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Medical Benefits of Aloe Vera
Known to herbalists and medical folklorists for centuries as the “medical plant” or “the potted physician”, this cactus-like plant with green dagger-shaped leaves filled with a clear, viscous gel was brought from Africa to North America in the sixteenth century.
But long before this, aloe, whose name means “shining bitter substance”, was widely regarded as a master healing plant. The ancient Egyptians referred to aloe as the “plant of immortality” and included it among the funerary gifts buried with the pharaohs. In recent decades, medical research has confirmed and extended many of the health claims for the shining bitter substance (used topically, consumed as a liquid, or taken as a capsule) that is the heart of aloe. Here is a brief review of its merits.
Helps Heal Wounds
The bulk of the aloe leaf is filled with gel, 96% water with the other 4% containing 75 known substances. Applied to wounds, aloe gel is a mild substances. Applied to wounds, aloe gel is a mild anesthetic, relieving itching, swelling, and pain; it also is antibacterial and antifungal, increases blood flow to wounded areas, and stimulates fibroblasts, the skin cells responsible for wound healing.
An animal-based study in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association found that both oral and topical aloe preparations speed wound healing. Animals were given either aloe (100mg/kg body weight) in their drinking water for two months or 25% aloe vera cream applied directly to wounds for six days.
Aloe had positive effects in both cases. The size of wounds decreased 62% in the animals taking oral aloe compared to a 51% decrease in the control group. Topical aloe produced a 51% decrease in wound size compared to 33% in the control group.
Supports Surgical Recovery
Aloe decreases surgical recovery time, according to a report in the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery and Oncology. Eighteen acne patients underwent facial dermabrasion surgery, in which lesions are scraped away. Dressings were applied to their faces, with half of each person’s face receiving the standard dressing coated with surgical gel, and the other half with aloe added to this dressing. The half of the face treated with aloe healed approximately 72 hours faster than the other side.
Dermatologist James Fulton, M.D., of Newport Beach, California, principal author of the report, uses topical aloe in his practice to speed wound healing. “Any wound we treat, whether it’s suturing a cut or removing a skin cancer, heals better with aloe vera on it,” he states.
In a study in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 27 patients with moderate burn wounds were treated with a gauze coated in either aloe gel or Vaseline™ (petroleum jelly). The burns healed more quickly in the aloe group, with an average healing time of 12 days compared to 18 days for the group using Vaseline.
Minimizes Frostbite Damage
A study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine established that aloe works for frostbite as well. Researchers gave standard treatments for frostbite (antibiotics, ibuprofen, and rewarming) to 154 patients with mild to severe frostbite. Of patients who additionally received aloe vera cream, 67.9% healed without any tissue loss (amputation) compared to 32.7% in the control group. Researchers concluded that aloe prevented a decrease of blood flow to the frozen tissues, a common cause of tissue loss in frostbite.
Screens Out Radiation
Aloe protects against skin damage from X rays, according to researchers at Hoshi University in Japan publishing in the journal Yakugaku Zasshi. They found that aloe was an effective antioxidant, mopping up the free radicals caused by radiation, and that it protected two of the body’s healing substances, superoxide dismutase (an antioxidant enzyme) and glutathione (an amino acid which stimulates the immune system).
Heals Psoriasis Lesions
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in Tropical Medicine and International Health, 60 Patients with chronic psoriasis were given a 0.5% aloe vera extract in a mineral oil cream. The ointment was applied three times daily for five consecutive days (15 applications total per week) for four weeks.
When patients were checked after eight months, far more psoriasis skin lesions had healed in the aloe group (82.8%) than in the placebo group (7.7%). Further, 83.3% of the aloe groups were considered cured of their psoriasis compared to only 6.6% of the placebo group.
Eases Intestinal Problems
Aloe vera juice can be effective for treating inflammatory bowel disease, according to a study in the Journal of Alternative Medicine. Ten patients were given two ounces of aloe juice, three times daily, for seven days. After one week, all patients were cured of diarrhea, four had improved bowel regularity, and three reported increased energy.
