The benefits of aloe vera were once more widely known than they are today.
You see, six thousand years ago, the ancient Egyptians regarded aloe vera as a miracle plant.
They used it in many ways, from treating burns to reducing fever. A few millennia later, Cleopatra herself used aloe in her daily skin treatments.
The ancient Greek scientists valued aloe as well, regarding the plant as the universal panacea.
And legend has it that Alexander the Great conquered territory off the coast of Africa to secure supplies of aloe vera for his soldiers.
The “miracle plant” was treated like a treasure throughout much of history.
So why, aside from using it for cuts and burns, have we largely forgotten its many benefits today?
It’s time aloe vera regained its throne, so below are the top benefits of this incredibly versatile plant.
The “Burn Plant”
There are at least 420 different plant species of aloe, but the species used most for skin and medicinal purposes is known as “bitter aloe.”
And its most renowned benefit today is helping to heal burns.
In fact, a 2019 study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health found that aloe vera is one of the most effective solutions in treating first- and second-degree burn wounds. This is due to the soothing and moisturizing properties of the plant that help skin retain its integrity.
Moreover, the study concluded that aloe vera is much more effective and less costly compared to the currently available alternative treatments (petroleum jelly, silver sulfadiazine 1% ointment, and framycetin cream).
Another study showed that the average time of healing a partially thick burn wound with aloe gel was 12 days. This was compared to vaseline gauze to treat the same wound which took 18 days.
However, aloe vera’s greatest-known strength may also be its greatest hurdle, because it has become known today as the “burn plant” — which has overshadowed its many other excellent benefits!
The Anti-Aging Benefits of Aloe Vera
In order to understand the anti-aging benefits of aloe vera, you have to understand the plant’s anatomy. Each leaf of the jagged green plant are composed of three layers:
- The inner layer is that iconic clear gel. The aloe gel contains 99 percent water with the remainder composed of glucomannans (a type of dietary fiber), amino acids, lipids, sterols, and vitamins.
- The middle layer is made of latex and appears as a yellow sap known as aloin. This layer contains glycosides (a compound formed from a simple sugar) and anthraquinones (organic compounds that cause a laxative effect and help with pain relief).
- The last and outermost layer is known as the rind. This thick skin protects the plant and synthesizes carbohydrates and proteins.
From a structural standpoint, aloe vera has a lot going on inside — it’s like a candy factory for nutrients.
These components include amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals, all of which promote a healthy immune system, aid in digestive health, and reduce harmful nitrates.
With all these beneficial compounds, it’s no wonder aloe provides your skin a range of benefits. According to one study, consuming aloe gel may increase collagen synthesis in the body and even change collagen composition.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body — making up one-third of our protein content — and is a major building block for our skin, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Healthy collagen levels are also a key component behind healthy, young-looking skin.
In short, because of its effect on collagen, aloe may well help your skin look less wrinkled! There’s even evidence that it may improve the appearance of wrinkles when used topically as well.
To continue with the good news, a specific compound in aloe known as aloesin may help to fade the appearance of dark spots (aka age spots) when applied topically. Other compounds known as mucopolysaccharides help to bind moisture to your skin, improving hydration and making it feel softer.
If that wasn’t enough, aloe gel may also aid in the removal of dead skin cells and acne. A 2014 study found that combining conventional acne cream with aloe gel was significantly more effective than acne medication alone.
All of this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
If the “burn plant” can heal first- and second-degree burns, why wouldn’t it also work well aging or sun-damaged skin?
The Nutrition and Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Aloe Vera
Like other leafy green plants, aloe vera is loaded with an assortment of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
Here are a few of the important ingredients inside aloe gel:
- Vitamins: Aloe vera contains vitamin A, which aids the immune system and reproduction; B12, which keeps blood cells healthy and helps create new DNA. It also contains vitamins C and E; the former is critical for a healthy immune system and the latter prevents inflammation and promotes skin health.
- Amino Acids (The Building Blocks of Protein): There are 20 amino acid proteins that our bodies need for vital processes. Of that 20, there are 9 that our body cannot produce on its own. In other words, we have to find these amino acids in our foods, thus these are dubbed essential amino acids. Aloe gel provides 7 of the 9 essential amino acids.
