Tuesday, September 22, 2015

14 Awesome Health Benefits & Uses for Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is one of those few ‘wonder’ plants from nature that I truly believe in.

On the outside, you may see this succulent as an interesting hybrid of what happens when plants and cacti go out on a date, but on the inside, you’ll find a ton of healing health benefits.

I can remember my first experiences with aloe vera, and I have a feeling yours may be similar.

After a long day at the beach, I was a bit sunburned and in need of some relief. My mother, who also prefers living a natural, healthy lifestyle, quickly reached for some fresh aloe to cool my skin down.

As a kid, I was fascinated. She sliced open the bright green plant and exposed a clear, gel-like goo that she then applied directly to my skin. The cooling relief was instant.

To this day I continue to use aloe vera for sunburn relief. But as I traveled further in my nutrition journey, I realized that I could be doing so much more with aloe than that.

In today’s article, we’ll discuss the health benefits of aloe vera and I’ll show you some of the best ways to use it.

What is Aloe Vera?

aloe vera leaf cutLet’s talk about what the aloe vera plant actually is first.

Aloe vera is not a plant/cacti combo like I joked about earlier. Technically it’s a succulent.

Succulents, or ‘fat plants’, often have leaves that are thicker and fleshier than other plants. This is especially true with aloe vera.

If you look at the aloe vera plant, you’ll notice that it’s much thicker, or fatter, at the base and it overflows out from the center. The top of the aloe vera leaves are much skinnier than the base, but they are thick.

Another characteristic of succulents is their ability to retain water in normally dry, or arid, conditions. Unlike most plants, succulents store their water in their thick leaves to carry them through droughts.

Again, this also holds true with aloe vera plants which have pulpy, juice-filled leaves.

As for its origins, aloe vera was first “introduced to China and various parts of southern Europe in the 17th century”. Today, you can find aloe vera in most health food stores and many grocery stores across the US.

Now that you know its origins, we can dive into the heart of why you’re here. Let’s take a look at what makes aloe vera so good for you.

1. Anti-Everything Properties

 Anti-Everything PropertiesThanks to its phytochemical content, aloe is considered antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal. Plus, it contains antioxidants to keep us healthy.

One study examined the effects of using aloe vera against bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Escherichia coli.

The researchers found a “maximum growth suppression” on both the S. aureus and S. pyogenes bacteria due to aloe vera.

2. Hand sanitizer

apply to handsDue to these germ fighting powers, aloe vera makes for an excellent, sting-free hand sanitizer.

Simply apply the aloe topically to your hands, rub together, and let the wonder plant do the hard work for you.

This natural gel also works great as a fruit and vegetable wash.

3. Vegetable and Fruit Wash

Vegetable and Fruit WashOne study found that aloe vera kept gutta percha cones, a set of trees, bacteria free, which is good news for us.

In another study, researchers found that using aloe vera as a natural cleanser on tomatoes did not affect the tomatoes in any way, except for the fact that it removed harmful bacteria.

Now you can use aloe vera to clean your fresh produce instead of having to buy an expensive vegetable wash. Aloe vera is a great chemical-free option too.

4. Immunity Booster to Fight Allergies

fight allergiesKaren Masterson of the Vitamin Trader tells us that aloe vera’s pH levels tend to be more acidic. Therefore, when it’s digested and absorbed, the body produces more hydrochloric acid to improve digestion.

Masterson believes that allergy sufferers have some underlying digestive issues that prevent them from absorbing the nutrients they need to ward off allergy symptoms.

She states: “Once these proper nutrients are received, the body can begin to build up the collagen and tissue structure to screen out allergies”.

Masterson goes on to explain that: “The glucomannan complex present in whole leaf aloe vera helps to provide additional help to strengthen the tissue walls”.

On top of that she says, that the anti-inflammatory properties found in the yellow sap of the aloe can reduce skin irritations, and reduce pain and swelling connected to allergy symptoms.

These anti-inflammatory benefits also extend to more serious conditions such as cancer.

5. Possible Cancer Protection

cancer protectionCancer Research UK featured several studies relating to aloe and cancer prevention.

