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Aloe Vera

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Aloe Vera - Background And History

The aloe vera plant is among the most well-known of medicinal plants due to its strong and constant presence in the world of alternative medicine. This uncanny-looking plant is among the most ancient of medicines, having been employed for such purposes since ancient times. Commonly assumed to be a native of the Indian continent, aloe vera and all its other variant species thrive in a number of countries and in a wide diversity of environments, although it can be found in profuse numbers in arid or semi-desert areas. The earliest mention of aloe vera stems from the time of the Ancient Egyptians, who employed the plant as a soothing medicine and cooling foodstuff. For such a weird-looking plant, it was a common sight (or rather, of common renown) in Mediaeval pharmacopoeias. Even the Bible has its fare share of mentioning aloes (quite distinct from another plant called aloe [Aquilaria malaccensis], although what exact species of aloe that may be remains open to debate.



Aloe vera is typically characterized by its unique appearance which features tall, blade-like growths that radiate outward and grow from a central axis so that it forms a ‘crown-like’ shape. The aloe vera (depending on the specie) may or might not boast discernable serrations or sometimes well-spaced spikes along its edge. All aloe veras are notable for their glossy skin and vibrant jade-green to emerald-green colouration. It is also notable for its seemingly miraculous regenerative capacity, as it is able to grow back leaves that are cut or damaged after several weeks to a month.

Some species of aloe may sport different colourations ranging from purple, orange-red, and even pink, although not all species of aloe are safe for medicinal use. While it is commonly thought that all plants that look like aloe vera or that contain a watery gel within its ‘leaves’ can be used medicinally, some species of aloe can actually cause contact dermatitis, minor allergies, and rashes if applied topically. Furthermore, not all species of aloe are safe for oral consumption, hence care and caution should be taken when wild-crafting the plant for medicinal use. [1]



Common / Popular Uses

Aloe vera has now become quite a popular ornamental plant, and is typically grown for this purpose in large potted plants. Because of its hardy nature, it thrives in a variety of environments, although it prefers loamy soil that is slightly moist. It is typically planted in ‘desert themed’ gardens alongside cacti and prickly pears. Among the most popular uses of aloe vera to date is in the employment of its internal ‘gel’ or flesh for the treatment of minor cuts, abrasions and burns (hence the name ‘burn plant’) – a practice which has persisted since ancient times. The earliest mention of its medicinal use (especially its topical uses) dates from the time of the Ancient Egyptians. The Greeks and the Romans likewise employed aloe vera to treat burns, wounds, inflamed skin, and any number of topical ailments. The use of aloe vera for its soothing properties have also been noted in Ayurvedic texts, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and even in Biblical lore, making it among the most employed of ancient medicinal plants.

Nowadays, the employment of its watery gel for its curative, cooling, and soothing properties continues to be employed. In most cases, the leaves are simply cut and the open ‘weeping’ part of the plant is rubbed unto the affected area. For the treatment of larger areas, several leaves may be cut and pounded to extract its juice, which may then be applied directly or through the medium of soaking linen strips in the expected juice. Nowadays, the juice of the aloe vera may be extracted manually through traditional means, typically involving pounding the aloe leaves and extracting the juices which are then allowed to coagulate via various means (sometimes incorporating agents such a gum Arabic) but oftentimes simply allowing it to set naturally. [2] Likewise, the aloe vera may be processed to create aloe vera juice, which is often consumed as a food supplement.

The whole pounded leaves of the aloe vera plant may be employed as a means to fight the progress of baldness and to treat a number of scalp-related problems, namely psoriasis and dandruff via a direct application and careful, yet measured rubbing of the soothing gel unto the scalp. Whole aloes pounded into a pulp have even been employed as a treatment for edema and bruising. A mixture of pounded aloe leaves and wine, grain spirits, or vinegar is also thought to be a remedy to help counter alopecia. [3] In various Mesoamerican, Asian, and Polynesian cultures, aloe vera gel is typically mixed with local organic surfactants for the treatment of lice and the beautification and sanitation of skin and hair. Mixing gel of aloes with coconut milk or whole goat’s milk has been employed as a remedy for bladder and liver disorders in both the Philippine archipelago and the Malaysian continent since time immemorial, while a similar concoction is employed as a remedy for piles in India.

