Aloe vera: Uses, benefits and risks

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Aloe vera: Uses, benefits and risks

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What is Aloe Vera?

The popularity of aloe vera has skyrocketed recently, mostly due to its health benefits, its use in natural cosmetics and beauty products.

Aloe vera uses are appreciated in the health and beauty industry that are worth billions of dollars.

Aloe vera is used in beauty, personal care, and cosmetic products that include moisturizers, hand creams, shaving creams, soaps, shower gels, and sunburn gels.

Aloe vera is also available as a supplement for various purposes. Even aloe vera juice is available in the market for consumption.

Aloe vera belongs to a group of plants called Aloe which has approximately 420 individual species identified so far (1).

The most used plant species around the world is called Aloe barbadensis Miller that probably originated in Sudan, Africa which was later introduced to other parts of the world. 

Throughout history, Aloe vera has been used for its healing properties in different civilizations such as Egyptian, Assyrian, and the Mediterranean (2).

In old Egypt, it was known as the plant of immortality and in Chinese tradition, it was described as an elixir of youth (3).

Now it has become one of the more famous medicinal plants in the western world. 

Aloe Vera plant

aloe vera uses
aloe vera leaves

Aloe vera is a succulent xerophyte plant i.e. aloe vera plant is adapted to survive in minimum water conditions. For this reason, the majority of the aloe vera structure is designed to hold as much water as possible. 

The Aloe vera leaves are thick, broad, elongated, and are spiny at the edges.

The aloe vera is 99% water. The rest of the 1% is reported to have over 75 different bioactive compounds (4).

These include:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals 
  • Enzymes
  • Simple/complex polysaccharides, 
  • Phenolic compounds
  • Organic acids

What are the bioactive compounds in Aloe vera?

Aloe vera contains a number of minerals, vitamins, and other compounds. 

Vitamins: Aloe vera contains vitamin A, C, E, B12, folic acid, and choline.

Enzymes:  The aloe vera enzymes include Aliiase, Alkaline phosphatase, Amylase, Bradykinase, Barboxypeptidase, Catalase, Cellulase, Lipase, and Peroxidase. 

Minerals: Calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, and zinc. 

Sugars: The prominent sugars in Aloe vera are glucomannans and  mannose-6-phosphate. 

Polyphenols: Anthraquinones are the majority of polyphenols. So far 12 anthraquinones have been identified.

Fatty acids: There are four prominent fatty acids. These are cholesterol, campesterol, β-sisosterol, and lupeol. 

Hormones: the hormones found in aloe vera are Auxins and gibberellins.

In addition, Aloe vera contains amino acids, Salicylic acid, Lignin, and Saponins (5).

Why is aloe vera used in beauty products?

The use of aloe vera has increased tremendously in beauty and cosmetic products. This could be due to the following benefits. 

Moisturizing effect and skincare

Aloe vera has this amazing property to keep surfaces moist for extended periods.

The study of freeze-dried aloe vera shows improved hydration on human skin by humectant mechanism.

For this reason, the use of Aloe vera has been promoted in cosmetics to retain skin moisture for long-term skin health (6).

Moreover, the use of aloe vera is also associated with improved skin integrity and decreased appearance of wrinkles (7).

This could due to aloe vera sterols that enhance collagen production in fibroblast cells (8).

aloe vera gel
aloe vera gel

Keeping skin healthy and young

The role of vitamin E in wound healing has been studied for a long time. There is significant evidence to prove this claim (9).

This makes aloe vera an attractive candidate for use in skincare products because Aloe vera contains vitamin E. 

The antioxidant properties of vitamin E are needed to fight off the free radicals that change collage production. Collagen is required to keep your skin young and healthy (10).

No wonder many anti-aging creams use vitamin E. 

A Japanese study showed that a mixture of  2% phytonadione, 0.1% retinol, and 0.1% vitamins C and E helped in dark eye circle reduction and wrinkles around the eyes (11).

It must be noted that vitamin E use in scar reduction is controversial and may not help in this regard (12).

