The Aloe Vera plant may be the world’s most popular natural remedy, best known for its ability to promote speedy healing of burns, wounds and skin irritations. Despite its popularity, most people only know about the topical applications of Aloe Vera gel. What you may not realize is that Aloe also has numerous benefits when taken internally.
What Makes Aloe Vera So Special?
The Aloe Vera plant resembles a cactus in appearance, but is actually a succulent plant in the lily family. Its thick meaty leaves are filled with a transparent gel that is a rich source of more than 200 naturally-occurring nutrients which include:
In addition to being a storehouse of nutrients, this little plant has a remarkable ability to heal itself. When one if its leaves is cut or torn, the gel inside immediately begins to shrink the wound and create a water-tight seal so none of the plant’s vital juices are able to leak out.
Historical Uses for Aloe Vera
Stories of Aloe Vera’s medicinal use go back thousands of years and can be found in nearly every era of history. A few examples…
• Aristotle is thought to have persuaded Alexander the Great to conquer the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean in order to secure a supply of Aloe Vera to be used for healing wounded soldiers.
• The Bible refers to an ointment made of myrrh and Aloe that was used to embalm the body of Jesus.
• The first-century Greek physician Dioscorides reported using Aloe for many purposes including burns, skin infections, chapping, bruises, hemorrhoids and all types of mouth irritations. He also noted that it “loosens the belly, cleansing the stomach.”
• Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “You ask me what were that secret forces that sustained me during my long fasts. Well, it was my unshakable faith in God, my simple and frugal lifestyle, and the Aloe whose benefits I discovered upon my arrival in South Africa…”
Ironically, although the plant itself is not particularly attractive, its gel has long been considered an enhancer of physical beauty. In fact, both Cleopatra and Queen Nefertiti are said to have considered Aloe an essential part of their skincare regimen. Today Aloe is one of the most popular ingredients used by the cosmetics industry because of its ability to soothe, soften and moisturize dry or damaged skin.
Throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries, Aloe was one of the world’s most frequently prescribed medicines. It is still one of the most commonly used herbs today.
While the external benefits of using Aloe topically are well known and documented, no less important are the multiple benefits that can be gained by taking Aloe Vera gel internally.
Research has demonstrated the positive effects of Aloe taken internally can have on the body – including the digestive system, the immune system, diabetes, triglyceride and cholesterol levels, and cancer to name a few.
Studies also indicate that Aloe Vera has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-microbial properties.
Soothing and Regulating the Digestive System
Aloe Vera Healing™ provides soothing support for the digestive system. It can help relieve constipation and promotes internal, natural healing and regulation.
Constipation – Just under the Aloe plant’s outer skin is a yellow substance called Aloe latex which contains strong laxative compounds. At one time, products made largely from Aloe latex were sold as oral over-the-counter laxatives, but they could sometimes cause severe abdominal cramping and pain. In 2002, the FDA required that all OTC Aloe laxative products be removed from the U.S. market or reformulated.
Consequently, Aloe Vera gel products on the market today have either no or very limited amounts of Aloe latex in them. However, they can still be quite effective in relieving constipation – they just accomplish it in a much gentler manner. Aloe Vera Healing™ softgels are made from the whole leaf of the Aloe plant, but contain only a trace amount of Aloe latex.
A Chinese study of the effect of Aloe on constipation in mice concluded, “Aloe can enhance the peristalsis [muscle contractions] of small intestine and reduce the reabsorption of water in bowel wall. [This] effect is mild and can be used for treatment of constipation.”(1)
Ulcerative Colitis – In 2004, London scientists undertook a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial to study the efficacy and safety of Aloe Vera gel for the treatment of mildly to moderately active ulcerative colitis.
A total of 44 hospital out-patients were randomly given oral Aloe Vera gel or placebo, 100 mL twice daily for 4 weeks. Thirty participants received the Aloe and 14 received the placebo. The chart below shows the clinical remission, improvement and response rates for both groups:
|Aloe Vera (30)||30%||37%||47%|
The researchers concluded, “Oral Aloe Vera taken for 4 weeks produced a clinical response more often than placebo; it also reduced the histological disease activity and appeared to be safe.”(2)
Acid Reflux/GERD – Although little formal research has been done on Aloe’s effect on acid reflux or GERD, people have been using it and touting its effectiveness for many years.
Additional Benefits of Aloe Vera
Diabetes – In 1996, Thai researchers studied 72 patients with a high fasting blood sugar level and a typical diabetic glucose tolerance test result. Participants were divided into two groups – one receiving a placebo and the other receiving one tablespoon of Aloe Vera juice twice a day for 42 days. (Aloe juice is made from Aloe gel.) Fasting blood glucose levels were measured weekly; triglyceride and cholesterol levels were measured every two weeks.
The results showed that the average (mean) blood glucose level of the patients in the Aloe juice group was significantly reduced from the second week of the study and continued to fall throughout the treatment period, whereas no changes were reported in the placebo group.
The chart below shows the changes in blood glucose and triglyceride levels of the treatment group:(3)
|Test||Day 1||Day 42|
|Blood Glucose (Average levels)||250.36||141.92|
|Triglyceride (Average levels)||220.31||122.72|
The effect of diabetes mellitus on lipid metabolism presents a major risk for cardiovascular complications in diabetes. Since many secondary plant metabolites have been reported to possess lipid-lowering properties, scientists designed a study to examine the effects of Aloe Vera on streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.
