Friday, 6 May 2016

Seven Health Benefits of Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a succulent plant belonging to the lily family and very easy to grow in subtropical Australia. In my experience, you can just stick it into the ground, and water it if the weather has been very dry and you want to keep the "leaves" green. But what can it be used for, besides a remedy for sunburn?

One benefit of aloe vera gel is that it may be a safe, affordable treatment for wrinkles, which I have covered in a previous post. In a study involving 30 women over 45, the participants were divided into two groups: those taking 1.2 grams of aloe gel daily and those taking 3.6 grams. After 90 days, both groups saw improved facial elasticity, and the higher dose group saw improved facial wrinkles. It was found that aloe is able to both increase collagen production and reduce the activity of genes that cause collagen damage.
Psoriasis may be another skin complaint that aloe vera can treat. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 60 patients, 25 of the 30 patients given the aloe vera extract cream were deemed “cured”. Only 2 of the 30 patients in the placebo group were “cured” after the 16 weeks of treatment, where the prescribed cream was meant to be applied for 3 times a day, 5 days a week.
Aloe barbadensis plants
Aloe barbadensis. Source: Thamizhpparithi Maari
On top of these benefits for skin health, aloe vera may also protect against skin cancer. A lab study on skin cells found that aloe-emodin, a phytochemical in aloe, significantly prevented growth of skin cells that were likely to become tumours. It was also able to help repair normal cells. Additionally, a study on women with pre-cancerous cervical lesions found that a cream containing aloe vera, along with amla, curcumin and reetha, was able to increase the chances of clearing the infection. A total of 287 women were in the trial, and were split into four groups to receive either the aforementioned cream, a placebo cream, curcumin pessary capsules and placebo pessary capsules. After 30 days, 87.7% of women using the cream cleared the HPV infections responsible for the pre-cancerous lesions, compared to 73.3% of the placebo group. 81.3% of those taking curcumin cleared their infections, but this was not seen as clinically significant.

Aloe vera may also be an effective treatment for oral lichen planus. This is a chronic inflammatory condition characterised by white patches; red, swollen tissue or open sores. In a Thai study of 54 patients, 81% of patients in the aloe group had a “good response”, compared to 4% of the placebo group. A third of the aloe group achieved complete resolution of burning pain, and 7% had complete clinical remission. I remember seeing this in the student clinic once, and had hardly any idea of how to treat it. I will remember this for next time.
In addition, aloe vera gel, taken orally, may improve inflammatory bowel disease symptoms. In a study of 44 patients with active ulcerative colitis, patients received either 100mL of aloe gel or placebo twice daily. 30% of the treated group experienced remission, and 47% experienced a response; this is in comparison to 7% and 14% in the placebo group respectively.

Aloe vera could also help to lower blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. In a small study of 5 patients with non insulin-dependent diabetes, administration of half a teaspoon of dried aloe sap for 4-14 weeks resulted in an average reduction of fasting blood sugar of 122 points. No change in body weight was reported, meaning that this was independent of weight loss.

Finally, aloe vera gel has been found to improve wound healing among women who recently had caesarean births. After 24 hours, all 45 women who received a dressing with aloe vera gel had a score of zero on a scale measuring redness and discharge, while 35 of the 45 women in the placebo group had a score of zero. Overall, the aloe vera plant has a wide range of therapeutic applications; it is not only a remedy for sunburn, but a “serious” medicinal plant that may be in the ranks of turmeric and ginkgo. As an antiaging phytomedicine, I give it a thumbs up and promotion from "just a sunburn remedy".

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