Why Aloe Vera?
The benefits of Aloe Vera are numerous ranging from burns and wounds to antitumor and antiviral properties. When dealing with wounds, Aloe Vera gel has been used internally and externally. Ointments, creams or lotions are the prominent products and it is believed that even after the Aloe gel dries that a protective layer is left on the skin to further aid healing. In studies on rats, both topical and Aloe gel stimulated collagen synthesis, accelerating wound healing. Human studies have found that Aloe gel, when mixed with polyethylene oxide gel, would speed wound healing following full-face dermabrasion.
Aloe gel has proven effective in treating all kinds of burns with the healing time 60% faster than in a control group. It was found that wound re-epithelialization occurred more quickly when Aloe gel was applied to the skin. Burns resulting from exposure to ultra violet rays and gamma radiation have been studied since the 1930’s. It has recently been discovered that those who receive Aloe gel treatment for at least two weeks, beginning immediately after radiation exposure, experienced the greatest results. According to Dr. Combest, “Investigators found that an antioxidant protein, metallothionein, was induced in the skin and liver within 24 hours of Aloe gel administration. Following x-ray exposure, Aloe gel was found to scavenge hydroxyl radicals and prevent suppression of superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase in the skin.”
Another type of burn that has been studied extensively is that of sulphur mustard, commonly known as mustard gas, which causes painful blisters on contact with human skin. This is frequently used in chemical warfare and is widely available. Skin contact with sulphur mustard causes erythema, severe itching, blisters, and ulceration. Even the shortest contact period of sulphur mustard on the skin is sufficient for blister formation. Traditional medicine uses applications of petroleum jelly, antimicrobial ointments or povidone-iodine containing ointments, which are symptomatic measures at best. There are three stages necessary for complete wound healing. First there is inflammation, then proliferation, and last remodeling. The complete healing process depends on the local blood circulation as well as the formation and deposition of collagen. Aloe Vera gel contains important constituents necessary for wound healing, such as ascorbic acid, tocopherols, amino acids, and Zinc. Ascorbic acid enhances the synthesis of collagen and counterbalances collagen breakdown. Tocopherol is a fat-soluble vitamin found in Aloe Vera gel, that has proven antioxidant activity. It stabilizes lysosomal enzymes needed for the synthesis of collagen and scavenges free radicals that may interfere in the wound healing process. Zinc improves the tensile strength and improves wound healing. Aloe Vera gel reduces dehydration and necrosis, and also dilates the capillaries. And because Aloe Vera gel contains mannose, macrophage activity and fibroblast proliferation are increased. Along with stimulating fibroblast, the connective tissue formation is stimulated as well as the epidermal growth and repair process. Others reported that systemic toxicity of sulphur mustard leads to oxidative stress. In addition to exposure to sulphur mustard, oxidative stress results from an imbalance between radical-generating and radical-scavenging systems. Oxidative stress is currently suggested as a mechanism underlying diabetes and diabetic-related complications. Studies have been done to evaluate the potential antioxidant activity of the ethanolic extract from the Aloe Vera gel. The study confirmed the ethnopharmacological use of Aloe Vera in ameliorating the oxidative stress that occurred in patients with diabetes.
Other successes have been found in treating frostbite and psoriasis with Aloe Vera gel. Tissue survival rates are increased with the application of Aloe gel in cases of frostbite when compared with other treatments. In a double blind, placebo-controlled study, 60 psoriasis patients were evaluated to determine the efficacy of treatment with topical Aloe gel. Aloe gel extract was administered three times daily for five consecutive days for 16 weeks. At the end of the study Aloe gel had significantly reduced lesions, decreased erythema, and lowered PASI (psoriasis area and severity index) scores in 25 out of the 30 patients in the treatment group. In comparison, two out of the 30 patients in the placebo group improved.
Several studies have been performed to demonstrate the anti-inflammatory activity of Aloe gel when taken orally and applied topically with great success. Reports of 47% - 50% reduction of inflammation were common. One company, Univera Pharmaceuticals, Inc., focuses its research on chromones and is conducting scientific investigations to discover new chemicals with anti-inflammation and other therapeutical potentials, to fully utilize natural aloe materials, and to explore new usage for diversified Aloe species. According to Dr. Combest the C-glucosyl chromone has already been isolated as the anti-inflammatory compound. This substance is similar in potency to hydrocortisone!
