If any herb claims to be America's number one folk remedy, it is aloe. Aloe is a succulent perennial of the lily family native to Africa and commercially grown in southern Texas and Mexico. The leaf contains a gooey gel; the outer leaf tissue produces a bitter yellow juice, known as drug aloe, once a widely used laxative. Aloe gel should not be confused with drug aloe.
Aloe gel has been used to treat inflammation for more than 2,500 years. The fresh gel is widely used as a folk medicine for minor burns and sunburn, as well as minor cuts and scrapes. Aloe gel is also used in beverages commonly sold as "aloe juice". Aloe gel, mixed with water, citric acid, fruit juices, and preservatives is also marketed as "aloe juice", touted as a digestive aid or folk remedy for arthritis, stomach ulcers, diabetes, and other conditions.
Modern clinical use of aloe gel began in the 1930s, but favorable case histories did not provide conclusive evidence of its effectiveness. Recent studies have documented that aloe gel promotes wound healing and is of therapeutic value in thermal injuries and a variety of soft-tissue injuries. In animal studies, it prevented progressive skin damage that usually follows burns, frostbite, and electrical injuries. Aloe gel penetrates injured tissue, relieves pain and inflammation, and dilates capillaries, increasing blood supply to the injury. Ultimately, aloe gel increases both tensile strength at the wound site and healing activity in the space between cells, thus helping to promote recovery.
Several animal studies failed to demonstrate aloe's anti-ulcer or antidiabetic potential, thus refuting some of its traditional uses. Studies of purified compounds from a Japanese species, A. arborescens (Kidachi aloe), however, did show an antidiabetic effect, as well as inhibition of stomach secretions and lesions. More research is needed.
Aloe gel can be obtained from the living plant. It is an ingredient in many sunscreens, skin creams, lotions, and other cosmetics. Some products boast of aloe content but contain too little to do any good. Aloe juice comes in various concentrations; highly concentrated products degrade readily. Read the product label for information on addition of carriers such as gums, sugars, or starches.
The topical use of aloe gel or aloe gel products does not usually produce adverse reactions or side effects. However, there are reports of skin burning following dermal abrasion for removal of acne scars. Rare instances of contact dermatitis (rash) have also been reported. Taking more than the recommended dose of aloe juice may produce a laxative effect. You can get too much of a good thing.
Cuts and abrasions
Promotes wound health