- Digestive Enzymes: Digestive enzymes are critical in breaking down macronutrients like fats, proteins, and carbs into even smaller pieces to be absorbed. Consuming foods high in digestive enzymes helps digestion and leads to better gut health. Some foods that are high in digestive enzymes are kiwis, ginger, avocados, bananas,… and YES, aloe gel, which contains 8 digestive enzymes. These enzymes include aliiase, alkaline phosphatase, amylase, bradykinase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, cellulase, lipase, and peroxidase. Some of these help reduce inflammation, and others help breakdown sugar and fats.
- Minerals: Aloe gel provides calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium and zinc. The particular minerals that aloe gel are higher in promote bone health, regulate blood pressure, and aid metabolic functions.
- Anthraquinones: Anthraquinones are compounds that can help protect against kidney disease, liver disease, and cancer. One study found that anthraquinones suppress inflammation and support a healthy gut. Aloe provides 12 unique anthraquinones.
In addition to the aforementioned micronutrients and their benefits, consuming aloe gel may help relieve heartburn.
More specifically, aloe gel may help with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a digestive disorder that often results in heartburn. A 2015 study from the National Library of Medicine found that ingesting aloe vera syrup twice a day reduced GERD symptoms, with no adverse events requiring withdrawal.
Finally, one of the emerging benefits of consuming aloe vera juice is its effect on lowering blood sugar. A 2015 study suggests that consuming aloe vera gel can help people achieve better fasting blood glucose levels, as well as reduce body fat and weight.
One important caveat with consuming aloe vera — start with a small amount, as some people may experience a laxative effect (likely due to the anthraquinones).
Oral Care Benefits of Aloe Vera
Another little-known benefit of aloe vera is as a natural mouthwash.
There are many studies of aloe vera-based mouthwash being used to treat gingivitis, plaque build-up and soothe mouth irritation.
One that stands out, however, is a 2014 study published in the Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences.
Researchers found that an aloe vera-based mouthwash can be a safe and effective alternative to store-brand products. Plus, aloe vera does not contain the unwanted chemicals common to store-brand options. And it cost significantly less than those store-brand options!
Truly Obscure Benefit of Aloe Vera — A Natural Preservative!
Another very little-known use for aloe vera gel is its ability to preserve fruits and vegetables when coated on them.
A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Food Science and Technology found that aloe gel has the ability to prolong the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. The plant is able to do this because it has antifungal and antibacterial properties that provide a defensive barrier against microbial contamination of produce.
Yes, aloe vera really is the “Swiss army knife” of plants. Today, researchers are even experimenting to see if aloe-emodin, a compound in the plant’s leaves, can slow the growth of breast cancer. More research is needed to further this theory, though.
Bottom line, and as the ancients seemed to know, the big question with aloe vera seems to be what CAN’T it do?
8 Key Steps for Using Fresh Aloe Vera
Both aloe vera plants and leaves are rather easy to find today. You can find the plants to raise in your home or garden, and the freshly cut leaves if you prefer that route, everywhere from local farmer’s markets to major supermarket chains like Whole Foods and Walmart.
Additionally, aloe-based products are sold in many stores. HOWEVER, please be certain those products are USDA Certified Organic (or the equivalent, such as in other countries) because such products can otherwise be loaded with other toxic or synthetic ingredients.
If you do choose to grow your own aloe vera and harvest it for the gel and juice, remember to:
- Cut your leaves close to the stalk, as most of the beneficial nutrients are found at the base of the leaves.
- Place the leaves in a jar (cut side down) to drain the aloin (the yellowish latex substance) unless you’re planning on using it
- Wash and dry the leaves
- If you’re planning on using the aloe for your skin, you can scoop the gel out with your fingers (or a sharp object) and apply directly to your skin.
- You can also squeeze out the gel once you’ve trimmed the prickly edges of your leaf
- Depending on the size of your aloe plant, 3-4 leaves should leave you with about ½ to ¾ cup of aloe vera gel.
- Cut the aloe gel into slices or cubes and refrigerate them ASAP
- If you aren’t planning on using your leaf right away make sure to refrigerate it as well
Finally, as for consuming aloe vera, there are many online recipes you will find by searching “aloe vera recipes.”
One of my favorites is simply aloe and cucumber water — just combine some aloe vera juice with cucumber and water (or coconut water) for a healthy and delicious beverage!
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