Aloe barbadensis leaf (Aloe vera) is a wonderful support for the digestive system, helping internally to cool and soothe inflammation and can be used externally to help with skin problems. Learn more below…
Used historically by ancient herbalist to cool and soothe the digestion
In Ayurvedic medicine, Aloe is called Kumari ‘young maiden’ (for female health and maintaining youthfulness of the skin!). They consider it cooling, good for circulation and digestion, and as a female tonic for regulating the uterus (womb) and menstruation (particularly heavy bleeding and clots). It is also seen as a good herb for menopausal heat and dryness. It is considered good for skin, both topically for any irritation or skin condition and internally for helping calm heat and inflammation.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Aloe is called Lu Hui and is considered cooling and good for constipation and removing toxins like parasites. It is good for any heat condition (e.g. feeling hot, headaches with heat or red eyes or skin).
Research shows Aloe juice and the inner gel is very safe.. Just don’t consume the outer green rind
Animal studies show the inner gel (clear pulp inside leaf) and juice of Aloe is very safe, even at high doses (1). There is evidence from animal studies that very high doses of plant chemicals called anthraquinones in the outer rind and latex of the aloe leaf can cause an increased risk of cancer when consumed for 2 years. They may also affect fertility and sensitivity to light (phototoxicity) (2) – but this is at much higher levels and for a longer time than Aloe would normally be taken. The inner gel and juice do not contain anthraquinones and so are considered safe.
Latex is the yellow liquid just inside the dark green rind, it is likely safe in small amounts but should not be consumed in high doses or for long periods of time.
Topically Aloe Vera helps healing after burns (including radiotherapy)
Burns patients who used Aloe Vera had better healing and lower pain than those using standard burns dressings (3)(4). Radiation Mucositis is ulceration of the mouth after radiotherapy, which can be painful and unpleasant. In patients who had radiotherapy of the head and neck Aloe mouthwash was effective and reduced the symptoms with no side effects (5). In a test mimicking sunburn in healthy subjects., Aloe Vera helped inflammation after exposure to UVB (6).
It reduces gum irritation, ulcers and harmful mouth bacteria
Patients with reoccurring mouth ulcers had a significant improvement in pain and healing when treated with a component of Aloe Vera (7). A small study of drinking Aloe Vera showed it improved the balance of bacteria in the mouth to make it healthier after 14 days (8). Aloe in toothpaste can improve gingivitis and help control plaque (9). Aloe was also shown to be effective for improving lichen planus in the mouth when the gel was used on the lesions (10).
When taken orally it may improve skin health and elasticity
A component of Aloe Vera called Aloe Sterol was shown to improve skin elasticity, hydration and collagen score in healthy women taking this supplement for 12 weeks (11). This shows the benefit of Aloe Vera in maintaining healthy skin and possibly helping combat the effects of ageing.
Aloe Vera improves wound healing
In a study of 90 patients undergoing a Caesarian, Aloe Vera gel applied to the wound improved healing and reduced the risk of infection (12). It has also been shown to improve healing of long-term ulcers and sores when combined with olive oil and applied to the wound (13). A study of long-term anal fissures – cracking around the anus which can be painful and difficult to heal, showed applying Aloe Vera juice significantly improved bleeding and sped up healing (14). In patients recovering from haemorrhoid operations, Aloe cream applied to the wound reduced pain and sped up healing (15)…
And soothes digestion during chemotherapy
Aloe Vera has been shown to calm painful ulceration of the mouth after chemotherapy and help it heal (16). Its soothing and anti-inflammatory activity makes it a good choice for consideration alongside treatment, and it may even benefit the cancer itself (see other benefits below).
Aloe Vera may also calm heartburn and reflux
Aloe Vera made into a syrup was shown to be a safe and effective treatment for heartburn and acid reflux (17). Aloe Vera inner leaf is also active against H. Pylori a bacteria that can cause ulcers and increased heartburn (18).
- Cleans the air – As a houseplant, Aloe can remove formaldehyde and benzene from the air, improving the air quality in your home (19).
- Blood sugar regulation – Taking Aloe Vera for 8 weeks has been shown to help high blood sugar and insulin levels in patients with pre-diabetes/ metabolic syndrome (20). In another study as well as the benefit to blood sugar in diabetics it also improved their cholesterol levels (21).
- Acne – When Aloe Vera gel is applied alongside skin cream acne treatments, they are significantly more effective (22).
