Cover photo credit: GM Khalsa, Publisher, taken in his and Siri’s back yard.
The Wonder Plant That Heals
- Improve your digestion
- Manage blood sugar levels
- Get relief from skin disorders
- Jump start your body’s antioxidant defense
- Use special sugars to enhance your immunity
Scientists pry healing secrets from the aloe –
How can this make a difference for you?
Look inside and find out….
Aloe vera is one of the most commercially successful plants in the US.
It is the most common plant included in new product launches.
In one recent year, it was included in over 1500 new products
The Wonder Plant That Heals
Right this minute, someone – somewhere – is using aloe vera to heal something.
Millions grow the plant themselves and others keep a container of aloe on hand for those times when nothing else will do.
Although the most common use in the United States is for burn treatment, including sunburns, aloe has five major applications. The first three are wound healing, skin conditions, and digestive disorders. These are also folk uses of aloe known since ancient times. The other two may be surprising: cholesterol management and immune system enhancement. All five areas are backed by science.
Is It Magic?
For our ancestors, effectiveness determined aloe vera’s use. Today, science is validating its healing properties.
The aloe plant is between 99 and 99.5 percent water. All the power of the plant is in that tiny one to one-half percent! Water acts as a carrier for those potent nutrients.
The solid material contains over 75 different ingredients, including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, anthraquinones, sterols, lignins, saponins, salicylic acid, and perhaps most interesting, biological sugars. Before discussing the sugars, let’s look at the other components.
Aloe contains most of the major vitamins, excepting vitamin D, but including the important antioxidant vitamins A, C, and beta-carotene (the vitamin A precursor). The B vitamins thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, choline and folic acid are also present.
As many as 13 of the 17 minerals necessary for human nutrition have been found in aloe. These include sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, chromium, sulfur, and iron.
The presence of magnesium may explain aloe’s facility for soothing itchiness. As people with allergies know, a substance called histamine is released in many allergic reactions. Histamine causes intense itching, watery eyes and nose, and pain. Magnesium inhibits the formation of histamine.
When taken orally, several of the enzymes found in aloe, such as amylase and lipase, aid digestion by breaking down sugars and fats. Another important enzyme produces an anti-inflammatory effect. This adds to aloe’s reputation for pain relief.
As you recall, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. The body needs 22 amino acids to build the proteins it needs.
Of these, eight are called essential amino acids, because (like vitamins) the body cannot synthesize them. Instead, we must get them from food.
Aloe vera is a rich source of amino acids, providing 20 of the 22 necessary amino acids and 7 of the 8 essential amino acids.
Anthraquinones is a long word for important phytochemicals found in the yellow sap of the aloe plant. In large amounts, these compounds have a laxative effect.2
However, in smaller quantities, their general bitterness appears to stimulate digestive secretions, bile flow, and the upper digestive system as a whole.
Secondly, anthraquinones are potent antimicrobial agents, especially toxic both to Shigella dysenteriae (the well known dysentery-causing bacillus) and to Staphylococci (cause of the notorious “staph” infection).
In 2004, the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology published a study by Chen, et al, demonstrating that anthraquinones are also anti-inflammatory in nature. Used topically, these compounds give aloe its capacity to absorb ultraviolet light and reduce the formation of melanin and any tendency to hyper-pigmentation (patches of darkened skin).3
Sterols are the secret to aloe’s cholesterol-lowering potential. This capacity of plant sterols has been known for over 50 years. They are essential components of plant cell membranes and resemble cholesterol.
Sterols inhibit the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine by up to 50%. In turn, this can lower LDL blood cholesterol by up to 14%.
Salicylic acid is an aspirin-like compound possessing anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Used topically, it helps wounds to heal more quickly without scarring.
Lignin found in all plants (and different from lignan, the fiber in flaxseed) is an inert woody substance that gives topical aloe preparations their singular ability to penetrate to the dermis, carrying other active ingredients deep into the skin. Last, saponins are soapy substances with antiseptic properties.
When making a purchase of aloe for internal use, shake the container. Some bubbles should result. No bubbles, not enough aloe.
1 FYI: The terms BCE (Before [the] Common Era) and CE (Common Era) are gradually replacing the traditional BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, Year of Our Lord).
According to the editors of www.religioustolerance.org, this movement was instigated by Christian theologians who felt that non-religious, neutral terms like CE and BCE would be less offensive to non-Christians and more in keeping with the Golden Rule. Living in the US, we tend not to remember that only one out of every three humans on earth is a Christian.
2 These are the same substances that bring laxative action to cascara sagrada, senna, and rhubarb.
3 Melanin is a natural substance that gives color [pigment] to hair, skin, and the iris of the eye.
Recently, researchers found that taking vitamins C and E with aloe increases the vitamins’ bioavailability by over 200 percent.