Researchers concluded that aloe was able to rebalance the intestines by “regulating gastrointestinal pH while improving gastrointestinal motility, increasing stool specific gravity, and reducing populations of certain fecal microorganisms, including yeast.” Other studies have shown that aloe vera juice helps to detoxify the bowel, neutralize stomach acidity, and relieve constipation and gastric ulcers.
Reduces Blood Sugar in Diabetes
Aloe reduced the blood sugar levels in diabetics, as reported in Hormone Research. Five patients with adult (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes were given ½ teaspoon of aloe extract daily for up to 14 weeks. Blood sugar levels were reduced in all patients by an average of 45%, with no change in their total weight.
Reduces Arthritic Swelling
Aloe can help prevent arthritis and reduce the inflammation in joints already affected by arthritis, according to Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association. Aloe can also inhibit the autoimmune reaction associated with certain forms of arthritis, in which the body attacks its own tissues.
Animals were injected with a bacterium to cause arthritic symptoms, namely inflammation and swelling. To determine if it could prevent arthritis, aloe (150mg/kg body weight) was injected under the skin daily for 13 days. Physical measurements were taken daily to determine the amount of swelling and inflammation.
Several compounds from aloe showed antiarthritic activity, according to the researchers. One organic acid in aloe reduced inflammation by 79.7% and suppressed the autoimmune response by 42.4%. Another aloe compound (anthraquinone) reduced inflammation by 67.3% but had no effect on the autoimmune response.
Curtailing HIV Infection
An extract of mannose, one of the sugars in aloe, can inhibit HIV-1 (the virus associated with AIDS). In a 1991 study in Molecular Biotherapy, HIV-1 cells were treated in vitro (outside the body) with the mannose extract. Aloe showed virus reproduction by as much as 30%, reduced viral load (total amount of the virus), suppressed the spread of the virus from infected cells, and increased the viability (chance of survival) of infected cells.
Nutritional Support for HIV Patients
Aloe vera juice proved to be an effective part of a nutritional support program for HIV + patients according to the Journal of Advancement in Medicine. For four months, 29 patients were given 100% pure aloe vera juice (five ounces, four times daily) along with an essential fatty acid supplement and another supplement containing vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Patients were told to continue with their normal diet and not to take other supplements.
After 90 days, all of the patients had fewer occurrences of opportunistic infections, thrush, fatigue, and diarrhea, as well as increased white blood cell counts (meaning their immune systems were responding positively). Their assessment of overall quality of health also improved. In 25% of the patients, aloe apparently knocked out the virus’s ability to reproduce. Researchers found that aloe (the mannose extract and perhaps other compounds) stimulates the body’s immune system, particularly T4 helper cells, white blood cells that activate the immune response to infection.
Stimulates Immune Response Against Cancer
Aloe may help prolong survival time and stimulate the immune systems of cancer patients, according to recent research.
In a 1994 study in the Japanese medical journal Yakhok Hoeji, mice with cancerous tumors were given aloe orally for 14 days. While the aloe did not suppress tumor growth, the average life span of the mice want prolonged by 22% for those given 50mg aloe/kg body weight and by 32% for those given 100mg/kg daily. A simultaneous experiment on human cancer cells (outside the body) found that high doses of aloe significantly suppressed the growth of these cancer cells.
Researchers writing in Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy found that a compound (lectin) from aloe, when injected directly into tumors, activated the immune system to attack the cancer. Killer T cells, white blood cells that bind to invading cells and destroy them, began to attack tumor cell injected with lectin.
Aloe turns on the immune system by activating macrophages (white blood cells which “swallow” antigens), causing the release of immune-activating (and anticancer) substances such as interferons, interleukins, and tumor necrosis factor. In addition, aloe promotes the growth of normal (non-cancerous) cells, researchers said.
Benefits Lung Cancer
Aloe’s protective effect was confirmed in a study of 673 lung cancer patients in Okinawa, Japan, published in the Japanese Journal of Cancer Research. This survey looked at the connection between smoking, comparative amounts of 17 plant foods in the diet, and the occurrence of lung cancer over a five-year period.
Aloe was the only one of the plant foods that was protective against cancer. “The results of plant epidemiology carcinogenesis [lung cancer],” stated the researchers. Further, aloe is “widely preventive or suppressive against various human cancers.