- Mouth fibrosis – A condition called oral submucous fibrosis which can be caused by autoimmune diseases and means that patients can have ulcerations or thickening of the tissue in the mouth making it difficult to open. Aloe Vera gel was shown to be safe and effective at improving symptoms of this condition (23) (24).
- Weight loss – In a study of overweight early diabetics, Aloe Vera gel taken internally for 8 weeks improved blood sugar levels and significantly improved weight loss and loss of body fat (25).
- Nappy rash – Aloe Vera was effective treatment for healing nappy rash in a study of 66 babies (26).
- HIV – Patients with HIV had a significant improvement in CD4 count and physical well-being when taking 30-40ml Aloe Vera juice daily (27).
- Ulcerative Colitis – A small study showed taking Aloe Vera gel produced a promising improvement in symptoms and healing of the bowel of patients with ulcerative colitis (28).
- Cancer – A study of 240 cancer patients with metastatic cancer given Aloe Vera juice (10mls three times a day) over 3 years alongside chemotherapy had better improvements in tumours and better survival rates than with chemotherapy alone (29).
- Alzheimers – 4 teaspoons of powder of Aloe inner leaf was given to Alzheimer’s patients over 12 months and created a significant improvement in brain functioning and also their immune system markers compared to placebo (30).
- Burning mouth syndrome – Patients suffering from a sensation of burning in their mouth had an improvement in pain when using Aloe Vera topically (31).
- Hepatic peri-portal fibrosis – A condition of the liver caused by a virus. Aloe Vera for 12 weeks improved fibrosis and significantly improved the condition (32).
- May prevent kidney stone formation – Drinking Aloe Vera gel improves the compounds in the urine that cause kidney stones, making it a possible aid to prevent their formation (33).
- Vulval lichen planus – A skin condition affecting the female genitals. Aloe was shown to be an effective treatment when applied topically for 8 weeks (34).
- Psoriasis – Aloe Vera used in a cream for 5 days a week, for 4 weeks, slowed a significant improvement in their psoriasis (35).
- Melasma in pregnancy – A skin condition in pregnancy that causes a darkening of the skin on the face. This condition was improved by the application of Aloe Vera gel for 5 weeks (36).
Dr Jess says: Aloe Vera is another staple in our natural medicine cabinet. The juice is often in our fridge and is great for soothing an unhappy stomach, reflux, constipation or indigestion. I often recommend Aloe juice internally for patients with any inflammatory condition including gut and skin conditions. Aloe Vera gel is wonderful topically for heat rashes, burns, fissures and wounds.
The plant is always on our windowsill for an emergency intervention for sore throat and I have felt the fantastic results first-hand – after swallowing the fresh gel even the severest throat infection seems to disappear like magic!
HOW TO USE ALOE VERA SAFELY
Grow your own Aloe Vera plant – readily available from garden centres, Aloe Vera plants are a fantastic houseplant requiring little water or care to thrive. You can harvest the leaves to use them as below, just make sure not to consume the outer rind (dark green) or yellow latex (yellow juice just inside the rind).
Eat the gel for sore throats – For stubborn sore throats you can cut off a leaf from your Aloe plant (make sure you have checked it is the correct plant and check with your medical herbalist or healthcare provider that Aloe Vera is suitable for you) – remove the dark green rind and yellow latex with a sharp knife (scoop out the clear inner gel). This can be eaten directly (it has no taste). Anecdotally many people report that this soothes and takes away the pain and inflammation. Obviously seek medical advice if you are concerned over your sore throat, have any difficulty swallowing or breathing, or have a child with persistent symptoms and fever.
Use the gel on wounds – Prepare the inner gel as above as this can be used on wounds, burns or ulcers (after receiving advice from your medical herbalist or healthcare provider). Aloe Vera gel (check it is 100% and organic where possible) can also be bought from health food shops to use on sunburn or hot itchy rashes/allergic rashes, and is great at soothing, especially when placed in the fridge (seek medical advice for burns, ulcers, wounds and allergic rashes before using).
Take Aloe Vera liquid for digestive issues – (After seeking medical advice from your healthcare provider (and consulting a medical herbalist if unsure) Aloe Vera inner leaf juice (preferably organic – e.g. Cytoplan inner leaf juice) can be taken daily. 1 dessertspoon daily built up to 3 times a day can help soothe and calm digestion including ulcers and inflammation.
As a mouthwash – For oral health and to soothe mouth ulcers (or during chemotherapy to soothe stomatitis) rinse mouth with inner leaf juice (e.g. Cytoplan) and hold in mouth for 2 minutes.