The expressed gel may be stored in a small glass or plastic container inside a refrigerator, to be employed as needed. Because of its soothing and cooling properties, as well as it anti-inflammatory benefits, it is used for more than the treatment of wounds and burns, and is typically employed for the treatment of a wide array of skin diseases. Aloe vera gel has also been employed as a main ingredient in many organic salves, balms, shampoos, and hand-sanitizers, as it is a perfect base or medium for imbuing other essences.

When consumed orally, aloe vera is either made into a drink or allowed to coagulate into a jellied mass, which is then left as is, or shaped into tiny cubes. If left in its liquid state and not allowed to gel-up, one is left with aloe vera juice – an edible and cooling beverage that can be drunk for its diuretic, detoxifying, purgative and adaptogenic properties. [3] It is typically sold as a health drink, or is otherwise incorporated into all-natural soothing beverages. It is even attributed anti-diabetic properties, although its efficacy as a medicinal supplement for the treatment of diabetes is still insubstantial. Because of its soothing and cooling properties, aloe vera features highly in topical gels, having been integrated into hair gels, shampoos, soap gels, and a myriad of other cosmetics, making it among the most frequently employed of herbal compounds today.

Aloe vera Scientific Studies and Research

A number of pharmacological properties and therapeutic uses have been attributed to Aloe vera, and several studies and clinical trials have sufficiently furnished convincing and promising findings on the efficacy of Aloe vera in treating and/or managing a host of diseases. A systematic review of Aloe vera had revealed that a good amount of evidence from ten clinical trials supports the oral administration of Aloe vera in diabetic patients as an adjunct to lower blood sugar levels and in hyperlipidemic patients to reduce blood lipid levels. [4] Another systematic study had shown the effectiveness of Aloe vera for a variety of dermatologic conditions such as genital herpes, psoriasis, human papilloma virus infection, seborrheic dermatitis, aphthous stomatitis, xerosis, lichen planus, frostbite, burns, and inflammation. The latter systematic review, which involved an extensive literature search on dermatology studies and clinical trials on Aloe vera preparations, had also pointed out the promising use of Aloe vera as a biological vehicle with antimicrobial and antifungal properties and as a candidate for photodynamic therapy of some kinds of cancer. [5]

Cowan (2010) recommends the integration of oral Aloe vera in the treatment of osteoarthritis; Aloe vera acts both as an anti-inflammatory agent and as a prophylactic against the irritant effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) on the gastrointestinal tract, hence its potential in the management of pain associated with osteoarthritis. [6] The anti-inflammatory property of Aloe vera is also what chiefly contributes to its effectiveness for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. In a British double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial exploring the safety and efficacy of Aloe vera gel taken for 4 weeks against mildly to moderately active ulcerative colitis, clinical remission, improvement, and response were observed in 30%, 37%, and 47%, respectively, of the 30 hospital out-patients evaluated, as compared to 7%, 7%, and 14%, respectively, of the placebo group. Furthermore, a reduction in histological disease activity was noted during treatment with Aloe vera (p = 0.03), but not with placebo. [7]

Aloe vera preparations work dermatological wonders not only as an agent that hastens and enhances wound healing but also as an alternative remedy to a few skin conditions. The results from a systematic review summarizing dermatology-oriented in vitro and in vivo experiments and clinical trials on Aloe vera preparations indicated that orally administered Aloe vera (1) can reduce the number and size of papillomas in mice, (2) can lower by over 90% the incidence of tumors and Leishmania parasitemia in the liver, spleen, and bone marrow of mice, and (3) promotes wound healing and relieves inflammation. [5]

As noted previously, Aloe vera has also been shown to be an effective, safe alternative treatment for genital herpes and psoriasis. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study exploring the efficacy of topical 0.5% Aloe vera extract in a hydrophilic cream on psoriasis vulgaris, Aloe vera treatment cured 83.3% of the patients, which is significantly far superior from the 6.6% cure rate of placebo (p < 0.001). Healed patients had a progressive reduction of lesions and desquamation, then with a decrease in redness, infiltration, and Psoriasis Area and Severity Index (PASI) score. Psoriatic plaques were successfully cleared at 82.8%, as compared to 7.7% of placebo, and PASI score decreased to a mean of 2.2. [8]