When taken with aloe, vitamin levels remain significantly higher over a 24-hour period.
Aloe vera: How Sweet Is It?
This is no ordinary sugar. It isn’t in the baking aisle or in packets for coffee. These are biological sugars that are essential to life. They are structural components of our cells, involved in cell-to-cell communication.
Each of our cells is coated with eight essential sugar communicators. Without them, cellular communication is greatly compromised.
Individual sugars are called saccharides. In nature, they hook together in chains as polysaccharides. (Poly- means many.)
Currently, the main focus of aloe research is a group of polysaccharides called mannose (or mannan).4 Amazingly, mannose is one of those eight essential sugars. Research on the functions of mannose explains aloe’s healing properties more than any other single constituent.
Mannose molecules occur in many lengths, weights, and sizes called chains. The varying sizes determine healing properties. Like pearls in a necklace, ranging from short strands with small pearls to very long heavy strands with large pearls, the heavier and longer the polymannose chain, the more biologically valuable its function in the body (See sidebar.)
5 Carrington Labs (a large aloe grower with millions of dollars of research and development) can make this claim in compliance with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). It is attached to the use of 160 mg/d of pure mannose polysaccharide.
Polysaccharides: Let’s Take a Closer Look
These chains reduce the inflammation involved in such diseases as ulcerative colitis, arthritis and gastric reflux. They also help reduce blood sugar in both types I and II diabetes.
Functioning within the cell as effective antioxidants, these chains protect us against ever increasing pollution and the loss of nutrients from food while maintaining cellular communication.
Large chains have a direct anti-bacterial and anti-viral effects. They are important to treating both new infectious diseases and older ones that are resistant to antibiotics.
Very Large Chain:
The “big pearl” molecules are immune modulating and have a powerful healing effect on AIDS, cancer, and many different immune system disorders.
At one time, polymannans were readily available in our diet. Eating wheat, rice, and other produce supplied our needs. In the last 50 years, farming practices and food processing have caused a loss of nutrition in our food. Even when products are organic, it is difficult to eat enough to meet our mannose requirement.
Using a dried or liquid whole leaf aloe product gives us the healing synergistic effect of aloe’s surprising components.
Within a few months, mannans (polymannose) in supplement form for therapeutic use will be available from natural products stores.
Aloe vera For Your Health
The number of aloe studies has tripled since 1990. Folk uses are being reinforced while the healing potential of its components is being defined and substantiated.
Work with the essential biological sugars is particularly important. In this section, we look at the five major aloe applications and more.
Aloe vera: Immune Boosting
Mannose is so stimulating to the immune system that one company is allowed to make the claim that their product “enhances the immune system.”5
According to a 1988 study published in the Journal of Immunopharmacology, mannans activate white cells, stimulate communication between immune cells, and stimulate bone marrow activity (where some immune cells are formed).
Mannans enhance TNF release (tumor necrosis factor), producing an anti-tumor effect, helping to destroy abnormal cells. For over two decades, research has found aloe mannans to be antiviral and helpful in the treatment of AIDS.
Lastly, aloe counteracts the immune-suppressing effects of ultra violet B exposure (e.g., sun burn). Keep in mind that all whole leaf aloe preparations contain mannose.
Aloe vera For Skin Repair
Aloe’s effects on skin and on wound healing have been recognized for thousands of years.
According to James Duke, Ph.D., studies since the 1930s have shown that aloe speeds the healing of burns, wounds, frostbite, and other skin conditions. It relieves itching, pain, and swelling from all kinds of rashes including heat rash, diaper rash, rash caused by poisonous plants (i.e., poison ivy), hives, scabies, ringworm, and athlete’s foot.
Approved by the FDA for use with oral ulcers/canker sores, a 2005 article in General Dentistry supports the successful use of aloe for the treatment of many oral health problems.
These include canker sores, cold sores, herpes virus, gingivitis, and lichen planus (a disease affecting the skin and oral mucous membranes). Aloe was used topically and ingested.
Beyond this, studies have shown that aloe can provide extremely effective treatment for psoriasis. A 1996 year-long double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 60 people with psoriasis found that applying a .05% aloe vera cream 3 times daily eliminated symptoms in 86 percent of cases.
Aloe’s capacity to penetrate to the dermis, bringing nutrients and removing toxins, is behind its speedy and impressive healing ability. Not surprisingly, aloe brings relief to dry skin, and is found in many lotions and moisturizers.
Aloe vera For Good Digestion
Whole leaf aloe vera is an herbal bitter. Studies at the Linus Pauling Institute show that six ounces of aloe juice taken three times daily increase protein digestion and absorption, decrease bowel putrefaction, and improve intestinal pH.
Aloe’s anti-inflammatory properties are soothing to mucous membranes and have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation in the digestive tract. The mucous lining of the gastro-intestinal tract resembles the skin. The same phytochemicals that soothe our skin can soothe our insides. Food allergy relief is another benefit of healing the gut lining. (Reactions to air born allergens are also reduced.)
