14 Health Benefits Of Aloe Vera (Ghrita Kumari) You Should Know
Benefits Of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera has been used since time immemorial to treat skin infections and boost immunity. It is also known to lower cholesterol, speed up the healing process of wounds, and reduce stress. It might even boost memory, treat neurodegenerative disorders, and lower blood sugar levels. However, studies have found that prolonged use could lead to diarrhea, dehydration, kidney diseases, or liver failure.
Aloe vera, kumari, or ghrita kumari, has multiple uses in ayurveda and is known to balance all three doshas. It is especially effective in treating diseases originating from vata imbalance.
The Egyptians called aloe vera “the plant of immortality,” the Native Americans called it “the wand of heaven,” and Indians called it “kumari,” in reference to the youthful beauty of a young girl. It’s no wonder then that most of us equate this succulent plant to beauty and good health. True to this, aloe vera is favored by both skin care professionals and doctors alike. Aloe vera juice too is catching on in popularity. It is a storehouse of vitamins like A, C, E, B1, B2, B3 (niacin), B6, and folate – however, contrary to popular belief, aloe vera itself does not contain vitamin B12; it enhances the absorption of B12 supplements. It also contains minerals like calcium, magnesium, zinc, chromium, selenium, sodium, iron, potassium, copper, and manganese. Not just that, aloe vera contains 20 of the 22 required amino acids and 7 of the 8 essential ones. Here’s a ready reckoner of the health benefits of aloe vera.
1. Relieves Constipation
When you cut an aloe leaf and keep it upright, you may notice a yellow latex draining out. This contains a chemical called aloin, a type of anthraquinone which gives aloe its laxative properties. However, it can cause severe diarrhea in some people.
The most commonly noted health benefit of aloe vera is relieving constipation. Usually the yellow latex from the leaf is had to tackle constipation. It contains an organic compound called anthraquinone, which has potent laxative properties and can stimulate bowel movements. In ayurveda, kumarisaar, a formulation using the dried yellow latex, is used to treat constipation and other digestive disorders.
2. May Treat Gastrointestinal Disorders
Ayurvedic texts refer to aloe vera as “pleehahara” and “yakrut vruddhihara,” referring to its benefit in treating spleen (pleeha) and liver (yakrut) enlargements and even hepatitis. Kumaryasava, an ayurvedic formulation using fermented aloe vera juice, is used to treat these conditions.
While research on these areas is lacking, aloe vera does seem to have other digestive benefits. It might reduce bloating and heartburn and aid digestion by increasing the number of healthy bacteria in the gut.1 2 There’s also some evidence that aloe vera might help with ulcerative colitis. One small clinical study looked into the effects of oral consumption of 100 ml of aloe vera gel on 44 people with ulcerative colitis. After 4 weeks, it was found that there was a moderate benefit on the symptoms of the condition such as bloating and inability to empty bowels.
That said, while aloe vera might help in the initial stages of ulcerative colitis when constipation is the dominant symptom, it might have an adverse effect in the later stages when diarrhea becomes dominant.3 So it is imperative that you consult a professional and stick to the recommended dosage.
3. Lowers Cholesterol Levels
Blend some aloe gel with a citrus fruit juice or even a smoothie with green leafs. All of these are known to balance the cholesterol levels.
If your cholesterol levels are high, you may incorporate aloe vera juice into your diet. Studies have shown that a compound called beta-sitosterol present in aloe vera can increase the HDL “good” cholesterol levels in your body which, in turn, lowers the LDL “bad” cholesterol. By bringing your cholesterol levels under control, aloe vera can also reduce your risk of related conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.4 5
4. Boosts Immunity
If you have a weak immunity, it might do you good to include aloe vera in your diet. Aloe vera has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, which makes it effective in preventing infections. Studies have found that it could enhance white blood cell activity and promote the production of certain proteins that help fight viral infection.6 7 Aloe vera also contains complex carbohydrates, which have shown an immunomodulatory effect.8
5. May Manage Type 2 Diabetes
Before taking aloe vera, consult a professional if you take medications to reduce blood glucose. Also stop taking aloe vera 2 weeks before a surgery.
