Why Aloe Vera Works - The Science Behind Aloe Vera
There is a great deal of research from around the world looking at the different aspects and species of Aloe. When I type 'Aloe Vera' into Google Scholar, over 53,000 results come back, so somebody's been busy. Some of that research has been published in the Journal of Ethno-Pharmacology, which covers the traditional medicinal use of plants and other substances, and many other peer-reviewed medical journals that publish scientifically researched findings.
Because there is just so much data out there, I will use a type of bullet point system to bring this information to you, and where I can I will also attribute the papers and references from which these facts have been obtained.
It seems that treatment of inflammatory conditions is still the key effect for most types of healing, but reports also describe anti-diabetic, anti-cancer and anti-biotic activities, as well as skin repair characteristics. It is my view that we will expect to see a widening use of Aloe Vera gel in the years to come, with higher concentrations of Aloe in products and medications (orthodox or complementary) that become available in dosable and prescription quantities.
This is in contrast to the minute doses now included in the myriad of commercial products available, that want to jump on the bandwagon of Aloe usage, and use it in their advertising and on their labelling to promote sales, but don't want to contribute towards the research of how much is the right amount for their product, or their target audience.
There seems to be ever-decreasing doubt in the scientific community that Aloe gel has genuine therapeutic properties, certainly for healing of skin lesions and perhaps for many other conditions. It is also clear that the subject is by no means closed and there is much more that needs to be discovered, both as to the active ingredients and their biological effects. These scientific studies have shown Aloe gel to have benefits with regards to:
- The earliest experiments relating to skin burns go back to the 1930's (Grindlay and Reynolds, 1986).
- Detailed and accurate clinical trials took place in 1959, when Aloe gel was used to treat thermal and radiation burns on rats and rabbits, compared with clinical studies on human patients, with positive results (Rovatti and Brennan, 1959).
- Wound tensile strength tests compare the effects of steroids and Aloe gel on inflammation and healing which demonstrated speeded healing from Aloe 'extract' (Davis, 1994).
- A precise skin hole punch experiment demonstrated the anti-inflammatory properties of Aloe gel, leading to more rapid healing (Davis, 1987).
- Animal experiments have shown that feeding mice/rats aloe gel and then treating wounds demonstrated healing, even in diabetic subjects which are normally slower to heal (Davis, 1987 and Davis/Maro, 1988 & 1989).
- Frostbite on exposed skin, such as rabbit ears, shows they responded well to the application of Aloe gel (Heggers 1993; Miller and Koltai, 1995).
- Experimental use of Aloe gel on fluid retention in animal tissue (Oedema) shows that inflammation is shown to decrease after topical application of Aloe gel. Subsequent trials demonstrated greater reduction when the gel was combined with a corticosteroid (Davis, 1987; 1989; 1991; 1994). Possibly a good example of how complementary can work with orthodox approaches in humans.
- The effects of Aloe gel on wound healing have shown a proliferation of fibroblast cells (structural framework cells in animal tissues, which play a critical role in wound healing) (Brasher, 1969; Danof & McAnalley, 1983) and the growth of new blood capillaries (Lee, 1995).
- A detailed study (Goff & Levenstein, 1964) showed that the increased speed of repair was seen in the healing of a surgical cut using Aloe Vera extract in an ointment base. The speeded repair did not alter the ultimate result, which suggests that Aloe gel may remove any delaying effects rather than accelerate healing.
- A report of effective Aloe gel healing of pressure sores recorded rapid granulaton, which is new connective tissue and tiny blood vessels that form on the surfaces of a wound during the healing process (Cuzzell, 1986).
- Treatment of wounds with Aloe gel reduced wound diameter, increased skin circulation and seemed to reduct scarring as well as noting that acute inflammation was also inhibited (Davis, 1987).
- In a further study Aloe Vera gel was taken orally or applied to a wound in a cream. Both treatments improved wound healing. One theory was that Aloe gel was able to increase oxygen access to the site as a result of increased blood supply (Davis, 1989).
- A trial using topical application to stimulate fibroplast activity and collagen proliferation was successful (Thompson, 1991).
- Angiogenesis, the growth of new blood capillaries, is a necessary part of tissue regeneration and improved vascularity of burn tissue has been deomonstrated by topical application of Aloe gel (Heggers, 1992).
- One major impediment to wound healing is microbiological activity or infection. A study addressed this using Aloe gel treatment (Heggers, 1995).
- Aloe gel is thought to contain a growth factor which enhances the breaking strength of wounds (Heggers, 1996).
- Burn healing Burn healing can be seen as a special type of wound healing as most of the skin reactions are the same. It has been pointed out that conditions for healing would differ according to the depth of the burn wound and that several factors can interfere with the healing process (Kaufman, 1989). Thus three zones have been recognized in a burn, an inner zone (coagulation zone) where cell damage is irreversible, a middle zone (statis zone) where damage is severe and an outer zone (hyperemic zone) where recovery is likely. In addition there are three degrees of burns, the first in which the epidermis only is damaged, the second where some dermal damage also occurs but where epithelial regeneration is possible and the third where both epidermis and dermis are irreversibly damaged (Bunyapraphatsara, 1996).
- A series of tests of Aloe gel on heat burns, electrical burns and frostbite in guinea pigs, rabbits and clinical studies with humans demonstrated a therapeutic potential across the wide variety of soft tissue injuries (Heggers, 1993). The gel was shown to penetrate tissue, relieve pain, reduce inflammation and increase
blood supply by inhibiting the synthesis of thromboxane A2, a potent vasoconstrictor and pain producer. In tests, burns to skin healed more quickly after topical aloe gel application and interestingly, the bacterial count was reduced by 60% (Rodriguez-Bigas, 1988; Kivett, 1989).
