colorectal cancer in rats – it may be used as a topical remedy for your sunburns.
Topical aloe products might spark skin irritation. More so, despite the laxative effect of oral aloe, it may cause diarrhoea and cramping; which might actually cause electrolyte imbalances for individuals who gobble up aloe for more than a couple of days.
Also, chronic oral use of aloe can stain the colon; makes a colonoscopy a tedious endeavour. Therefore, you ought to avoid ingesting aloe for about a month prior to having a colonoscopy. Basically, aloe gel – for oral or topical use – should be aloin-free so as to avoid gastrointestinal tract irritation.
You ought to steer off the topical use of aloe vera for severe burns or deep cuts. Why? It’s a possibility that if you are allergic to onions, garlic, and tulips you’re likely to be allergic to aloe.
Healthcare practitioners counsel against the chronic oral use of aloe especially for persons who have heart disease, intestinal problems, haemorrhoids, diabetes, kidney problems, or electrolyte imbalances.
In case you regularly take any drugs, you might want to consult with your doctor before taking any aloe supplements. Why? These aloe supplements could interact with drugs and supplements such as heart drugs, diabetes pills, steroids, laxatives, as well as liquorice root.
What’s more? The oral use of aloe gel may impede the absorption of the medications that are taken concurrently. Given, it might be very unwise for children and pregnant or breastfeeding, women to orally use aloe supplements with the lack of evidence to support their safety criterion.
All things considered, there are ample rigorous scientific studies to support the various amazing ways to use aloe vera, as well as its gels and extracts, as discussed. With our world’s finest researchers on their heels to discover more and more ways to put this succulent plant to use, the future looks promising.
Nonetheless, you ought to make the effort to consult with your doctor in the case that you’re planning to use aloe vera for its medicinal aspects, especially if you’re on any medications.