One study found that a mixture of propolis, tea tree oil, and Aloe vera was effective in reducing erythema scars, acne severity index, and total lesion count compared to erythromycin cream (13).

Antiseptic function

Aloe vera has antibacterial and antifungal properties (14). Aloe vera gel kills bacteria at higher concentrations and can be good for oral health (15).

Others have found that aloe vera mouthwash is effective in reducing dental plaques (16).

In addition, a comparative study demonstrated that the use of aloe vera mouthwash was as effective as chlorhexidine in preventing gingivitis

What are the Potential Health Benefits of Aloe Vera?

Aloe vera has wound Healing ability 

The natural chemicals in aloe promote wound healing.

The activity of glucomannan and gibberellin has the potential to initiate the synthesis of collagen, thus can promote wound healing (17).

Wound healing may also be initiated by increasing cell proliferation (18). 

Aloe vera may help in lipid reduction

Aloe vera can improve your lipid profile. It is shown that Aloe vera has antihyperlipidemic effects (19). Animal studies showed potential benefits in lowering triglycerides and LDL levels (20).

Aloe vera also reduces fatty streak development and has the potential benefits of reducing the risk of atherosclerosis (21). 

Aloe vera contains Antioxidants

Interestingly, the aloe vera plant contains several important antioxidants. Vitamin E, carotenoids, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), flavonoids, and tannins are examples of antioxidants present in Aloe vera (22).

Aloe gel shows a strong antioxidant activity (23).

The leaf skins and flowers of aloe vera contained antioxidants such as catechin, sinapic acid, quercitrin, gentisic acid, epicatechin, and quercitrin (24).

The leaf skins and flowers showed a strong antioxidant activity and thus it can be considered for therapeutics.

Aloe vera also has Anti-inflammatory function

Aloe vera gel also has anti-inflammatory activity. The application of aloe vera in experiments has been shown to increase phagocytosis and increase the activity of the reticuloendothelial system (25).

Aloe vera also inhibits the cyclooxygenase pathway and reduces prostaglandin E2 which has a role in inflammation (26).

Aloe vera alleviate the digestive problem

The anti-inflammatory agents in aloe vera can also have therapeutic value to alleviate inflammatory bowel disease symptoms and Irritable bowel syndrome (27,28).

Aloe vera acts as a laxative because it increases the water content in the stomach and mucus secretion (29). 

Because of this property aloe vera is also shown to be effective in the treatment of constipation (30,31).

Aloe vera has Anti-diabetic properties

Aloe vera has anti-diabetic properties. Studies show a reduction in insulin resistance and weight loss in prediabetic patients (32).

Moreover, animal studies are very promising. Dietary Aloe formula was effective in reducing obesity-induced inflammatory response which also affects insulin resistance (33).

Others have found that aloe vera reduces cardiotoxicity in diabetes rats (34). Overall, these studies show aloe vera has the potential in reducing the effects of diabetes. 

What are the side effects of Aloe vera?

Aloe vera is generally a safe plant. However, some side effects could arise after using aloe vera. Most side effects are associated with the oral ingestion of aloe vera and its products.

People planning to have surgery should avoid aloe vera use. Because the aloe vera interacts with Sevoflurane, a common anesthetic. The aloe vera reaction with the drug could lead to blood loss (35).

Liver toxicity is one of the most reported side effects of aloe vera use. The use of aloe vera is associated with acute hepatitis and liver damage (36,37,38).

For this reason, the use of herbal aloe vera oral ingestion should be done with caution and after consultation with a physician. 

The Gist

Aloe vera has become a popular herb in the western world. Due to extensive use in health, beauty, and cosmetic products, it drives the industry that it is worth billions of dollars. 

Aloe vera contains many minerals, vitamins, amino acids that are studied for their health benefits. 

The uses include aloe vera use in skincare, oral health, and keeping skin fresh. Aloe vera is also helpful in reducing digestive conditions, diabetes symptoms, and inflammation.