When it comes to managing high blood glucose levels, aloe vera might come in handy. But the evidence on its direct effect on blood glucose levels seems to be mixed. Certain studies have noted a blood glucose reduction in women with type 2 diabetes who consumed aloe vera pulp, while other studies did not. The exact mechanism isn’t clear either. One line of reasoning is that aloe vera lowers cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the blood and improves glucose metabolism. Besides, it also lowers the levels of bad cholesterol, a comorbid factor in diabetes.9 10
6. Reduces Stress
If you’ve been feeling stressed of late, consider using aloe vera. Ayurveda considers aloe vera to be a rasayana or an adaptogen, a substance that supports the body’s ability to deal with stress, whether that stress is from anxiety, fatigue, trauma, or even infection. And a study has found that beta-glucans (sugars that are found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, algae, lichens, and plants) in aloe vera lower levels of cortisol in your body.11
7. May Improve Memory, Reduce Depression, And Fight Neurodegenerative Diseases
Certain studies have hinted at the possibility of aloe vera improving brain function, apart from relieving stress. In one such study, it was observed that aloe vera extract slightly altered the function of neurotransmitters. This, in turn, was found to improve memory and reduce depression.12 13 Another study found that taking a supplement containing aloe vera significantly improved the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in both men and women.14
8. Fights Skin Conditions, Makes Skin Healthy And Youthful
When you scoop out aloe gel, scoop it from the middle of the leaf, taking care to not scrape the green part too closely.
Of all the uses of aloe vera, skin care tops the list. Here are a few skin-related factors that aloe vera can benefit:
- Skin diseases: Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties which make it effective against acne and skin conditions like hives, eczema, and psoriasis. These properties have also made the topical application of aloe juice and gel effective against lichen planus, a skin disorder which leads to purple, itchy, flat-topped bumps on the skin as well as white patches and sores in the mouth.15
- Aging: Aloe improves skin elasticity, promotes skin cell regeneration by boosting collagen production, and protects the skin from harmful UV rays, in turn preventing wrinkles and dark spots.
- Dryness: Aloe vera also moisturizes the skin and is loaded with skin-friendly vitamin C, keeping it healthy and supple.16 17
- Dandruff: One study that compared several different formulations of anti-dandruff products found that the one with aloe vera were the most effective.18 19
9. Treats Skin Injuries And Wounds
When you apply aloe vera gel to a wound, don’t cover it with a bandage. To facilitate healing, aloe vera requires open air. However, avoid using aloe vera to treat deep wounds.
By increasing the collagen production and stimulating cell regeneration, aloe vera can help treat wounds, rashes, and cuts. It does this by binding the skin tissues and working as an astringent. Here are a few types of wounds and injuries that it might heal:
- Burns: First and second-degree burns, including frost bite injuries, can benefit from topical application of aloe vera. Studies have found that aloe vera gel can heal burns within 12 days.20 21 Aloe might also soothe a sun burn but there isn’t enough research to fully validate this.22 23
- Insect bites: Research indicates that glucomannans or pectic acid in aloe vera gel can soothe itchy insect bites and reduce inflammation.24 25 Aloe vera gel can also treat scabies, a skin condition caused due to burrowing mites, as effectively as conventional options (benzyl benzoate).26
- Diaper rashes: Aloe vera’s anti-inflammatory, soothing properties make it ideal for rashes, including diaper rashes. A topical cream containing aloe as well as aloe vera gel could speed up the healing process of diaper rashes.27 28 29
10. Improves Healing Of Genital Herpes
Certain studies have found that, owing to the antiviral properties of aloe, applying a topical cream with 0.5% of aloe extract increases healing in men with genital herpes.30
11. May Aid Weight Loss
If you’re trying to shed those excess pounds, aloe vera gel powder might come in handy. A study found that rats on a high-fat diet experienced a reduction in their body fat accumulation after being given 20 mg of aloe vera gel powder per kg of body weight for 90 days. The researchers stated that this could be because aloe increases energy expenditure in the body.31 Understandably, several weight loss pills have aloe vera extract in them. That said, further research is required to confirm this benefit.32
