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Aloe vera plant and discovering its potential health benefits

 Aloe vera plant and discovering its potential health benefits

Aloe vera plant and discovering its potential health benefits

Herbalists often prescribe aloe vera due to its potential health benefits. Aloe Vera comes from an Arabic word, meaning a truly bright, bitter substance. This herb is naturalized in dry locations in western South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is also available in several parts of India, including Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Aloe vera is classified within the herbaceous family Asphodelaceae (Liliaceae) and is popularly known as Aloe barbadensis miller to botanists. The aloe plant is recognized by its yellow tubular flowers, serrated edges, and fleshy, triangular leaves. While there are several seeds in the aloe vera fruit, its leaves contain the following layers.

1.The outer (thick) layer is known for its protective function and contains 15-20 cells. It is a rich source of proteins and carbohydrates (the tough outer skin of the cactus contains vascular bundles that facilitate the transport of starch [phloem] and water [xylem]).

2.The middle layer (latex) is a rich source of compounds, such as glycosides and anthraquinones, and is known as a bitter yellow sap.

3. The inner layer consists of a transparent gel containing vitamins, sterols, lipids, amino acids, glucomannan, and 99% water. Aloe vera is usually grown in warm regions and can also be kept in containers indoors.

How can you identify an aloe vera plant?

An aloe vera plant can be easily identified by observing its following characteristics.

  • 2-3 feet long succulent leaves.
  • Short stem or absence of stem.
  • A gelatinous sap in its fleshy, thick leaves that develop in clumps.
  • Aloe vera leaves are green-gray, with or without white spots.
  • Small white teeth appear to develop as serrations on the margins of aloe vera leaves.
  • Red, orange, yellow, or white flowers grow on the long spike of the aloe vera plant during the summer.

Can you use aloe vera routinely as a nutritional ingredient?

You can consume aloe vera leaves in cooked or raw form. The gel and flesh of aloe vera leaves can be consumed after exposing the skin using a sharp knife. You can either cook or gently boil the aloe vera until it softens to its delicate texture.

What are the main health benefits of aloe vera?

The gelatinous substance found in aloe vera leaves can be used to treat minor skin irritations, wounds, and sunburn. Aloe vera may also be used as an adjuvant treatment for one or more of the following conditions. However, claims for these treatments are largely supported by anecdotal data.

  • Constipation (infrequent bowel movements).
  • Aphthous stomatitis (mouth ulcers).
  • Frostbite (freezing of the skin due to too low a temperature).
  • Lichen planus (itchy white spots on the skin).
  • Acne vulgaris (bacterial infection of hair follicles).
  • Radiation dermatitis (radiation burn).
  • Mucositis (inflammation of the intestine/mouth).
  • Pressure ulcers (prolonged pressure leading to skin injury).
  • Ulcerative colitis (ulcer/inflammation of the large intestine).
  • Genital herpes (sores and pain in the genitals due to sexually transmitted infections).
  • Psoriasis vulgaris (formation of dry/itchy skin patches).
  • Seborrheic dermatitis (red skin and scaly patches on the scalp).

Scientific evidence suggests that there are 75 active ingredients in aloe vera, which contribute to its medicinal properties. Some of these potential ingredients are listed below.

1.Vitamins including choline, folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin E, vitamin C, and vitamin A are antioxidants that have the ability to fight free radicals.

2. Gibberellins and auxins are hormones that help reduce inflammation and improve wound healing

3. Steroids/fatty acids such as lupeol, beta-sitosterol, campesterol and cholesterol are known for their analgesic, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.

4.Anthraquinones (aromatic organic substances) are known for their antiviral, antibacterial and analgesic properties.

5. The polysaccharides contained in aloe vera gel provide polysaccharides, monosaccharides, allergens and acemannan, which are known for their gastrointestinal, antitumor, antiviral, immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties.

6. Minerals, such as zinc, sodium, potassium, manganese, magnesium, selenium, copper, chromium, and calcium, found in aloe vera, improve the functioning of many metabolic pathways and enzyme systems.

7.Enzymes in aloe vera include peroxidase, lipase, cellulase, catalase, carboxypeptidase, bradykinase, amylase, alkaline phosphatase and allase which help convert fats and sugars into usable energy and reduce inflammation.

Other health benefits of aloe vera

Accounts of several doctors, herbalists and healthcare professionals reveal the health benefits of aloe vera for the following conditions.

1. Diabetes: Pulp extract or two tablespoons of aloe vera helps control blood sugar levels in diabetics.

2.Constipation: Aloe vera gel is sometimes used as a laxative for patients suffering from constipation.

3. Swollen/bleeding gums: Mouthwash consisting of aloe vera extract or gel dipped in plain water can be used to clean swollen/bleeding gums.

4. Irritable bowel syndrome: Aloe vera gel (28-85 grams) helps reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain, and cramping.

How can you use aloe vera gel externally and internally?

The aloe vera gel inside the leaf can be scraped off with a knife and applied to the surface of the skin. You can prepare aloe vera juice by adding 28-85 grams of gel in plain water or in any fruit juice to avoid its bitter taste, and take it once daily for 15-30 days.

Contraindications for the use of aloe vera

Pregnant and breastfeeding women and those with kidney disease or hemorrhoids (i.e., hemorrhoids) should never use aloe vera internally. Patients being treated with loop diuretics, such as furosemide or oral insulin-like hypoglycemic medications, should avoid taking aloe vera to reduce potassium depletion and hypoglycemia (i.e., low blood sugar). Because aloe vera gel increases the absorption of hydrocortisone, it should never be applied to the skin with topical steroids.

Side effects of aloe vera

1. External or topical use of aloe vera increases the risk of adversity.

2. Allergic reactions, identified by a tingling, burning and redness sensation in the skin.

3. Generalized dermatitis.

Long-term oral use of aloe vera may cause any of the following conditions.

  • Electrolyte imbalance.
  • Reliance on constipation treatment.
  • Lever Inflammation.
  • Red urine.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Colic.

Important things to consider before using aloe vera 

People with a known allergy to aloe vera or any other herb from the Liliaceae family should avoid using aloe vera. Most of the health benefits of aloe vera have been observed by doctors, herbalists, or other healthcare providers during their individual practice, and are devoid of validation through scientific studies to date. Therefore, it is important to consult a qualified physician before using aloe vera for any of the conditions or symptoms mentioned in this article. Future research studies should explore the health benefits of aloe vera based on its medicinal properties, to formalize its use in the healthcare sector.