Aloe Vera Health Benefits and How to Make the Most of Them
There are claims that aloe vera has antibacterial, antiviral, burn-soothing, healing, and anticancer properties.
However, research does not support all of these claims well, and some supposed benefits are clinically controversial due to a lack of definitive proof or risks from taking aloe vera orally.
This article will discuss what aloe vera is, its benefits, safety, side effects, how to use it, and more.
The aloe vera plant grows in hot, dry climates and belongs to the succulent family of plants.
While there are more than 400 species of the aloe plant, the most common species in aloe-based products is the Aloe barbadensis Miller, or aloe vera.
Products may use the plant’s gel, latex, and whole-leaf extract for a variety of health conditions and ailments.
This is because aloe vera may contain active compounds and chemicals that have a beneficial effect on certain body systems.
Using aloe vera topically in addition to other treatments for acne may improve outcomes for skin health.
A 2021 study of the use of aloe vera gel alongside ultrasound treatment suggests that acne significantly improved under this treatment combination. Observed improvements included a reduction in the number of acne pimples, reduction in the areas of hyperpigmented skin, and improvements in skin roughness and circulation.
This presents a potentially useful treatment approach that avoids the use of drugs.
Aloe also contains amino acids and minerals, such as zinc. These can aid the retention of moisture in the skin, help to prevent skin ulcers, reduce erythema rashes, and maintain skin integrity.
Due to its beneficial properties for the skin, aloe vera can also potentially help with the healing of burns and wounds.
People have long used topical application of aloe to promote healing for burns due to its impact on collagen in the body, which is essential for healing.
As aloe can work as an astringent, an agent that has the effect of binding or constricting, aloe may help seal open cuts.
Aloe vera may have antimicrobial properties, meaning that it may be useful to help manage microbial infections, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
A 2017 study into the antifungal and antiplaque effectiveness of aloe vera also observed that participants who used toothpaste containing aloe vera experienced a reduction in the amount of Candida present. Candida is a type of fungus.
In a 2015 controlled trial, participants who took aloe vera capsules twice a day experienced lower fasting blood glucose levels within 4 weeks and lower average blood glucose or sugar levels after 8 weeks.
This suggests that taking aloe vera orally could offer improvements to blood sugar levels, and possibly help people including those with pre-diabetes. This is especially important as much research into aloe vera gel extract has not reported any significant side effects of the treatment.
In the same 2015 trial, researchers observed that the participants’ levels of total cholesterol significantly reduced.
Additionally, researchers saw an improvement in levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, after only 8 weeks.
While long-term studies with larger sample sizes are necessary, some short-term studies have suggested that aloe vera controls bacteria that could lead to cavities, treats plaque-induced gingivitis, and controls inflammation around dental implants.
In these cases, participants used aloe vera topically, by using a mouthwash or gel.
Aloe vera contains ingredients that can have anti-inflammatory effects.
This is because aloe vera contains substances including anthraquinones, certain enzymes, hormones, fatty acids, and salicylic acids which can reverse inflammation. They may do this by stimulating the immune system, improving collagen growth, or by obstructing irritants.
Some of these anti-inflammatory agents may also have antiseptic and analgesic or pain-reducing effects.
Additionally, a particular sugar found in aloe vera may have immunomodulating effects, meaning it may help to support immunity by improving the function of antibodies.
Aloe vera provides many nutritional substances, including vitamins, antioxidant vitamins, and amino acids.
Aloe vera contains vitamins A, C, E, and some B vitamins, as well as folic acid.
Vitamins A, C, and E are vitamins with an antioxidant effect, meaning they can protect against damage from free radicals.
Additionally, aloe vera contains nineteen of twenty amino acids necessary for health, and seven of the eight amino acids that the body cannot produce itself and that we must take in through our diet.
The enzymes that aloe vera contains may also aid digestion.
However, as there is not enough research to confirm its safety, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required laxative makers to remove aloe from all products in 2002.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommends that you do not take aloe for constipation for longer than 1 week.
There are many claims that aloe vera has anticancer properties, and there have been very limited studies of using aloe vera in cancer prevention.
However, further study is necessary before confirming any claims of aloe vera as being an effective anticancer treatment. The 2015 study, for example, investigates aloe vera’s anticancer properties on a cellular level.
Aloe vera can is useable topically, using the gel straight from the plant or from over-the-counter lotions, gels, and other products that contain aloe vera.
You can also ingest aloe vera orally by drinking aloe vera juice or taking supplements.
Contact your doctor for advice
As with any supplement or ingredient, contact your doctor for advice before starting a new supplement or herbal treatment.
Aloe vera can have negative effects if you use it inappropriately.
For example, you should not take aloe vera orally if you have diabetes or take medication to lower blood sugar levels, as it could lower your blood sugar too much.
Rarely, people are allergic to aloe.
If you are keen to start using aloe vera topically, perform a patch test before using any aloe vera product extensively. You can do this by applying a small amount to a limited patch of skin and observing your skin’s reaction for at least 48 hours.
When using aloe vera products, it is also important to follow all directions as prescribed by your doctor and as listed on the product’s packaging.
Using raw aloe vera
You can cut open an aloe vera plant’s leaves and scoop out the gel. You can then apply it topically to the skin.
Unless you are allergic to aloe vera, applying aloe gel directly to the skin from the plant can be safe and well-tolerated.
Raw aloe vera skin free of the aloe latex and gel can be edible, provided you remove the spiky edges and wash the plant thoroughly.
Is it safe to use aloe vera daily?
In most cases, if you do not have an allergy, applying aloe vera topically is safe and the body can tolerate it well.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health suggests that topical application of aloe vera-based gel up to twice daily can have beneficial effects. However, everybody’s skin can react differently.
Taking aloe vera orally could have negative consequences, particularly if it is aloe latex. For example, short- and long-term oral use may link to cases of acute hepatitis after as little as 3 weeks of use.
The human body can also develop an intolerance to aloe vera juice, so it is recommendable to limit the oral use of aloe vera and not take oral formulas too often.
If you notice any new irritation or symptoms that coincide with the use of aloe vera, cease its use and contact your doctor for advice.
There are several risks and side effects to aloe vera use, particularly oral use.
These effects may include:
- gastrointestinal side effects, such as diarrhea and stomach cramps after oral use
- hepatotoxicity, or acute hepatitis after oral use
- allergic reaction, such as skin irritation, cramp, diarrhea, and hives after both topical and oral use for those who are allergic to plants in the lily family
Animal studies have also suggested that oral use of aloe vera may have a carcinogenic effect in rats.
Who should avoid using aloe vera?
While aloe vera is safe for many people, there are those who should not use aloe vera due to adverse clinical effects.
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, do not take aloe vera orally.
- People taking the heart drug digoxin could experience adverse effects if they use too much aloe latex.
- If you are allergic to plants in the lily family, such as tulips or onions, do not use aloe vera.
- People with diabetes already taking medication to lower their blood sugar should not take aloe vera orally.
Aloe vera offers many potential health benefits and medicinal uses, including properties that may aid wound healing, skin health, infection, blood sugar, cholesterol, and more.
However, it is necessary to use aloe vera with care.
Aloe vera can have adverse effects on health if a person uses it inappropriately, for example taking it orally. These risks can include allergic reaction, toxicity, medicinal interaction, and dangerously low blood sugar.
Contact your doctor for advice before using aloe vera to see if its use could be appropriate and safe for you.