12. Fights Dental Disorders
Aloe vera could save you a trip to the dentist or speed up your recovery if you’ve got a dental condition. In fact studies have found that using aloe vera tooth gel can prevent cavity-causing bacteria better than most other toothpastes, thanks to antibacterial and anti-inflammatory anthraquinones. Besides, aloe gel doesn’t contain abrasives like most toothpastes and is less harsh on teeth.33 Here are a few other conditions that research has looked into:
- Oral submucous fibrosis: This is a condition that causes lesions, ulcers, and scars in the mucus membrane of the oral cavity (mouth). Topical application of aloe vera juice and gel for 3 months could counter symptoms including burning sensation, problems with mouth opening, lowered cheek flexibility, and tongue protrusion.34
- Oral lichen planus: This auto-immune condition leads to white, lacy patches as well as red, swollen tissues, and open sores. Topical application of aloe gel for 8 weeks could heal the symptoms of oral lichen planus without any serious side effects.35
- Canker sores: Topical application of a gel containing 2% of aloe extract lowers the pain caused by canker sores and speeds up healing.36
- Gingivitis: This condition refers to the inflammation of gums, often caused due to the buildup of bacteria through plaque. It can lead to swollen, puffy, receding gums that might feel tender or bleed easily. Studies have found that scaling and using a mouthwash with aloe vera lowered inflammation and other symptoms associated with the condition.37
- Perodontis: This is another gum infection that is caused due to poor oral hygiene. Applying aloe vera gel to the peridontal pockets (gaps that form when the disease forms pockets around the teeth by destroying tissue and bone) can speed up healing.38
- Dry socket: Also known as alveolar osteitis, this painful condition occurs after a tooth is removed. One study has found that a freeze-dried soft patch-like product containing aloe gel could prevent the occurrence of dry socket if used immediately after the extraction of a tooth. However, further studies are required to fully understand this benefit.39
13. May Fight Epilepsy
One study has found that an extract of aloe vera leaf powder can lower the incidence of seizures, when given at a dose of 400 mg per kg of body weight. It was also found to fight free radicals, which play a role in the initiation and progression of epilepsy.40
14. May Aid In The Treatment Of Multiple Sclerosis
An autoimmune disease of the central nervous system, multiple sclerosis could cause vision loss, pain, fatigue and impaired coordination. Some studies with experimental models of multiple sclerosis show that 120 mg/kg aloe vera powder per day slowed down the progression of the disease by countering oxidative stress. That said, the studies are preliminary and need further research before aloe vera can be considered for the treatment of this hitherto incurable disease.41 42
Side Effects Of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is helpful but in moderation. Much of its side effects come from a class of organic compounds called anthraquinones, most concentrated near the green part of the leaf and in the yellow latex beneath the leaf. Aloe latex contains aloin, a form of anthraquinone, that is known for its potent laxative effects. And while it helps ease constipation, aloin can cause severe diarrhea as well as trigger allergic reactions. Here’s a look at the side effects of aloe vera:
Even when it’s taken at low doses, aloe vera might prove to be harmful if you’ve got a sensitive stomach. It can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In addition to this, it might trigger abdominal cramps and worsen the symptoms of hemorrhoids. This is especially true with prolonged use of aloe latex or supplements that contain it. Children under the age of 12 may especially experience gastrointestinal upset if aloe is ingested orally.43 This is why, in 2002, the USFDA ruled that all over-the-counter aloe latex be removed from the market or at least reformulated without aloe latex. Today, the aloe products available in the US are not regulated by the FDA, and they do not contain information about the aloin content.44 45
As the laxative properties of aloe vera can lead to severe diarrhea, you may develop severe dehydration as a side effect and develop an electrolyte imbalance.46 Keeping this in mind, aloe vera should be used cautiously in people who already are on diuretics, since they increase the excretion of potassium from the body.47 48