Two studies in particular took place in 2010 and explored how aloe could affect skin cancer in lab mice. Unfortunately, only one of the studies turned up a favorable outcome.

That study showed that when applied to the skin or taken orally, aloe did in fact reduce the number of skin cancers in mice. However, the other study actually noticed that the aloe increased skin cancer rates in female mice.

With this kind of research, it’s still too early to tell if aloe can help humans and if the outcome is favorable.

On the other hand, aloe may be able to help those going through chemotherapy.

This time, researchers in an Italian study monitored 240 lung, bowel, and stomach cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. They gave them either a placebo or an aloe variation, known as arborescens, three times a day during their routine chemo treatment.

The results were astonishing. “The cancer was controlled or shrank for a time in 67% of patients who had the combined aloe and chemotherapy treatment”.

What’s even more interesting: “Patients taking the aloe vera had a better quality of life and they had fewer chemotherapy side effects such as numb fingers and fatigue”.

For patients who suffer from radiation-induced dermatitis, which is essentially a skin condition as a result of radiation, you might also find relief from aloe.

Researchers from another study investigated aloe to see if it could prevent or treat dermatitis due to radiation. They found that aloe vera as a lotion proved to be effective at protecting against radiation induced dermatitis. And the best part was that the results were “more evident” in patients exposed to higher doses of radiation.

That’s good news in my book.

This leads us to one of the most well known health benefits of aloe vera…skin relief.

6. Skin Irritation Relief & Faster Healing

skin reliefAs I mentioned earlier, I started my aloe obsession when I experienced a nasty sunburn. The aloe vera proved to be a natural analgesic that helped reduce the pain and swelling for me.

Well, it turns out, aloe not only provides instant relief, but it can also help you heal faster.

This study from the Journal of Medical Association of Thailand explored using aloe vera on 27 burn patients.

Some patients were given a gauze soaked in aloe gel and others received a petroleum jelly alternative (Vaseline).

The result: the aloe vera group healed much quicker, “with an average healing time of 12 days compared to 18 days for the group using Vaseline”.

As explained in the results, the aloe vera helped to “stimulate the growth of healthy skin cells, & limits the body’s production of scar tissue”, thus helping burns heal faster.

Did you ever wonder about the aloe vera juice you see at grocery stores and health stores?

Well during my research, I learned about another common use for aloe vera, as a digestive aid.

7. Decrease Inflammation with IBS

decrease IBSSimilar to how the gel-like middle of an aloe vera plant can help coat skin irritations, it can also help coat the linings of our digestive tracts to improve digestion.

According to a review published in SFGate: “Aloe vera juice also helps to decrease inflammation in irritable bowel syndrome, colitis and other inflammatory disorders of the gut”.

The article continues on to say that “aloe vera can increase healthy bacteria in the intestines that aid digestion”.

This leads us directly to my next point.

8. Improves the healthy bacteria balance

drink aloe veraAloe vera helps to balance the bacteria found in our guts.

If you’ve ever heard the Activia jingle, then you’re probably familiar with the idea of balancing out gut bacteria in our bodies.

Unhealthy foods like processed, fried, or sugar-filled items actually fuel the bad bacteria in our digestive tracts. The result is excess acid, which can lead to things like ulcers and stomach pains.

By drinking aloe vera juice, you’re actually keeping the bad bacteria under control while also promoting the good bacteria to grow.

Now, you can’t down a few glasses of aloe vera, continue to eat unhealthy fast food, and think you’re good to go.

But adding it to your healthy diet may provide some relief and could restore your system’s proper balance.

9. Helps with ulcers

helps ulcersSpeaking of finding relief, aloe vera has been studied as a natural remedy for those combating ulcers.

According to one study, “44 hospitalized patients with mild or moderate UC [ulcerative colitis]  received oral aloe vera gel treatment or a placebo, 200 mL daily for 4 weeks”.

The result was that patients taking the aloe vera gel saw an improvement in symptoms, and some even experienced remission. Unfortunately, it’s important to note that this sample size is considered small, so we do need further research to learn its true efficacy.

Another promising area of hope is using aloe vera for kidney stone prevention.

10. Kidney stone prevention

juice drinkKidney stones are no joke. They are painful and can take several excruciating days to pass.

