Did your last trip to the beach leave your back as red as a ripe tomato, scorched hot enough to scramble eggs over? Have no fear, aloe vera is here! Aloe (a plant related to the cactus and a member of the family Asphodelaceae) can grow to be four feet tall with leaves that can be as long as 20 inches (1). Within these tough, fleshy leaves are “over 200 nutrients, including 18 amino acids and a variety of vitamins and minerals”(1). This multi-purpose plant fuses benefits for skin, dental and digestive health to serve your needs.

A Multi-Purpose Plant
Picture slicing through one of the plant’s spear-like leaves, where you will find a clear, thick gel oozing out, which is commonly purified and used in topical sunburn relief products. A bitter, yellow juice is found between the gel and the outer skin of the leaf. This can be dried and taken orally in supplement form as a laxative to help with constipation.

When it comes to mouth ulcers, aloe vera gel may also be formulated in mouth rinses due to its anti-inflammatory effect. It also appears to have a soothing effect on stomach ulcers, and interferes with the release of hydrochloric acid by the stomach (1). Let’s take a closer look at how these benefits work.

How Does Aloe Revitalize Skin?
When you have a sunburn, turn to aloe vera. Topical aloe gels offer softening, soothing, healing and cell repair to the applied area (1).

Due to aloe’s anti-inflammatory attributes, such products may help stimulate skin growth and repair. Aloe can also be used on minor cuts, wounds, injuries and rashes. Another healing factor of aloe is its ability to promote collagen formation when applied to the skin. Your skin relies on collagen for strength, structure and a healthy look.

Our skin is a close pal, whom we need to maintain on a daily basis. When our skin burns, moisture is lost, but with aloe you can replenish and revitalize your skin.

Soothing Mouth Ulcers and Stomach Discomfort
On the oral front, aloe vera may offer relief for those with mouth sores and ulcers. “Aloe vera has proven anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties. This is an interesting development for the treatment of mouth ulcers,” said Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists (2).

In 2007, a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology indicated aloe vera gel can benefit people who suffer from Oral Lichen Planus, a chronic inflammatory disorder of the mouth (2). For eight weeks, a group of 54 participants was split in half; one half was treated with aloe vera gel and the other half was given a placebo. A total of 81% of the patients treated with aloe vera had a good response (reduced inflammation and pain) after eight weeks of treatment, while only four percent of placebo patients had a similar response (2).

One of the study’s authors, Charoen Choonhakarn, dermatologist at Srinagarind Hospital Medical School, Khon Kaen Univeristy in Thailand, said, “We found that the effect of 70% aloe vera gel on the disorder was significantly better than a placebo. The results showed decreases both in clinical signs and in pain scores” (2).

To calm the rumbling in the stomach, such as from constipation and acid-related conditions, aloe juice supplements may have a laxative effect. In 2008, a study was published in the Research Journal of Medicine and Medical Science from Tamilnadu, India. Findings included protection of the stomach walls against acid and neutralization of excess stomach acid. (5).

Aloe and Your Inner Body
When it comes to your body, proper nutrient absorption is important—and aloe may help. An aloe supplement manufacturer sponsored two independent studies in 2008 on an absorption-enhancing product made from 100% certified aloe. These studies revealed that the aloe juice (with high concentrations of polysaccharides) helped increase one’s vitamin C absorption by 20 times more in the first hour than if you were to take vitamins with water alone (4).

Also, with such high-molecular weight polysaccharides, you will obtain the greatest benefits for digestive health, vitamin C absorption and immune support to maintain your health (4).

What to be Aware of
When taking aloe vera (and all supplements), you should always carefully read the label and find out the proper dosage, how many times to use it, for how long and whether it will be topically applied or taken orally. In some individuals, abdominal cramps and diarrhea have been reported when taking aloe supplements to achieve a laxative effect (3). Also, the use of certain forms of aloe may turn urine red, which is usually harmless (1). And, like any changes in dietary habits, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before taking aloe for the first time. WF

1. Vitamins & Health Supplements Guide, updated 2006, www.vitamins-supplements.org/herbal-supplements/aloe-vera.php, accessed June 2009.
2. R. David, “Another Role for Aloe Vera: Tackling Mouth Ulcers,” The Times, updated Dec. 18, 2007, www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style /health/article3065814.ece, accessed June 2009.
3. National Center For Complementary And Alternative Medicine, “Herbs At A Glance,” http://nccam.nih.gov/health/aloevera/, updated, April 2008, accessed June 2009.
4. L. Tully, “Peer Review of Clinical Research on Lily of the Desert Aloe Vera by Fenestra Research,” February 6, 2008.
5. A. Rajendran, “Study on the Effective Supplementation of Aloe Vera Gel Antacid to Peptic Ulcer Patients,” updated 2008, www.insinet.net/rjmms/2008/132-134.pdf, accessed June 2009.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, August 2009