Aloe Vera - The Medicine Plant for the 21st Century

by Karen Masterson Koch, C.N.

Aloe vera is nothing new. You may have discovered it back in the sixties or seventies, when it began to gain household recognition in the U.S. as a salve for burns. But it’s been around much longer than that. Egyptian Queens Cleopatra and Nefertiti both gave tribute to aloe vera as one of their most important beauty secrets. Alexander the Great carried the aloe vera plant into battle to treat wounded soldiers. In fact, this high-sulfur member of the garlic family dates back 6,000 years, and has been in use for all that time.

When you peruse the literature, it’s easy to see why Aloe Vera has earned a reputation as a medicine plant. A dermabrasion study done ten years ago showed that facial wounds healed seventy-two hours faster when aloe vera was added to the polyethylene oxide gel wound dressing (Journal of Dermatological Surgery and Oncology, 1990, vol. 16). More recently, vascular surgeon Dr. Tyler, M.D. of Louisiana recorded the near-miraculous second chance that aloe vera afforded a diabetic in danger of losing her arm (Bossier Medical Center, 1997). Aloe Vera also is great for avoiding scarring after reconstruction and facial surgery. In fact, studies have confirmed that aloe vera serves each of the following functions:

* speeds healing, tensile strength and repair of damaged skin

* holds moisture and adds flexibility to retard aging

* with its antibacterial properties fights infections including fungus and staph

* tightens and balances skin through astringent pH properties

* moisturizes by carrying added emollients into the skin up to seven layers

* with natural anti-inflammatory agents reduces pain

* minimizes scarring and may reverse scars less than five years old

How does Aloe Vera heal the skin?

Aloe vera is 99 percent water, and yet, it contains a storehouse of nutrients - more than 200 active elements that support health. In its most direct effects, aloe vera increases fibroblast production in skin tissue. The fibroblasts stimulate new collagen, thus accelerating wound healing. Collagen can be likened to cement that glues all of the body cells together like a large cellular puzzle.

Aloe Vera at Home

A recent clinical study has confirmed aloe’s effectiveness as a home remedy for skin care. A double blind, placebo-controlled study of psoriasis patients showed that topically applied aloe cream treated psoriasis with no bad side effects. In this study, aloe cured twenty-five of thirty subjects compared to the placebo cure rate of two out of thirty (Tropical Medicine and International Health, 1996, vol.1). A peer-reviewed eighteen-month study conducted on 250 wounds, including many diabetic lesions, revealed 100 percent resolution of every wound, stages I-IV, with application of a quality aloe vera skin gel (C. Levescy, LVN, Aloe Life International, 1997).

Drink your (Aloe) Juice

Yes, you can drink Aloe! In fact, researchers recommend it. Aloe vera, along with protein; calcium; magnesium; zinc; vitamins A, C, and E; vitamin B-complex; and essential fatty acids, is a valuable component of a diet that’s healthful for skin.

Healthy skin also depends on good digestion. A healthy digestive tract and liver are needed to properly convert vitamins, minerals, fats, and proteins into absorbable nutrients essential for healthy skin. Researchers have found that eating on the run and having reduced digestive juices in the body can create an internal environment in which as little as 10 percent of nutrients eaten may actually be absorbed into the blood stream. Aloe vera juice is an herbal bitter. This means that when no sulfites or water are added the juice contains a pH range of 4.7-5.2 and aids digestion. The best time to drink the juice is before meals.

Today, you can buy aloe juice at most health food stores and progressive grocers. (Bottled Aloe juices and skin gels that are golden in color have more medicinal value than products that look like water.) But you can drink the aloe from your plant, if you have one. People in ancient cultures commonly cut a leaf from the outer plant close to the base. If the plant received adequate sun and water, and was grown in rich soil, then a sufficient amount of yellow sap from the plant would seep out of the cut leaf. After allowing the sap to drain into a cup of water, they would drink it. Eating the plant’s inner mucilage also was common.

Note: Consult a physician when medical attention is required.

Traditional Uses for Aloe Vera

* burns
* insect bites
* infection
* abrasions
* rashes
* acne
* skin cancer
* chicken pox
* eczema
* psoriasis
* cuts
* scars
* skin ulcers
* stretch marks
* varicose veins
* sore feet
* sore muscles
* frostbite
* scalp rejuvenation
* hair rejuvenation
* gum disease
* herpes
* shingles
* poison ivy
* poison oak
* diaper rash
* hemorrhoids
* sunburn
* brown skin spots
* after shave
* aged skin
* weathered skin
* vaginal dryness
* athletic injury
* general body pains

How Does It Work?

Over 200 worldwide scientific research papers have been published on the effects of aloe vera. The three main categories of research include anti-inflammatory, anti- bacterial, and anti-viral actions of aloe vera. The juice is said to soothe digestive tract irritations such as colitis, ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. Aloe’s ability to encourage the release of pepsin (a gastric juice enzyme necessary for digestion) when the stomach is full is a possible reason for its ulcer-healing effects (Journal of the American Osteopathic Society, 1963, vol.62) In one study, oral use of aloe for six months helped mitigate asthma symptoms in almost half of the participants. Eleven of twenty-seven patients studied who drank aloe reported feeling better at the end of the study. Researchers think that results might be due to stimulation of the immune system, as well as naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agents in aloe vera.

In 1997, University of San Antonio researcher Jeremiah Herlihy, Ph.D., conducted a study to observe any negative effects of drinking aloe daily. Rather than exhibiting negative effects, however, test animals receiving daily aloe showed a remarkable reduction in leukemia, heart disease, and kidney disease. Dr. Herlihy concluded, “We found no indication of harm done to the rats even at high levels.” In fact, the aloe-drinking animals actually lived 25 percent longer than those in the control group (IASC Conference, Texas, 1997).

No Magic Bullet

There is no single ingredient that makes aloe vera potent and healthful. Researcher Robert Davis, Ph.D., an endocrinologist-biologist, explains that fifteen different compound groups of nutrients work together to make the plant effective. Much as a symphony creates a fuller, richer sound than any single instrument, the ingredients in aloe are more effective together than any single element taken by itself.

On the down side, that means that aloe vera’s effects cannot be synthesized easily in a laboratory. On the upside, it makes the plant useful across a wide spectrum of circumstances. And because the various elements that make aloe effective are nutrients rather than drugs, aloe juice can complement medical treatments. In fact some cancer patients state that aloe vera seems to reduce nausea, increase energy, and may help to minimize low blood counts caused by chemotherapy or radiation.

Allergies to aloe vera are very rare. Yet any food can be a potential allergen. Test a small amount on the inner arm to see if any reaction takes place. If no irritation on the skin is observed then it is generally tolerated. If ingestion causes diarrhea, then reduce the amount you ingest, increasing use slowly over several days until the desired amount is tolerated.

Take it! It’s a gift…

Aloe Vera can help adults, children, and even pets receive more value from daily foods and supplements, and it can heal wounded skin, as well. It’s valuable enough for everyone to keep on hand. To gain the most therapeutic support it’s wise to use a quality aloe vera product. Look for products that use the entire plant or whole leaf concentration; they contain up to five times more active elements than inner gel products. If possible look for products that state “no sulfites or water added.” The strongest, purest product will allow you to use less and have more success in experiencing firsthand the magic of the ancient medicine plant.

Karen Masterson Koch, C.N., is a clinical nutritionist who has studied aloe vera for over eight years. She is the author of a book entitled Gift of Nature: Whole Leaf Aloe Vera.

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