You might have seen or used products containing aloe vera to treat sunburns or for cosmetic purposes, but you’ll be surprised to know that the plant has been renowned for its seemingly miraculous medicinal properties for over 6,000 years now. In fact, in ancient Egypt, aloe vera was called the “plant of immortality,” and it was believed to have restorative properties, having been offered to pharaohs as a funeral gift. The plant’s gel and juice have since been used across ancient and modern civilizations for their medicinal value.
Aloe vera, naturally occurring in dry, tropical parts of Asia, Africa, Europe, and parts of North America, has now become almost ubiquitous and is used to treat or relieve the symptoms of a variety of ailments including skin conditions, sunburns, digestive issues, hair loss, osteoarthritis, hemorrhoids, and fever. The gel and juice present in the plant’s leaves are both applied on the surface of the skin and also ingested with little to no harmful side effects. The latex produced by the plant is often eaten to treat constipation, but however, it is important to remember that it can be toxic in large doses.
Nutrients and beneficial compounds:
1. Vitamins and minerals
Aloe vera is rich in vitamins, containing Vitamins A, C, and E, which are antioxidants that help fight free radicals, and also boost immunity. Vitamin A is important for helping the eyes see in the dark. Vitamin C helps speed up wound healing and strengthens skin, bones, and joints by making collagen, while Vitamin E boosts heart health and fertility. Aloe vera also contains Vitamins B1, B2, B3 (niacin), B6, choline, folic acid, alpha-tocopherol, and beta-carotene. Aloe vera includes minerals like calcium, manganese, sodium, potassium, magnesium, copper, zinc, chromium, and iron.
2. Amino acids
There are 20 amino acids that are required by the human body to maintain good health and build and repair muscles. Out of these 20, there are 8 that cannot be produced in the human body and need to be included in the diet, and these are known as essential amino acids. Aloe vera contains 19 out of 20 amino acids, lacking only the essential amino acid, tryptophan.
Aloe vera contains substances that have anti-inflammatory properties, which is what makes it so popular as a treatment for sunburns and digestive issues. The enzyme bradykinase in aloe vera helps reduce skin inflammation. The plant contains 12 anthraquinones, which is just a fancy word for laxatives. Other anti-inflammatory substances include salicylic acid (which also serves as a painkiller), fatty acids, and certain hormones known as auxins and gibberellins. Aloe vera also has a sterol known as lupeol that serves as an antiseptic and analgesic.
Aloe vera contains a sugar called Acemannan that has several beneficial functions. It can help reduce secondary infections, protect against viruses (especially those that cause tumors), increase the number of antibodies to boost immunity, and speed up wound healing by increasing the activity of large white blood cells.
1. Blood sugar levels
Aloe vera juice could possibly be used to help diabetics manage their blood sugar levels. A study conducted on the effects of aloe vera juice discovered that people with type 2 diabetes who drank two tablespoons of the juice every day for two weeks had lower blood sugar levels, and their triglyceride levels also dropped, which suggested a lower risk for developing cardiovascular diseases.
2. Skin conditions
Aloe vera gel has often been used to treat psoriasis and acne. Creams containing aloe vera have a soothing effect on the skin, and they have been successful in reducing inflammation and itching in areas affected by these skin conditions.
Aloe vera gel is often touted as a cure for sunburns and is believed to help speed up the skin’s recovery process from sun damage. However, research has supported as well as debunked parts of this claim. While the gel has a soothing effect on the skin and helps cool it down and relieve some of the pain of the sunburn, it cannot speed up the process of healing any more than a placebo.
4. Digestive issues
The yellow latex produced by the aloe vera plant has an anthraquinone called aloin that functions as a laxative, and it is this compound that relieves constipation when the latex is ingested. However, the latex can cause diarrhea or other digestive issues if taken in large quantities, and it can even lead to kidney failure or death if overused over a period of time.
The substance lupeol in aloe vera serves as an antiseptic and an analgesic, and salicylic acid can help act as a painkiller and relieve some of the discomforts of a wound. Aloe gel is often applied to wounds for this reason and is believed to help speed up the healing process in cuts and burns.
A four-week-long study conducted on 79 participants assessed the effect of aloe vera on gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The researchers concluded that aloe vera was safe to use and helped mitigate the symptoms of GERD without any adverse side effects. It helped reduce nausea, vomiting, acid and food regurgitation, heartburn, flatulence, and belching among the participants in the study.