Aloe Vera gel has the ability to support and enhance the immune system. Studies done in the early 1980s demonstrated that partially purified Aloe gel extract acted as a nonspecific immunostimulant to protect against infection from various bacteria and fungi. In late 1980s, acemannan was shown to increase the response of lymphocytes to antigens. While the concentration of the acemannan is variable in the natural plant, it is available in a purified, standardized, and pharmaceutical grade form. An injectable type is used in veterinary medicine to treat fibrosarcoma and feline leukemia, a condition caused by a virus in the same family as AIDS. A report published by the Shenandoah University School of Pharmacy in Winchester, VA states, “Studies have revealed that a highly purified form of acemannan derived from Aloe gel stimulated the synthesis and release of interleukin-1 and tumor necrosis factor from peritoneal macrophages in mice that had previously been implanted with murine sarcoma cells. These cytokines in turn initiated an immune attack on the sarcoma cells that resulted in necrosis and regression of cancer cells. These effects further resulted in an increased survival of the sarcoma-implanted mice. Another study showed acemannan stimulated the production of nitric oxide in cultures of chicken macrophages. And still another study demonstrated that several low molecular weight compounds isolated from Aloe gel are capable of inhibiting the release of reactive oxygen free radicals from activated human neutrophils. This inhibition does not appear to affect the phagocytic activity of neutrophils but may protect tissues from excessive oxidative damage from free radicals.”
It is believed that many of the reported antiviral and antitumor effects of Aloe gel are likely due to the stimulation of the immune system. However, as reported by Dr. Combest, “One study reports that anthraquinones, which are present in aloe latex, have direct virucidal effects. The anthraquinone aloin was shown to inactivate various enveloped viruses, such as herpes simplex, varicella-zoster, and influenza. Although anthraquinones only appear in Aloe gel as a contaminant, low concentrations present in some preparations could have significant antiviral activity.” Aloe Vera has also been shown to inhibit the growth of several kinds of bacteria, including staphylococcus and salmonella, and has even been reported to aid in the removal of warts.
Aloe Vera products derived from the latex layer are taken orally for the laxative effect. The latex layer increases intestinal water content, stimulates mucus secretion, and increases intestinal peristalsis. Caution must be used, as the effects can be painful if taken in large doses. The latex layer is also called bitter aloes and contains anthraquinones which are both digestive stimulants and strong laxatives. Interestingly, when plants are grown in pots the anthraquinone content is greatly reduced. Most plants that are grown in the wild have greater medicinal qualities than those grown commercially or in homes.
Additional uses for Aloe Vera include, but are certainly not limited to, a topical application for an effective deodorant, and it is used to clear the throat for singers and speakers. Aloe Vera can stop itching from a variety of sources including insect bites, and the itching and burning of poison ivy. The gel can be used straight on the hair to improve the manageability and add luster. Many commercial shampoos and conditioners contain Aloe gel. It is believed that Aloe Vera is so effective on the skin and hair are because the pH of Aloe Vera is the same as the pH of the skin and hair. The dried gel can be mixed with a little water and applied to a mother’s nipples when she is ready to wean her infant. This is effective due to the bitter taste! Women also use Aloe gel as a cleansing douche for discharge problems and to bring on suppressed menstruation. When Aloe juice in ingested, ulcers have been healed, blood vessel tone is improved, and circulation health is improved. The high level of potassium aids the heart and stimulates the kidneys to dispose of waste. The kidney stimulation is so effective that even kidney stones are deterred. There are also claims that Aloe Vera has cured anemia, bed-wetting, and the pain of arthritis. Chronic nasal congestion has been treated with Aloe Vera as well as asthma sufferers who are not dependent on steroids. Other claims include lowering blood sugar and inhibiting fungal growth such as Candida albicans.
CONTRA-INDICATIONS OF ALOE VERA
Aloe Vera gel is generally safe for topical use. Prior to general application individuals should test a small area to check for possible allergic reaction or sensitivity. Some individuals have reported stinging and generalized dermatitis. Some people have reported burning sensations and developed dermatitis on the face when Aloe gel was applied topically following dermabrasion.
The vast majority of warnings apply to the products that contain the anthraquinones; aloin and barbaloin are two of many, which are found in the latex layer of the plant. Because the Aloe Vera latex is a very powerful laxative it should not be used internally by women who are pregnant or lactating, or by children. A nursing mother will pass the purgative action of the latex through her milk to the child. Reportedly this can cause abortion and stimulate menstruation. People who have abnormal kidney function, heart disease, or gastrointestinal diseases are best advised to avoid any product containing Aloe Vera latex or anthraquinones. When used as a laxative, dependence can result wherein prolonged use in high doses may produce tolerance so that more is required to obtain the laxative effect desired. Aloe Vera latex is more active than senna or cascara as a laxative and can even expel pinworms from the system. Persons with hemorrhoids should not use Aloe Vera latex internally because it works so quickly the action irritates piles. According to Dr. Christopher, a tea of ginger and licorice root can help alleviate the griping of the action. Because it is not always easy to separate the latex layer from the gel, those that experience a contraindication with the latex should use caution when taking Aloe Vera gel internally. Chronic internal use of Aloe Vera latex products may increase potassium loss when used with diuretics or corticosteroids. Other laxative products, herbal or otherwise, should not be used while taking Aloe Vera latex. This product may also compound the risk of toxicity when used with cardiac glycosides (both prescription and herbal types) and antiarrhythmic drugs. Absorption of other oral medications may be decreased as a result of consuming Aloe Vera latex. Internal use of Aloe Vera latex may turn the urine red, and may also cause abdominal pain or cramps when products containing anthraquinones are consumed.
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