Molecular Components and Chemistry

Aloe vera contains a cornucopia of potentially active constituents, including vitamins A, C, E, and B12, as well as folic acid and choline; enzymes such as aliiase, alkaline phosphatase, amylase, bradykinase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, cellulase, lipase, and peroxidase; and minerals like calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, and zinc. It also possesses twelve anthraquinones, which are phenolic compounds traditionally known as laxatives, and auxins and gibberellins, which act as compounds that have anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties. [9]

Esoteric / Magickal Uses

While commonly thought of to be a ‘modern’ medicinal wonder, aloe vera has a long history of use in both the medicinal and magickal fields. Its well-known reputation for being a healing plant extends to its use in magick, where its soothing gel is applied as both a cleansing and healing salve for individuals who are riddled with negative energies. Being a plant imbued with the element of water and correspondent to the planetary body of the Moon, it can also be employed as a protective plant. Unlike most magickally employed plants however, the aloe vera plant is more useful (both magickally and medicinally) alive rather than in a preserved state. Folkloric beliefs suggest that planting aloe veras within the hedgerows of a house will protect the residents from disease and evil, while keeping even a small pot of aloes in a room prevents accidents and mishaps from occurring. In Chinese feng shui, aloe vera is believed to promote success in worldly matters, as well as to stave off loneliness and aid in spiritual and physical healing and wholeness. In the shamanic context, planting aloes before the borders or entrance of a house invites harmony, while planting it around or on the graves of the diseased helps to ensure a peaceful transition from the spirit-world to another life, or into Oneness with the Divine. [10]

While the topical use of aloe vera is relatively safe, it is important to note what species of aloe one is employing casually, as some species can and do in fact cause allergic reactions if applied topically. Likewise, people who have known allergies to plants of the Liliaceae family (i. e. onions, garlic) should steer clear of aloe vera as it may result in allergies (albeit the slightly delayed kind that only manifests after prolonged intake). The same precaution is required when partaking of aloes orally, as some species can be mildly harmful, causing, among many things, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting if consumed orally. Aloe vera-proper can be consumed in small to relatively moderate amounts without risk, although prolonged or constant consumption can prove to be detrimental to one’s health. Excess consumption of aloe vera can result in diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. Recent studies have even suggested that excessive and prolonged intake of aloe vera gel may act as a carcinogenic, and so moderation and care in the applications, acquisition, and employment of the herb is necessary.

Names of Aloe Vera, past and present

Chinese: lu hui / hsiang-dan
Sanskrit: chritkumari / kumari
Indian ghee-kunwar / ghi-kuvar / ghrita-kumari
French: aloes du cap / aloes vrai / aloes vulgaire plante de l’immortalite
Spanish penca sabila / sabila / acibar
Filipino: sabila / sabila pinya / dilang-buaya / dilang halo / aloe vera (adopted)
English:: burn plant / aloe vera / miracle plant / plant of immortality
Latin(scientific nomenclature): Aloe barbadensis / Aloe vulgaris

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, scientific studies section by Dan Ablir. © herbs-info.com 2013

References:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aloe_vera

[2] http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5880/5-Awesome-Uses-for-Aloe-Vera.html

[3] http://www.stuartxchange.com/Sabila.html

[4] Vogler B. K. & Ernst E. (1999). Aloe vera: a systematic review of its clinical effectiveness. British Journal of General Practice, 49(447): 823-828. Retrieved 22 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1313538/

[5] Feily A. & Namazi M. R. (2009). Aloe vera in dermatology: a brief review. Giornale Italiano di Dermatologia e Venereologia, 144(1): 85-91. Retrieved 22 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19218914

[6] Cowan D. (2010). Oral Aloe vera as a treatment for osteoarthritis: a summary. British Journal of Community Nursing, 15(6): 280-282. Retrieved 22 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20679979

[7] Langmead L. et al. (2004). Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral aloe vera gel for active ulcerative colitis. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 19(7): 739-747. Retrieved 22 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15043514

[8] Syed T. A. et al. (1996). Management of psoriasis with Aloe vera extract in a hydrophilic cream: a placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Tropical Medicine & International Health, 1(4): 505-509. Retrieved 22 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8765459

[9] Surjushe A., Vasani R., & Saple D. G. (2008). Aloe vera: A short review. Indian Journal of Dermatology, 53(4): 163-166. Retrieved 24 May 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2763764/

[10] http://www.stuartxchange.com/Sabila.html

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