- Frostbite healing Cellular injury arising from frostbite can be regarded as a type of burn (Heggers, 1990). The stages are distinguished by degrees of damage. The first with numbness and erythema, the second where oedema and blisters occur and thromboxane is released, the third where damage extends to the subdermis and the fourth with full tissue thickness damage (McCauley, 1990).
- In clinical trials with humans, 68% of the aloe-treated patients achieved full healing, while only 33% of those receiving other treatments were fully healed. In the first group 7% required amputation, compared with 33% in the second group (Heggers, 1990).
- Gastrointestinal function and ulcers Aloe gel is often used for oral consumption and many claims are made for benefits in various internal inflammatory conditions. A series of trials on human patients indicated a tonic effect on the intestinal tract with a reduced transit time. Also the bacterial flora appeared to benefit, with a reduction in the presence of yeasts and a reduction in pH. Bowel putrefaction was reduced and protein digestion/absorption improved (Bland, 1985).
- A trial with human patients found oral administration of aloe gel effective in the treatment of peptic ulcers (Blitz, 1963).
- Oral ulcers (aphthous stomatitis) are troublesome because of the difficulty of applying and retaining a therapeutic agent. A clinical trial with the polysaccharide Acemannan (A D-isomer mucopolysaccharide in aloe vera leaves) accelerated healing time and reduced pain without the side effects attributed to other agents (Plemons, 1994).
- Diabetic activity A clinical trial in India where over 3000 ‘mildly’ diabetic patients were fed with bread incorporating aloe gel, demonstrated a reduction in blood sugar levels in over 90% of the cases (Agarwal, 1985).
- A number of diabetic patients in Thailand were treated orally with ‘Aloe Vera juice’, to their benefit. Blood sugar and triglyceride levels fell during the treatment period (Yongchaiyudha, 1996). In parallel trials, patients that failed to respond to other anti-diabetic medication responded to the Aloe treatment in a similar way (Bunyapraphatsara, 1996).
- Microbiological effects Infection hinders wound healing and it may be that part of the efficacy of aloe gel lies in its antibiotic properties (Cera, 1980).
- Some of the organisms that are said to be inhimited by Aloe gel preparations include: Streptococcus pyogenes, S. agalactiae, Citrobacter sp., Serratia marcescens, Enterobacter aerogenes, Enterobacter sp., Bacillus subtilis, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Klebsiella sp., Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Candida albicans, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Corynebacterium xerose, Salmonella paratyphi, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris and Streptococcus faecalis.
- Antibacterial activity of Aloe Vera shows two useful related outcomes. Firstly there is the general antibiotic effect against pathogens (Gottshall, 1949) and
secondly there is activity against bacteria which may be hindering the wound healing process and contributing to inflammation (Heggers, 1995).
- Aloe gel was included in nutritional supplements used in a clinical trial with acquired immunodeficient syndrome (AIDS) patients, where it was said to be beneficial (Pulse and Uhlig, 1990).
- Cholesterol levels In a small trial with monkeys it was found that orally administered aloe gel lowered total cholesterol by 61% and also that proportion in the high density lipoprotein (HDL) increased (Dixit and Joshi, 1983).
- Psoriasis In a large clinical trial, an Aloe Vera extract, compared with a placebo, significantly cured a large number of patients (Syed, 1996).
- What about possible deleterious effects or side-effects? It can't all be good news can it?
- To begin with there was much dissent. But there is now less said about doubts as to the efficacy of Aloe gel, except there are some warnings of possible allergic side effects in rare circumstances (Klein and Penneys, 1988; Briggs, 1995).
- Harmful reactions to Aloe gel are recorded infrequently (Hunter and Frumkin, 1991; Schmidt and Greenspoon, 1993) but these still need to be taken seriously.
- A single case of eczema appearing after topical and internal application of Aloe Vera gel (Morrow, 1980) was followed by another (Shoji, 1982) on a patient who was hypersensitive. Local pain was experienced at first, attributed to improved circulation, of an injury which was successfully healed (El-Zawahry, 1973)
- The simplest thing to remember is that if you experience any deleterious effects from applying Aloe gel topically, wash it off immediately.
- Just one last thing on whether it is best to use your own Aloe gel or a commercial product is demonstrated by this study which compared a gel fresh from the plant and dialysed to remove low molecular weight components with a ‘commercial stabilized’ gel. Cytotoxic effects (the quality of being toxic to cells) of the ‘commercial sample’ were observed but ascribed to substances introduced during processing (Winters, 1981). Some commercial samples were found to contain ‘yellow sap’ and were cytotoxic in fibroblast cell cultures (Danof and McAnalley, 1983).
- Special Note:- Research that involves experiments on animals is described here for information and review purposes only. It does not mean that I condone animal experimentation, and ethical approval is not implied by virtue of these inclusions.
Surveys have shown that many commercial Aloe products on the market have little or no active Aloe ingredients, despite the label and advertising of the product. Therefore consumers can be taking an 'Aloe product' and expecting a result that does not come, because the farming, harvesting and processing methods have affected the product, or reduced the potency of any active components to next to useless.
- wound healing
- anti-inflammatory properties
- balancing the immune function
- lowering blood sugar levels
- anti-viral properties
- type-2 diabetes
- heart disease
- vascular disease
- digestive disorders
- viral infections
- anti-oxidant activity in oxidative stress
This confusion and misunderstanding can lead consumers to conclude that Aloe is no good for their condition as it is not working. To ensure they get the maximum benefit from the use of Aloe gel, many hundreds of people now, well, more like thousands really, are buying their own Aloe plant from The Haven Healing Centre and 'doing it themselves'.
If you would like to give this a try for yourself, please order your plant here and I will pick the very best specimen I have in my collection to send to you.