By Jamie Legaspi; First Year Project Manager
Aloe, a common plant used in gels and creams, its use has been around for thousands of years, dating back to the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Mediterranean peoples. It is typically found in eastern and southern Africa, along with Europe and certain parts of India. The Egyptians considered aloe vera “the plant of immortality” and even gave the plant as an offering to their pharaohs and queens. Even to this day, Egyptians still hang aloe above their household doors for good luck in the upcoming year. Over the course of history, aloe has been used for things such as embalming, mouth sores and infections.
Ointments are made from the clear gel that the plant produces in its leaves. Oral preparations are made by drying the gel to make a substance called latex. The processing of these preparations must be done carefully to ensure that the active ingredients are not lost. For instance, the sugars found in aloe have been shown to be partially responsible for its therapeutic effect, so a main goal of processing is to retain as many of these sugars as possible. A seal of certification is provided by the International Aloe Science Council as approval that the product has gone through the correct and necessary processing procedures.
To this day, aloe is still used for the previously mentioned purposes along with diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, and osteoarthritis, although it has not been proven to be safe and effective for these uses. It can also be used topically for skin conditions such as sunburns and psoriasis. Acemannan, a type of complex sugar found in the gel, is reportedly related to the antiviral, wound healing, and immune-stimulating properties of aloe. Compared to aloe latex, the gel does not appear to have any laxative activity. The laxative activity of the latex is due to the presence of anthraquinones, which promote the release of water and electrolytes into the gut. Though commonly used as a laxative, further research is needed on its efficacy and safety. It is also quite common for people to use the aloe plant or gel to treat sunburns. However, little evidence suggests that aloe is effective for this use, and thus further research is necessary as well.
There are few significant side effects associated with the use of topical aloe vera, although allergic reactions may be a possibility. However, adverse effects such as abdominal cramps and diarrhea have been reported with its oral use. There have also been a few cases of acute hepatitis when taken orally, but the evidence is not substantial. Aloe vera should be used cautiously, if it must be used at all, in diabetic patients taking glucose-lowering medications, as aloe may lower blood glucose levels.
From juices to facial creams to mouthwashes and more, it seems as though people are finding new uses for aloe every day. Until more research is done on its safety and efficacy, only then can we truly regard it as the “plant of immortality.”