4. Allergic Reactions
As with most herbal remedies, it’s important to check for any allergies before using aloe vera gel. The green outer layer of the leaf as well as the yellow latex are not good for the skin. So if the gel has been scooped out from near the green layer, there are chances of skin irritation. You might even be allergic to aloe itself. Do a patch test, and if your skin doesn’t tolerate aloe well, skip drinking the juice too.49
5. Muscle Weakness
Supplementation with aloe vera has been shown to weaken muscles, especially in diabetics. Although the exact mechanism behind this is uncertain, it is generally accompanied by abdominal cramps. In addition to this, the studies that looked into this side effect only looked at short-term (6–12 weeks) supplementation. Further studies are required to fully understand the long-term benefits and side effects.50
6. Risk Of Cancer
One study conducted on rats found that when non-decolorized whole-leaf extracts of aloe vera were added to water, they caused cancer in female rats. However, decolorized aloe extract did not. Decolorizing refers to the process of removing the anthraquinones from aloe vera.51 52 This points to the fact that aloin and other anthraquinones are the main carcinogenic compounds in aloe vera.
Besides this, most popular brands of aloe vera juice contain sodium benzoate as a preservative, which is added to inhibit microbial growth. However, when combined with citric acid (ascorbic acid), sodium benzoate forms benzene, a known carcinogen. At the moment, there is an ongoing debate about the effect of benzene in humans. That said, it is worth keeping in mind before consuming aloe vera juice.53
How To Use Aloe Vera
Aloe vera has been used traditionally to treat amenorrhea, or the absence of period, and pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to avoid consuming aloe vera in both gel or latex form. Research has linked them to possible development risks to the fetus.54
Although aloe vera has been used traditionally to treat various diseases, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional before using it. This is especially true if you’re planning on consuming aloe juice or supplements.
Commercial aloe vera juice is made from the whole leaf and not just the gel and hence has a risk of a high aloin content. A decolorizing procedure is usually followed where the anthraquinones are removed so that the aloin content falls below 10 ppm. But right now, there’s no rule for manufacturers to label the aloin content. So you may not even know how much you are consuming.
Aloin may be present in cosmetic products as well and may irritate your skin if it’s present in large amounts. The FDA rules that for cosmetic purposes, an aloin content up to 50 ppm is safe.55
Rather than relying on an OTC aloe product to ease your constipation or an aloe juice for other health benefits, make your aloe juice at home. However, exercise extreme caution in isolating the gel from the latex, and always consult your doctor first.
- Cut out an aloe leaf from the plant and set it upright in a bowl to let the toxic aloe latex (an yellow-colored chemical called aloin) drain out completely.
- Scoop out the gel from the middle of the leaf, taking care not to scrape too close to the green outer layer. This can be used both topically and orally.
Aloe Vera Juice: Blend the gel and mix it with water or another fruit juice. Aloe juice is bitter, so you may not like having the concentrated juice. The standard ayurvedic dosage of the juice is 10–20 ml a day.56
Ayurvedic Formula For Constipation: Blend 10 g of the gel with 2 g rock salt, and then boil it to evaporate the water. Have this in a dose of 3–6 g once a day.57
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3. Liver Or Kidney Disorders
Research indicates that ingesting aloe vera could lead to liver or kidney injury and inflammation. It was also found to worsen paracetamol-induced liver injury in rats. Thankfully, the condition was reversed once aloe vera was discontinued. While there are fewer studies that look into kidney failure in association with aloe vera gel, there is enough research to state that aloe latex consumption can cause renal failure.[ref]Parlati, Lucia, Cosmin Sebastian Voican, Katy Perlemuter, and Gabriel Perlemuter. “Aloe vera-induced acute liver injury: A case report and literature review.” Clinics and research in hepatology and gastroenterology 41, no. 4 (2017): e39-e42.
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Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.