Aloe Vera Gel: The gel, more correctly ‘mucilage’, is best known for treating injuries and irritations of the skin, especially minor burns, and cuts. It is a common house plant that is often kept in kitchens as a first aid. A piece of the succulent leaf can be cut off and opened and the gel applied directly to the burn or cut. It should not be used on deep wounds.
There are several reasons why aloe gel is an effective topical treatment to heal burns and soothe irritated skin:
- The gel increases the blood flow to the affected area.
- It contains two enzymes that reduce inflammation: carboxypeptidase and bradykininase.
- It contains the anti-histamine magnesium lactate which relieves itching from insect bites, poison ivy, and other skin irritations.
- It is also an astringent and has mild antibacterial action.
The ability of the herb to treat burns is very well-established in the practice of medicine and it is often used in the hospital to treat burns from radiation therapy.
The anti-inflammatory action of the gel means that it can also reduce swelling from bruises and sprains. This is a traditional use of the plant in the Caribbean. The active ingredient is thought to be the enzyme bradykinase.
Another interesting but little-cited use for aloe vera gel is as a toothpaste cleanse the mouth and to prevent gum disease. This was recommended back in the middle ages by the famous nun and scholar Hildegard of Bingen.
However, anyone who uses aloe, for this reason, must be careful not to swallow too much of it as it contains effective amounts of laxative substances!
Interestingly, medical researchers are now looking at aloe vera mouthwash for particular applications, such as treating infections of the mouth as a result of radiation therapy.
In addition to home remedies, the gel is showing promise in a number of fields in advanced medicine. In addition to the treatment of burns, researchers are also looking at aloe gel in the development of various other medical and surgical applications, including:
- The slowing of hemorrhaging in critically wounded patients by using an aloe vera gel-derived polymer.
- Controlling blood sugar levels, with the potential of new treatments for diabetes.
- Protection of the pancreas against free radicals (in this case by an another species of aloe).
These possible medicinal uses for aloe gel are still in the early stages of research. The evidence is from basic research in the laboratory and testing on animals. There are as yet no tests on humans, i.e., clinical trials.
A mixture of naturally occurring saccharides in the gel may prove to be a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. In a recent study at the University of Miami, patients with Alzheimer’s were given an oral supplement called “aloe poly-mannose multi-nutrient complex” (There are, in fact, commercial preparations of APMC available on the market).
The researchers tracked both the cognitive functioning and immunology of the subjects over twelve months of the treatment. Forty-six percent of the subjects showed significant improvement after nine months. The side effects were few and temporary.
Because stem cell production was vastly increased, it is speculated that this is the mode of action for improving motor function and memory. The study was published earlier in 2013 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Aloe Vera Latex: The latex produced by the skin of the leaves, also called aloe juice, aloe water or aloe bitters, is quite different in chemical composition from the gel or pulp. The latex contains powerful anthraquinones including aloins, hydroxyaloins, aloe-emodin, and aloe resins.
The primary use of the latex is a laxative. The principal mode of action is through the anthraquinones present in the latex, which stimulate bowel contractions.
Specific compounds from the latex have been investigated for their potential to slow or eradicate certain cancers. In particular, aloe-emodin, found in the latex, is cited as a potential anti-cancer drug in the case of lung cancer, prostate cancer, and skin cancer (melanoma). In addition to aloe-emodin, there are several other quinones in the latex that have anti-cancer properties; these are juglone, β-lapachol, plumbagin, shikonin, and thymoquinone.
This research is in its early stages and the laboratory tests have been on isolated cells or on animal organs. There are as yet no clinical trials to determine the efficacy in treating humans with cancer.