Aloe Vera gel was orally administered to the rats at a dose of 300 mg/kg bodyweight each day. After 21 days, there was a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose, triglyceride, cholesterol, free fatty acids and phospholipids levels as well as a significant improvement in plasma insulin.
The researchers concluded, “Thus, the results of the present study provide a scientific rationale for the use of Aloe Vera as an antidiabetic agent.”(4)
Osteoarthritis – A British scientific paper published in June 2010 suggests that oral Aloe Vera could be used in the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain, particularly that caused by osteoarthritis. The author pointed out that even though Aloe Vera has been used as an arthritis treatment for centuries, there are only small studies and anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness, and called for long-term, randomized, controlled studies.
The paper also points out that the benefits of prescribing Aloe Vera for osteoarthritis may be twofold:
1. It has utility as an anti-inflammatory agent.
2. It works as a prophylactic against the gastrointestinal irritant effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).(5)
Cancer – Topical Aloe has been used since the 1930s for the treatment of skin reactions resulting from radiation therapy. Now Aloe, taken internally, is being studied as a possible cancer preventive and/or treatment.
It is thought that aloe strengthens the immune system by acting directly on abnormal cells. At least one study has found that Aloe supports increased macrophage activity. (A macrophage is a type of white blood cell that ingests foreign material, such as cancer cells.)(6)
A 2002 study investigated the anticancer effect of Aloe-emodin in two human liver cancer cell lines. (Emodin is a substance found in certain plants that belongs to a family of compounds called anthraquinones, which have shown anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects.) The scientists found that Aloe-emodin inhibited cell proliferation and induced apoptosis (programmed cell death) in both examined cell lines. They concluded, “These findings suggest that Aloe-emodin may be useful in liver cancer prevention.”(7)
Although Aloe Vera is currently not recommended as a cancer treatment for humans, in 1991 the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Aloe as an adjunctive treatment for fibrosarcomas in dogs and cats.
Immune System Support – Aloe Vera gel contains immune-system-stimulating compounds like aloctin A and acemannan. A 2010 study found that oral administration of processed Aloe Vera gel significantly reduced the growth of Candida albicans in the spleen and kidneys of mice. The researchers concluded, “These findings provide the first clear evidence for the immunomodulatory activity of orally administered Aloe Vera gel.”(8)
Vitamin Absorption – In 2005 three scientists became interested in the effect Aloe Vera might have on the human bioavailability of both water- and fat-soluble vitamins. They chose vitamins C and E for their study since these are two of the most popular vitamin supplements used.
Their results showed that Aloe Vera improved the absorption of both vitamins C and E. The absorption process was slower, which allowed the vitamins to remain in the plasma longer. The researchers concluded, “Aloe is the only known supplement to increase the absorption of both of these vitamins and should be considered as a complement to them.”(9)
Dosage: The recommended dosage for Aloe Vera Healing™ is 3 softgels, to be taken 2 to 3 times a day on an empty stomach or as recommended by your healthcare professional. Because these softgels deliver a unique concentrated extract, each serving delivers the benefit of 1 tablespoon of Aloe Vera gel.
Contraindications and Precautions:
• Pregnancy – Aloe latex should not be taken by pregnant women as it may cause uterine contractions which could trigger a miscarriage. Because Aloe Vera Healing™ softgels may contain a trace amount of aloe latex, it is best to consult your obstetrician before taking them during pregnancy.
• Diabetes – If you have diabetes, especially if you take medication for diabetes, be sure to discuss taking Aloe Vera with your doctor and monitor your blood glucose levels very closely to be sure they don’t drop too low.
Aloe Vera has been recognized and used as a medicinal herb for centuries, yet new benefits from this ancient remedy – such as supporting smooth digestion, lowering blood glucose, triglyceride and cholesterol levels, and promoting a healthy immune system – continue to be found.
* Supplement research writer Karen Lee Richards is the Lead Expert specializing in Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS for HealthCentral’s ChronicPainConnection. Karen is co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) and was Executive Editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine for four years.
1. Zihong L, et al. The curative effect of aloe on constipation and its primary mechanism. Quangdong Medical Journal. October 2005.
2. Langmead, L. (2004). Full text: Antidiabetic activity of Aloe Vera juice. I Clinical trial in new cases of diabetes mellitus. Phytomedicine 1996; 3,3:241-243.
4. Rajasekaran S, et al. Beneficial effects of Aloe Vera leaf gel extract on lipid profile status in rats with streptozotocin diabetes. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2006 Mar;33(3):232-7.
5. Cowan D. Oral Aloe Vera as a treatment for osteoarthritis: A summary. Br J Community Nurs. 2010 Jun;15(6):280-2.
6. Liu C, et al. Macrophage activation by polysaccharide biological response modifier isolated from Aloe Vera L. var. chinensis (Haw.) Berg. Int Immunopharmacol. 2006 Nov;6(11):1634-41.
7. Kuo PL, et al. The antiproliferative activity of Aloe-emodin is through p53-dependent and p21-dependent apoptotic pathway in human hepatoma cell lines. Life Sci. 2002 Sep 6;71(16):1879-92.
8. Im SA, et al. In vivo evidence of the immunomodulatory activity of orally administered Aloe Vera gel. Arch Pharm Res. 2010 Mar;33(3):451-6.
9. Vinson JA, et al. Effect of Aloe Vera preparations on the human bioavailability of vitamins C and E. Phytomedicine. 2005 Nov;12(10):760-5.
Note: This information has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is generic and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.