You must have seen Aloe vera at your home or at a garden. It is one or two feet tall plant with thick leaves that look like a cactus and has pulp inside similar to that of ghee. Aloe vera is a popular and widely used plant for centuries due to its medicinal, beauty, and skin care properties. Let’s look into the details of this plant.
History of The Plant
The name Aloe vera is derived from the Arabic word “Alloeh” meaning “shining bitter substance,” while “vera” in Latin means “true.” The Greek scientists regarded Aloe vera as the universal panacea. The Egyptians called Aloe “the plant of immortality.”
Aloe vera has been used for medicinal purposes in several civilizations around the globe including Roman, Egyptian, Greece, and Indus Valley. The medicinal uses of Aloe vera were first explained in Raja Nighantu and Bhava Prakash Nighantu which were written in the Sanskrit language in 15th and 16th Century BC respectively.
It is said that Egyptian queens Cleopatra (b. 69 BC) and Nefertiti (b. 1370 BC) used it as part of their regular beauty regimes. Alexander, the Great and Christopher Columbus used Aloe vera to treat soldiers’ cuts and wounds. The first reference to Aloe vera in English was done by John Goodyer in 1655 who translated an ancient Roman pharmacopeia of herbs and the medicines called De Materia Medica. By the early 1800s, Aloe vera was used as a laxative in the United States, but in the mid-1930s, Aloe vera was being used to treat chronic and severe radiation dermatitis.
The origin of Aloe vera is mainly Old World. However, it can be habituated in varying environments from sea level to altitudes of 2700 m, and from closed-canopy forests to desert shrublands. Aloe vera can be cultivated in a wide range of soils. The ideal soil for establishment after Aloe vera nursing is well-drained sandy soil or rocky sites. The desirable soil texture is a loamy mixture with neutral to slightly alkaline nature of soil (pH 7.0-8.5). It can grow at the temperature from 4°C to 21°C. Under ideal conditions, Aloe vera can reach heights of up to 61–99 cm. The flowering period is from May to June.
Aloe vera is a popular plant which is widely used for skin diseases. The plant is also a reputed remedy for intestinal worms in children. Aloe vera is coolant, diuretic, anti-inflammatory aphrodisiac, hepatic stimulant, stomachic, purgative and anthelminthic. Aloe vera is used in hemophilia, skin and uterine disorders, liver and spleen enlargement, chronic ulcers, and catarrhal and purulent ophthalmia. Aloe vera can also be used in conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, radiation dermatitis, psoriasis vulgaris, genital herpes, skin burns, type 2 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, wound healing mucositis, acne vulgaris, lichen planus, frostbite, aphthous stomatitis, obesity, amenorrhea, and constipation. Researches have shown that Aloe vera also has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-cancerous and anti-diabetic property.
Nutrition and Constituents
Studies have shown that Aloe vera contains several active constituents viz. vitamins, enzymes, minerals, sugars, lignin, saponins, salicylic acids, and amino acids.
- Vitamins: It contains vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E, which are antioxidants. It also contains vitamin B12, folic acid, and choline. Vitamin E is a naturally occurring antioxidant which prevents the oxidation of various cell components.
- Enzymes: It contains several enzymes including amylase, lipase, cellulase, alkaline phosphatase, bradykinase, and peroxidase. Bradykinase helps to reduce excessive inflammation when applied to the skin topically, while others help in the breakdown of sugars and fats.
- Minerals: It contains calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium and zinc. These minerals are essential for the proper functioning of various enzyme systems in different metabolic pathways and few are antioxidants.
- Sugars: It contains monosaccharides such as glucose and fructose and polysaccharides such as glucomannans and polymannose. It also contains alprogen which is a glycoprotein with anti-allergic properties and C-glucosyl chromone which is an anti-inflammatory compound.
- Anthraquinones: It contains at least twelve anthraquinones. Anthraquinone is widely used in laxative drugs. Aloin and emodin act as analgesics, antibacterial, and
- Fatty acids: It contains four plant steroids viz. cholesterol, campesterol, β-sitosterol and lupeol. They have anti-inflammatory action and lupeol exclusively possesses antiseptic and analgesic properties.
- Hormones: Aloe contains Auxins and gibberellins that help in wound healing and have anti-inflammatory action.
- Others: Aloe vera also provides 20 of the 22 human required amino acids and 7 of the 9 essential amino acids. It also contains salicylic acid that possesses anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Mechanism of actions
As mentioned earlier, Aloe vera has several compounds that have their own properties and actions. Let’s look at how they act in the body to bring health benefits.
