Aloe, a popular houseplant, has a long history as a multipurpose folk remedy.
Aloe vera is a stemless perennial evergreen plant belonging to the lily family. It is thought to have originated from northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Today it is widely cultivated in southern Texas, Mexico, and coastal Venezuela.
Commonly known as Aloe vera, the plant can be separated into two basic products: gel and latex.
- Aloe vera gel is the leaf pulp or mucilage, a thin clear jelly-like substance obtained from the parenchymal tissue that makes up the inner portion of the leaves.
- The gel contains carbohydrate polymers, such as glucomannans or pectic acid, plus various other organic and inorganic compounds.
- Aloe latex, commonly referred to as "aloe juice," is a bitter yellow exudate from the pericyclic tubules just beneath the outer skin of the leaves.
Aloe gel has been used for topical treatment of:
- minor burns,
- and skin irritations.
American consumers are most familiar with aloe's use in skin-care products.
Recent studies have shown that aloe vera gel facilitates:
- the healing of wounds and damaged skin tissue.
- It can decrease the redness and swelling associated with a burn.
- also prevents skin damage resulting from exposure to ultraviolet radiation associated with direct sunlight.
* Applying aloe gel several times a day causes the redness of sunburn to disappear within a day or two without the skin peeling off.
* In addition, a cream containing aloe gel has been found to be effective in treating frostbite injury.
* Topical use of a cream containing 0.5 percent aloe vera extract three times a day for four weeks has been shown to provide a high cure rate of the skin lesions in psoriasis patients.
* Further research suggests that aloe vera gel may also provide mild analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. To date, there are no known adverse reactions or side effects with the topical use of aloe gel.
Aloe gel should not be confused with the drug aloe, which is widely used as a laxative for cases of constipation. The outer leaf tissue of aloe produces a bitter yellow juice that is usually sold as a dry powder. This powder contains a family of colored compounds, anthrones and anthraquinones, that provide purgative and antibacterial properties.
This product should not be used by pregnant women or young children. It is also contraindicated in cases of acutely inflamed intestinal diseases such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis. Aloe has now been superseded by the less-toxic herbal laxatives cascara and senna.
The Bottom Line:
Aloe vera is a very popular herbal remedy. The gel obtained from the center of the leaves of aloe vera provides useful healing qualities. The external application of the gel provides simple relief from common skin problems. On the other hand, the yellow juice from the outer margins is a potent laxative. The two extracts of the plant should not be confused.
Herbal products and dietary supplements can have pharmacological effects, may produce adverse reactions in some people, and could interact with over-the-counter and prescription medications you may take. Discuss with your physician your decision to use any herbal product. Anything mentioned in this article is not intended to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any ailment.
Ref: Winston J. Craig, Ph.D., RD., is a professor of nutrition at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.