More About Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is one of approximately 420 species of the genus Aloe; the botanical name of aloe vera is Aloe barbadensis miller, and it belongs to the Liliaceae family. It’s a perennial, xerophytic, succulent plant that’s green and has triangular, fleshy leaves with serrated edges. The geographic origin of aloe vera is believed to be in Sudan, and it was later introduced in the Mediterranean region and most other warm areas of the world, including Africa, Asia, India, Europe, and America.
Aloe gel is the clear, jelly-like substance found in the inner part of the aloe plant leaf. Aloe latex comes from just under the plant’s skin and is yellow in color. Some aloe products are made from the whole crushed leaf, so they contain both gel and latex.
Aloe vera is considered to be the most biologically active of the Aloe species; astonishingly, more than 75 potentially active components have been identified in the plant, including vitamins, minerals, saccharides, amino acids, anthraquinones, enzymes, lignin, saponins and salicylic acids. It provides 20 of the 22 human required amino acids and eight of the eight essential amino acids.
Aloe vera contains many vitamins and minerals vital for proper growth and function of all the body’s systems. Here’s an easy explanation of aloe vera’s active components:
- Aloe vera contains antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E — plus vitamin B12, folic acid and choline.
- It contains eight enzymes, including aliiase, alkaline phosphatase, amylase, bradykinase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, cellulase, lipase and peroxidase.
- Minerals such as calcium, copper, selenium, chromium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, sodium and zinc are present in aloe vera.
- It provides 12 anthraquinones — or compounds known as laxatives. Among these are aloin and emodin, which act as analgesics, antibacterials, and antivirals.
- Four fatty acids are present, including cholesterol, campesterol, beta-sisosterol, and lupeol — all providing anti-inflammatory results.
- The hormones called auxins and gibberellins are present; they help with healing wounds and have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Aloe vera provides sugars, such as monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) and polysaccharides.
Aloe Vera History & Interesting Facts
Aloe vera was officially listed as a purgative and skin protectant by the U.S. pharmacopeia in 1820 and was clinically used in the 1930s for the treatment of radiotherapy burns to the skin and mucous membranes. In 2004, the value of the aloe vera industry was estimated to be $125 million for the cost of the raw aloe material and $110 billion for finished aloe-containing products.
Today, cosmetic companies commonly add sap or other derivatives from aloe vera to products, such as makeup, soaps, sunscreens, incense, shaving cream, shampoos, tissues, and moisturizers. Commercially, aloe vera is used as an ingredient in yogurts, beverages, and desserts. Extracts of aloe vera are used as a fresh food preservative and for water conservation in small farms.
How to Find Aloe Vera
The processing method has the largest effect on the number and amount of active ingredients in an aloe vera product. The commercial production process of aloe vera products typically involves the crushing, grinding or pressing of the whole leaf to produce juice, followed by various steps of filtration and stabilization to achieve the desired extract. Although this is easier for the manufacturers, it can result in a product that contains little or no active ingredients.
It turns out, after extracting the gel, heating it and using fillers to make aloe vera products, the health benefits are minimized. In order to stop the common misrepresentations in the industry and the false idea that all aloe vera products produce the same benefits, the International Aloe Science Council developed a certification program that validates the quality and quantity of aloe vera in approved commercial products. When looking to purchase aloe vera, read the labels carefully and look for this important certification.
It’s easy to find aloe vera products — including aloe gel, latex, juice, and extracts — in your local health food store. You can even grow your own aloe plant at home. If you buy a potted plant, keep it in a window that gets a good amount of sunshine because aloes love the sun; the pot can even be moved outdoors during the summer months.
Aloe is succulent and therefore stores a lot of water within its leaves, but it needs to be watered at least two or three times a month. In the winter, aloe becomes somewhat dormant, and during this time you should water the plant very little. Having your own plant is an easy and inexpensive way to experience all of these amazing aloe vera benefits every day.
Recommended Doses of Aloe Vera
These recommended aloe vera doses are based on scientific research and publications. Make sure to read the label on aloe vera products before using them, and notify your doctor if you experience any side effects:
- For constipation take 100–200 milligrams of aloe vera daily.
- For wound healing, psoriasis and other skin infections, use 0.5 percent aloe extract cream three times daily.
- For high cholesterol, take one capsule of aloe vera containing 300 milligrams twice daily for two months.
- For inflammatory bowel disease, take 100 milliliters twice daily for four weeks.
- For skin burns, use a 97.5 percent aloe gel on the burn until it’s healed.
Possible Side Effects and Interactions
Aloe latex should not be taken in high doses because it can cause side effects, such as stomach pain and cramps. Long-term use of large amounts of aloe latex might also cause diarrhea, kidney problems, blood in the urine, low potassium, muscle weakness, weight loss and heart issues.
Don’t take aloe vera, either gel or latex, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. There are some reports of aloe causing miscarriage and birth defects. Children younger than 12 years old may experience abdominal pain, cramps, and diarrhea, so I don’t recommend aloe vera for child use either.
- If you have diabetes, some research suggests aloe might lower blood sugar, so if you take aloe by mouth and you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels closely.
- If you have intestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or obstruction, don’t take aloe latex if you have any of these conditions because it’s a bowel irritant.
- Don’t take aloe latex if you have hemorrhoids because it could make the condition worse.
- High doses of Aloe latex have been linked to kidney failure and other serious conditions, so don’t take aloe latex if you have kidney problems.
- Aloe might affect blood sugar levels and could interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. Stop taking aloe at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
- If you take digoxin (Lanoxin), don’t use aloe latex because it works as a stimulant laxative and decreases potassium levels in the body; low potassium levels can increase the risk of side effects when taking this medication.
Before taking aloe vera, consult your doctor if you take the following medications:
- Diabetes medications
- Sevoflurane (Ultane)
- Stimulant laxatives
- Warfarin (Coumadin)
- Diuretic medications (water pills)