The mannose 6-phosphate and gibberellin, a growth hormone, interacts with growth factor receptors on the fibroblast, thereby stimulating its activity and proliferation, which in turn increases collagen synthesis and degree of collagen cross-linking. This contracts the wound and increases the breaking strength of resulting scar tissue. Increased synthesis of hyaluronic acid and dermatan sulfate in the granulation tissue of a healing wound following oral or topical treatment of Aloe vera has been reported.
Anti-oxidant and effects on skin exposure to UV
An antioxidant is a substance that significantly delays or inhibits free radicals productions at low concentrations. Metallothionein, an antioxidant protein, is generated in the skin following the administration of the Aloe vera gel, which scavenges hydroxyl radicals and prevents the suppression of superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase in the skin.
Aloe vera gel also has a protective effect against radiation (UV rays, X-rays) damage to the skin. Aloe vera gel also reduces the production and release of anti-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-10 (IL-10) and hence prevents UV-induced suppression of delayed type hypersensitivity.
Moisturizing and anti-aging effect
Mucopolysaccharides help in binding moisture into the skin. Aloe stimulates collagen-producing cells called as fibroblast. Collagen and other fibers make skin more elastic and less wrinkled. The amino acids also soften hardened skin cells and zinc acts as an astringent to tighten pores.
Aloe vera inhibits the cyclooxygenase (COX) pathway and reduces prostaglandin E2 production from arachidonic acid. In fact, Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, exert their effects through inhibition of COX pathway.
Laxatives are substances that loosen stools. Aloe is also used as a laxative due to its ability to reduce intestinal water absorption. Anthraquinones such as such as aloin, aloe-emodin, and emodin present in Aloe vera stimulates mucous secretion and increases intestinal water content.
Polysaccharides and phytosterols, such as lophenol, 24-methyl-lophenol, 24-ethyl-lophenol, cycloartanol, and 24-methylene cycloartanol contained in Aloe vera are reported for their beneficial effects in diabetes and obesity.
Aloe vera gel extract has shown antibacterial activity against Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. Experiments have proved that A. vera acetone extract can effectively act against bacteria such as S. aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, P. aeruginosa, and E. coli.
Aloe vera gel also has antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 2 strains. Anthraquinone derivatives, such as aloe-emodin, emodin, and chrysophanol have been reported to exhibit antiviral activity especially by inhibiting influenza A virus replication and virus-induced cytopathic effect.
Parts used and dosages
Leaves are parts used by Aloe vera. The pulp present inside the Aloe vera leaves is applied externally as a gel.
The typical dose of Aloe vera juice is 10-20 ml and Aloe powder is 0.1-0.3 gms. However, the dosages also depend on what purpose the Aloe vera is taken. For example,
In order to induce menstruation, the powder of the leaves (1-3 gms) can be consumed at least one week before the expected date of periods.
In cases of dermatitis, locally apply the paste of Aloe vera (up to 2 gm) sprinkled with the turmeric powder until the swelling subsides. Similarly, the paste of prepared from the juice of Aloe vera and Cumin seeds, if applied will relieve burning sensation and inflammation.
Make a paste of the pulp added with rock salt and boil it until the liquid evaporates. Take it in a dose of 3-6 gms, once a day. Else, you can also take one tablespoon of Aloe vera gel in the morning in an empty stomach, which will work as a laxative.
To use Aloe vera for weight loss, take half a teaspoon of Aloe vera pulp and heat it a little. Consume it at night by adding an equal amount of honey to avoid the bitter taste.
Possible side-effects and contraindications
Aloe vera is a miraculous plant, which can treat diseases from skin to the reproductive system. Overdose and misuse of Aloe vera can cause several health ailments. So, it is always advisable to consult a doctor before using the plant as a medicine.
Topical: It may cause a rash, itching, burning, swelling, raised bumps, scaling or flaking of skin in sensitive individuals. Allergic reactions are mostly due to anthraquinones, such as aloin and barbaloin. So, it is best to apply it to a small area first to test for possible allergic reaction.
Oral: Aloe vera is strictly contraindicated in diarrhea since it already has purgative property. The laxative effect may also cause electrolytic imbalances.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Aloe vera is not recommended during pregnancy due to theoretical stimulation of uterine contractions, and in breastfeeding mothers, it may sometime cause gastrointestinal distress in the nursing infant.