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Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis), a cactus plant from the Liliaceae family, seems to be living up to its title as the “plant of immortality,” which was purportedly bestowed upon it by the ancient Egyptians.
Until now, people depend on the gel and juice of this spiky plant—which is one of more than 500 species of aloe—for a variety of remedies: from wounds to constipation, hemorrhoids, and hair loss.
Aloe vera grows in tropical, dry climates in Asia, Africa, and Europe, as well as in the western and southern United States.
Parts of the Aloe Vera Plant that We Use
Current health care products make use of the gel and latex coming from aloe vera’s thick leaves.
Its gel is the odorless and clear liquid found in the innermost part of the leaf. Meanwhile, the latex is the yellow and bitter liquid or juice that drips from the leaf when it’s cut.
Manufacturers currently package aloe vera in various forms such as a concentrate, powder (ground after the gel is dried), drink, flavoring, and capsules.
Benefits of Using Aloe Vera
For the Skin
Today’s beauty and skincare industry puts a lot of emphasis on hydration and anti-aging solutions.
Hence, succulent plants like aloe vera grab center stage due to the calming effects that its juicy and fleshy leaves provide to the skin. It improves skin elasticity and helps make your skin look and feel younger. The minerals such as manganese, selenium, and zinc in aloe vera also aid in detoxifying the skin.
Aloe vera can soothe painful burns and sunburns, moisturize parched skin, and help clear acne because of the exfoliating effects of the salicylic acid that naturally comes from the plant. It can also reduce skin inflammation like acne, eczema, psoriasis, and even insect bites.
The plant also makes a good and gentle makeup remover and shaving cream.
For the Hair
Aloe vera can serve as an effective hair mask or conditioner that can reduce frizziness, greasiness, or dandruff. It also prevents itching and promotes healthy hair growth due to proteolytic enzymes.
You can combine aloe vera gel with virgin coconut oil to make a smooth paste. Apply the gel starting from the middle section of your hair going toward the tips. Then, work your way back from the middle going up your scalp. You can leave it on for 30 minutes to an hour. Rinse well to wash off any filmy residue. Apply once a week.
For the Mouth and Gums
Aloe vera contains antiseptic agents and antioxidants that can reduce the swelling and bleeding of the gums and treat gingivitis, periodontitis, and other gum diseases. Its gel is used against bacterial infection. It can also be used for plaque reduction, which can help lessen the occurrence of gum inflammation.
Due to aloe vera’s healing properties, its gel is also recommended against canker sores, cold sores (blisters caused by herpes simplex virus), lichen planus (white patches or open sores in the mouth), and other mouth infections caused by dental implants.
For the Immune System
Aloe vera juice is being marketed today as an immune booster. That’s because the plant is rich in vitamins A, B12, C, E, plus folic acid and choline, which boost your immune system. Aloe vera is also rich in amino acids and vitamin B6, which is known for creating antibodies that help strengthen your immunity.
Aloe vera also has polysaccharides, which help renew cells.
Other Uses of Aloe Vera that Still Need Further Study
For the Digestive System
The latex of aloe vera contains anthraquinones, which have laxative qualities. You may have to consult your doctor or healthcare provider when it comes to taking aloe vera orally for digestive problems such as constipation.
There was a time when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulated aloe vera products sold as over-the-counter laxatives. The FDA ordered the products to be reformulated or removed from the market because producers failed to provide the agency with safety requirements, particularly data that would assure its safety.
Aloe vera’s use as a laxative also became controversial due to the results of a two-year research of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) under the US Department of Health and Human Services. It showed that tumors were found in mice that were fed with water containing non-decolorized aloe leaf extracts. Decolorization is the process used by manufacturers of aloe vera oral products to remove laxative properties from the plant.
However, the NTP saw no strong link between the use of aloe vera skincare products and skin cancer.
Mayo Clinic also warned against the oral ingestion of aloe vera due to possible kidney damage.
For Weight Loss
There’s still no conclusive scientific evidence to prove that taking aloe vera juice can reduce weight due to its detoxifying and antioxidant properties.
For Blood Sugar Level
Although aloe vera’s anti-diabetic effects were seen in a past study, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warned that orally taking aloe vera can dramatically lower your blood sugar level, leading into hypoglycemia. This may be detrimental to diabetics as they can have a seizure or pass out when their blood sugar crashes.
For Cholesterol Level
There are aloe vera powder and juice brands that claim to lower cholesterol levels. But there’s still no new substantive research to affirm the results of a five-year study, which showed that aloe vera reduced total serum cholesterol when incorporated into the diet of patients with atheromatous heart disease or arteries with fatty deposits.
Consuming the Aloe Vera Leaf
The hard, outermost layer of the aloe vera leaf that acts as the protection for the gel-like interior is called the cuticle. Some people add this crunchy skin to their salads, or dips them in hummus or salsa.
To prepare the skin for cooking, you must separate it from the latex and gel at the center of the leaf. First, clean the leaf thoroughly and slice off the spiky edges on the top and sides. Make a cut on the leaf near the root so you can clearly see the gel, pulp, and cuticle. Next, slice off the skin on top and beneath the gel, as if you’re filleting a fish. You can then scoop out the gel using a spoon.
You may also cut the leaf into two to three-inch wide slices and separate the gel from the skin using your hands. Then, scrape off the latex or pulp from the leaf.
To soften the leaf, soak it in water for about 30 minutes. Some people simmer it with other spices of their preference for about half an hour.
Aloe vera gels are also safe to eat. You can use them to create a thick soup or stew by adding them to your dish about 30 minutes before you’re done cooking it. Be sure to wash the gel cubes so they’re clear of any latex residue, which has a bitter taste, as well as dirt.
You can also cut up the aloe vera gel, distribute the sliced pieces in an ice cube tray, and then freeze it. The frozen aloe vera pieces can be added to your fruit smoothie during snack time.
For people taking medications for various conditions such as diabetes, kidney disorder, or heart disease, it’s best to first consult a doctor before trying to take food or drinks with aloe vera.
Wrap your aloe vera leaves in a plastic wrap or plastic bag then store them in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life.
Meanwhile, you can keep aloe vera gels in a jar then refrigerate them. They can stay for up to two weeks in your fridge if you add powdered vitamin C or E.
The skin and gel of the raw aloe vera leaf are edible as long as they are prepared and cooked properly. Also keep in mind that aloe vera skincare products are meant to be used topically and shouldn’t be ingested.