Essentially, a kidney stone is a “hard, crystalline mineral found within the kidney or urinary tract”.

Live Strong tells us that kidney stones are usually a buildup of uric acid, calcium, and other substances found in our urine, which can lead to “gripping pain, blood in your urine, chills, fever, sweating, nausea and vomiting”.

Can you see why I think they’re so serious?

Dehydration is one of the most common causes of developing a kidney stone and that’s just another reason why drinking enough water is imperative.

Getting back to aloe vera and kidney stones, according to Phyllis A. Balch, author of “Prescription for Herbal Healing,” via Live Strong, aloe gives your body a substance known as aloemannan, which “stimulates production of healthy kidney cells while slowing the rate of crystal deposits that cause kidney stones”.

Her recommendation is to drink about a ¼ cup of aloe juice per day for no more than two weeks at a time.

Diabetics may want to take note of my next benefit of drinking aloe vera.

11. May lower blood sugar levels

lower blood sugarAccording to one randomized double blind placebo controlled clinical trial, aloe vera can also help lower blood sugar levels.

Patients ranging from 40-60 years old who already had type 2 diabetes and were currently taking insulin shots were given one 300 mg aloe vera extract capsule every 12 hours.

These individuals took this capsule for two months and it was also used in conjunction with an oral synthetic anti-hyperglycemic drug.

The results: “The aloe leaf gel lowered the blood levels of fasting glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin significantly without any significant effects on the lipid profile and liver/kidney function tests compared with a placebo”.

That’s pretty impressive to me.

12. Improved Blood Circulation

aloe creamThanks to the fact that it allows your capillaries to open up, aloe vera is also thought to improve your blood circulation. This makes it much easier for your blood to pass through.

However, I would caution that further research is needed to support this as an effective treatment option for now.

13. Reduction in blood clots

aloe vera cross section
Another study done on Wistar lab rats revealed that aloe vera could help with blood clotting too.

28 adult rats were separated into 4 groups of seven and studied over the course of 14 days. Three groups were given aloe vera gel that was administered on alternate days. The control group of rats was given distilled water in the same way.

As a result, the study proved that “aloe vera gel could inhibit blood clotting”.

However, despite these promising results, we need further studies on this benefit as well.

14. Mouthwash

aloe vera mouth washThanks to those antibacterial properties I talked about earlier, aloe vera makes for an excellent natural mouthwash.

According to a study, 300 patients were separated into one of three groups: aloe vera mouthwash group, control chlorhexidine group, and a saline water placebo group.

A dental hygienist cleaned each patient’s teeth prior to the start of the experiment to establish a zero plaque baseline among the participants.

Patients were told to mouthwash using the aloe vera wash, chlorhexidine mouthwash, or the saline solution during the course of four days.

The results showed that the aloe vera was equally as effective at reducing plaque as the chlorhexidine groups.

Topical & Oral Uses for Aloe Vera

topical oralIn addition to those 14 benefits, you can also use aloe vera topically and orally for a number of different reasons.

But watch out: there’s just not enough research to support some of the following claims so you may or may not see a difference when using aloe vera for/as:

  1. Anti wrinkle cream
  2. Diaper rash cream
  3. Canker sores
  4. Moisturizing dry feet
  5. After shave gel for legs
  6. Eyebrow gel
  7. Eye makeup remover
  8. Constipation relief

Final Thoughts

aloe vera plantAs you can see, aloe vera is considered a wonder plant for all the right reasons, from helping sunburn heal faster, to alleviating symptoms from chemotherapy. I have to say, aloe vera is one easy-to-care-for plant that I love keeping around.

But if you don’t have a green thumb, you can always pick up some aloe vera or aloe vera juice and drink in the amazing benefits.

I try to drink aloe vera anywhere from 2-3 times per week and I would caution that drinking too much of this succulent can lead to unwanted issues like diarrhea or even kidney failure if you’re not careful. So even though it does contain loads of benefits, don’t go overboard okay.

Have you ever tried aloe vera? How did it help you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

The post 14 Awesome Health Benefits & Uses for Aloe Vera appeared first on Nutrition Secrets.


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