Important to ruptured diverticula (pockets of the intestines), aloe soothes and reduces bleeding time. The editors of The Sensitive Gut: A Harvard Medical School Book (2001) recommend it for functional dyspepsia (indigestion with no known cause) and garden variety indigestion.
Other sources cite it for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and leaky gut. Aloe has shown some success in the treatment of peptic ulcers because it relieves symptoms and helps control the overgrowth of bad bacteria such as H. pylori, the bacteria implicated in this condition.
At the far end of the line, aloe has been suggested as a stool softener for hemorrhoids and anal fissures by physicians of Germany’s Commission E (Germany’s FDA) and by Ayurvedic practitioners. (Drink a half-cup 3x/d until the condition has cleared.)
Constipation is a condition often associated with hemorrhoids. In this case, take 4 ounces of aloe with 4 ounces of apple juice first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
4 All sugars carry the suffix -ose: sucrose, glucose, fructose.
6 National Nutritional Food Association 67th Meeting, 2004.
Aloe Vera: Heart Health Plus
In a recent presentation for the NNFA,6 Ken Jones, PhD, director of research and development for a major aloe corporation, described a study involving 5000 patients with heart disease.
Of these, 3000 had diabetes. Participants drank 100 milliliters (about 1/3 cup) of aloe with lunch and dinner, and ate a special high fiber bread.
Treatment brought significant results within the first few months. Total serum cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats) were normalized, and HDL (“good” cholesterol) was increased. Angina attacks were reduced. No heart attacks occurred during the five-year study.
Nearly all patients with diabetes (94%) were able to normalize their blood sugar and discontinue prescription medications used for this reason.
At the conclusion of the study, all patients were using only diet to control their conditions.
Aloe vera: Antioxidants and Detoxification
Dr. Jones (above) was particularly impressed with aloe’s performance as an antioxidant. All plants contain antioxidant biochemicals to protect them from the elements. When we eat them, some of their antioxidant functions translate into our systems. Research has shown that antioxidant supplements can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
Our bodies have their own powerful antioxidants. These include glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase (SOD).
Not only does aloe contribute antioxidants, it stimulates our body to engage its own antioxidant system. This internal system and the antioxidants we ingest from food provide our best protection against internal toxins and exposure to pollutants.
Incidentally, liquid aloe is frequently recommended for personal detoxification programs.
Put Aloe Vera in Your Life
We’ve mentioned that aloe vera can be taken internally as a drink or applied topically. It is also available in cosmetics.
The generally recommended dose for aloe healing is 5 ounces of juice twice daily between meals or with a light meal.
However, some companies “condense” their product by reducing the amount of water. As a result, the products are more expensive but the recommended dose is much smaller. I suggest you do as I did and ask for a recommendation at your local health store.
Reported adverse reactions include GI upset and occasional rash (this is a liver cleansing response). If diarrhea occurs, taper back.
Drug interactions include a possible loss of potassium if aloe is taken with a diuretic and increased hypoglycemic action of drugs prescribed for blood sugar regulation.
Also, aloe can increase the anti-inflammatory effects of hydrocortisone-containing creams or ointments.
Regrettably, there are many products which contain virtually no aloe. Caution applies particularly to cheap capsules or dried aloe leaf.
Now that you know how valuable pure aloe is, take the time to choose a quality supplement. There is no doubt that aloe vera does a body good!
Aloe vera Bibliography
- “Aloe Vera: Natural home remedy treats canker and cold sores”. (22 March 2005). Retrieved May 26, 2006 from www.medicalnewstoday.com.
- “Aloe Vera: New science & applications in functional foods, beverages, cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals”. Transcription from the National Nutritional Foods Association’s 67th annual conference (2004).
- Haas, E.M. (1992). Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA.
- Jacknin, J. (2001). Smart Medicine for Your Skin. Avery, New York.
- Khalsa, S. (1993). Nutrition News, “Aloe Again”.
- Khalsa, S. (2005). Nutrition News, “Healers of the Desert”.
- Luta, G. & McAnalley, B. (2005, July 1). “Aloe Vera: Chemical composition and methods used to determine its presence in commercial products”. Glycoscience & Nutrition, Vol. 6, No.4. Retrieved May 3, 2006 from www.glycoscience.org.
- “Plant Remedies: Aloe Vera”. Retrieved May 4, 2006 from http://www.internethealthlibrary.com/Plant-Remedies/AloeVera.htm.
- Puotinen, C.J. (1997). Herbs for Detoxification. Keats, New Canaan, CT.
- “What is Aloe Vera? The Bitter Truth”. Retrieved May 4, 2006 from www.altcancer.com/docs/aloe_what.doc.