Aloe Vera Review
There are over 250 species of aloe plants in the world today, but most people are familiar with just one: Aloe Barbadensis, better known as Aloe Vera.
What’s so special about Aloe Vera?
Are its health benefits reinforced by any actual science?
Find out today in our complete guide to Aloe Vera.
What is Aloe Vera?
Aloe vera is a semi tropical succulent plant that can be grown outdoors and indoors. If grown outdoors, aloe vera must be grown in an environment with no chance of freezing temperatures.
If grown indoors, then aloe vera simply needs room temperatures and a sufficient amount of light.
For thousands of years, aloe vera has been used by people all over the world for its healing and soothing benefits. Today, modern scientific studies have indicated that even small amounts of aloe vera (in concentrations as low as 0.5%, for example), can work as an effective topical treatment for the skin.
The aloe vera plant itself is typically stemless or has a very short stem. The plant grows to be about 25 inches to 40 inches tall and has thick, fleshy leaves. Colors range from medium green to grey-green, and some aloe vera plants have white flecks on their leaves.
The edges of the aloe vera leaf are serrated and have small white teeth. In the summer, the plant produces flowers on a spike that can extend up to 35 inches above the plant.
Most aloe plant species originated in Africa. Today, aloe vera is grown all over the world, which has made it difficult to determine the exact origin of aloe vera. However, natural growth of aloe vera has been observed throughout North Africa and the southern half of the Arabian Peninsula, including in Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Yemen, Oman, and certain tropical islands like the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, and Madeira Islands.
Aloe vera is one of the few plants that prospers in desert climates. It has a world-famous ability to suck up the small bits of moisture found beneath the desert. Amazingly, despite the fact that it prospers in dry climates, 95% of an aloe vera plant is water.
Uses for Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is used primarily in three different industries:
— Alternative Medicine
You can buy aloe vera gel as a dessert, for example, or find it in various health beverages. Skin care manufacturers also frequently add aloe vera to topical creams – like burn treatment creams. You can also find it used as an alternative medicine to cure constipation or work as an antitoxin.
The first mention of aloe vera in historical texts occurred in the Ebers Papyrus, which dates back to the 1550 BCE. That test described how aloe vera was widely used in the traditional herbal medicine of civilizations around the world at the time.
Health Benefits of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is frequently linked to a diverse range of health benefits, including all of the following effects:
— Treat Psoriasis And Other Skin Conditions
— Relieve Minor Burns And Skin Abrasions
— Treat Radiation-induced Skin Injuries
— Works As A Topical Treatment For The Sores Caused By Genital Herpes In Men
— Laxative Effects (Especially When You Take Aloe Juice, Also Known As Latex, By Mouth)
— Lower Blood Sugar And Cholesterol Levels
— Better Immune System Health
— High levels of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, B3, B6, 12, and folic acid as well as minerals like calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium, and potassium
Talk to your doctor before using aloe vera for any of the conditions listed above. Aloe products vary widely in terms of concentrations.
You can find some topical burn treatments with just 0.5% aloe vera content, for example, or find medical treatments with up to 70% concentrations.
Side Effects of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera appears to be safe and has been well-tolerated in most studies performed to date. However, there have been some reported side effects.
Researchers advise against the chronic use of aloe vera, for example, because a certain ingredient called aloin has been shown to cause colorectal cancer in rats. For this reason, some aloe vera products are listed as being aloin-free.
Other effects are related to the laxative effects of taking aloe vera orally. It can lead to diarrhea and cramping, for example. Others have linked oral use of aloe to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
Some people are also allergic to aloe vera, which can lead to irritation at the treatment site on your skin. If you’re allergic to garlic and onions, then you’re more likely to be allergic to aloe as well.
One final side effect of aloe vera usage is that it should not be taken within about a month before having a colonoscopy because it has been shown to stain the colon, which makes it difficult for the physician to visualize the colon during a colonoscopy.
Scientific Studies on Aloe Vera
Scientific research on aloe vera hasn’t conclusively supported all of the benefits listed above, nor has it conclusively dismissed them.
One of the best scientific studies on aloe vera can be found in chapter 3 of Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. That study examined the results of 96 clinical and scientific studies on aloe vera performed within the last century.
Researchers concluded that study with the following:
“Despite its long history of use, there remains a lack of consistent scientific evidence to support many of the therapeutic claims for Aloe vera. Evidence of efficacy is strongest for the laxative effects of Aloe vera latex.”
Researchers also observed that aloe vera is largely safe, especially when applied topically to the skin:
“The topical application of Aloe vera gel is likely safe and demonstrates overall efficacy in healing burn wounds.”
More importantly, researchers also found some promising early evidence in support of suing aloe vera to stabilize blood glucose levels in those who suffer from type 2 diabetes:
“…some promising preliminary evidence suggests that the oral use of the gel may have beneficial effects in lowering blood glucose levels in type 2 DM.”
Ultimately, the researchers involved in the study painted aloe vera in a positive light. They did, however, caution that “further research in humans is required to confirm these effects.”
How to Grow Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is an easy plant to grow in your own home because it requires small amounts of moisture and care. The plant is famous for its ability to extract small amounts of moisture from dry desert sand, so it makes sense that it would require minimal effort.
Because aloe vera plants are so succulent, their bodies hold a tremendous amount of water. Even in dry soil, your aloe plant can prosper. One of the main reasons why aloe vera plants fail in the average home is because people overwater the plant, which causes the plant to drown.
Ideally, you’ll water your aloe vera plant once every seven days.
Aloe vera growers recommend using the touch test to determine if your aloe plant needs more water. Stick your finger into your aloe plant’s soil and check how the soil feels. If your finger is dry, water the plant. If your finger is even a little bit moist, then you can wait for another 1-2 days. If your finger is wet, then wait for at least 5 days before watering your aloe plant again.
One of the good things about aloe plants is that they’re tough to kill. If you forget to water the plant for 2 weeks, even that level of neglect probably won’t kill it.
It’s also important to remember to stop watering your aloe plant as frequently in the winter. In fact, many growers recommend waiting 2 weeks between watering in the winter because the plant absorbs water at a slower rate when it’s dormant than it does when active.
If you think you overwatered your aloe vera plant, then look for the following four symptoms:
— Droopy Leaves
— Stunted Growth With No Flowering
— Fungus And Other Diseases
— Squishy, Wet Soil
If you find your plant frequently meets all of the above symptoms and you’re trying not to overwater, then make sure there are drains in the bottom of your pot. These drain holes let any excess water drain out and can protect your plant from overwatering.
Final Thoughts On Aloe Vera
Aloe vera has been used for thousands of years by ancient Egyptians, ancient Assyrians, and practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine. Its benefits have been noted repeatedly over the years.
In spite of that fact, however, modern scientific evidence has been undecided about the benefits of aloe vera. Studies overall have been mixed. However, evidence is particularly supportive of using aloe vera as a laxative (taken orally), as a skin treatment (when applied topically), and as a blood sugar and cholesterol management compound (when taken orally).
Most importantly, aloe vera has been observed as being safe to take. The only major side effects involve those who are allergic to aloe vera and those who consistently take aloe vera that contains aloin, which has been linked to colorectal cancer in rats.
If you can keep all of those things in mind when taking aloe vera, there’s no reason why it can’t be an effective treatment to support your general health.