Aloe vera is a succulent plant known for its medicinal uses, especially in relation to skin health; the fluid stored in its long, spiky leaves is loaded with bioactive compounds delivering a range of benefits.
This versatile substance is valued by industries marketing food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products globally to the tune of an estimated $13 billion in sales each year. (1)
Perhaps one of the most widely used medicinal plants, aloe vera grows best in dry climates where seasonal temperatures remain above freezing year round, thriving in sandy soil. It is also easy to grow indoors.
Let’s take a look at the reasons behind aloe vera’s popularity, along with ways you can incorporate this trusted natural remedy in your health plan.
Rich in Antioxidants and Anti-Bacterial Compounds
The thick leaves of the aloe vera plant, which usually grow between a foot and two feet in length, contain a slimy, thick gel containing most of the active compounds. This includes amino acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
The antioxidants in aloe vera belong to the polyphenol family, and can help satisfy the body’s need for these important substances.
Antioxidants perform the vital role of neutralizing free radicals in the system; a constant intake of these compounds can contribute to maintaining the proper balance between antioxidants and free radicals to keep our physical engines running smoothly. (2)
The antibacterial properties of aloe vera also make it useful in controlling the growth of harmful bacteria.
Proven Beneficial to Skin Health
Aloe vera may be best known for its value in treating burns, and was first approved by the FDA for topical use in 1959.
It’s helpful in healing sunburn as well as first- and second-degree burns resulting from accidents and injuries.
The leaves can be sliced open and applied directly to affected areas; one strategy is to tape an opened leaf onto a small burn or wound with the gel facing down.
A review of data from four separate studies on the efficacy of aloe vera in treating burns showed an average reduction of 9 full days on healing time compared to results from using conventional medication. (3)
While studies have been conducted in an effort to determine how aloe vera performs when used to treat other types of wounds, evidence was inconclusive. (4)
As a topical application to healthy skin, aloe vera helps boost collagen production. The body’s ability to manufacture this substance decreases with age, and skin elasticity depends on this process.
When 30 women over 45 years old applied aloe vera gel to skin over a three-month period, collagen levels increased. (5)
Aloe vera is a common ingredient in many skin care products, as well as preparations designed to provide relief for sun exposure.
Some believe the respectable levels of vitamin B, C, and E found in aloe vera gel are helpful for improving skin health, and when taken internally, it may provide moisturizing activity that works its magic from the inside out. (8)
Aloe Vera Can Help Improve Oral Health
Ulcers in the mouth, usually called canker sores, are a common health problem many people experience during stressful times in their lives.
These painful and unsightly sores form on the inside of the mouth, as well as on or near the lips; it generally takes between 7 and 10 days for the sores to heal.
When test subjects in a study with nearly 200 people who suffered from repeated outbreaks of canker sores applied aloe vera patches to the affected area, sores were smaller than usual, but healing did not occur faster than with corticosteroids used in conventional treatment. (9)
However, another study indicated aloe vera not only speeded up the healing process, but also reduced the amount of pain participants experienced from the ulcers. (10)
Another widespread health issue aloe vera has been used to treat is controlling plaque build-up in the mouth. When bacterial biofilms build up on the teeth, the incidence of gum disease and tooth decay increase.
Chlorhexidrine is the active ingredient often used in mouthwashes to reduce oral plaque accumulation; during a short trial lasting 4 days, the effects of aloe vera juice in controlling plaque for a group of 300 healthy people were measured against conventional products, with comparable performance results. (11)
When other test subjects used aloe vera juice as an oral rinse over 2- and 4-week periods, similar results were noted. (12)
Through killing both streptococcus mucans (a bacteria that promotes the formation of plaque) and candida albicans (a yeast that can cause various health issues when overgrowth becomes a problem), aloe vera can be helpful in maintaining better oral health. (13)
The sticky gel inside aloe vera leaves has been traditionally used as a remedy for diabetes. In some cases, it has been found effective in regulating blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity. (14)
However, some trials indicate liver function may be negatively impacted by long-term use of aloe vera juice taken internally. (18)
Information from more trials are necessary to determine the efficacy of aloe vera in managing symptoms of diabetes.
Aloe vera has also been used successfully to treat constipation. Just beneath the prickly outer skin is a layer containing a yellowish substance called latex. The latex is rich in barbaloin.
Concerns about the safety of aloin when used frequently as a laxative resulted in discontinuation of aloe vera latex as an over-the-counter remedy in 2002.
Despite what you may have heard, there is no evidence that aloe vera can be helpful in addressing other digestive tract disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). (23, 24)
The popularity of natural remedies continues to grow as consumers search for alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs and chemical treatments.
Summary: Aloe vera provides a natural option for treating skin issues, improving oral health, bumping up antioxidant intake, and may also help in regulating blood sugar.