Did you know there are over 400 species of aloe?  With so many of them out there, it is very easy to get lost!  There is one species that can be particularly helpful when it comes to your health: Aloe vera (otherwise known as Aloe barbadensis miller in the botanical world).

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Aloe gel is the clear, jelly-like liquid found inside the aloe leaf.  Aloe latex is yellow in color, and found under the plant’s skin.  Some products may contain both the gel and latex, giving the product a yellowish hue. 

Aloe gel is commonly used for helping treat burns, frostbite, sunburn, cold sores, psoriasis, and others.  Aloe has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, and contains an abundance of nutrients.  The list of vitamins and minerals is quite large, including vitamins A, C, E, B12, folate, choline, calcium, copper, selenium, magnesium, manganese, sodium, zinc, potassium, and chromium.

With all those different nutrients, it should be unsurprising that aloe vera can be useful for a number of different conditions.  The first studies on the benefits of aloe came out almost a century ago!  A 1935 study found that aloe vera extract provided rapid relief to those suffering from burning/itching associated with severe radiation dermatitis and skin regeneration.  It has also been found to be an effective over-the-counter ointment for burns on the skin.  This is done by helping the affected area heal at a faster rate.  Aloe vera has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties that accelerate healing and reduce pain from cold sores as well.

What is less known is the effectiveness of aloe when it comes to digestive issues.  Aloe can be used to help with constipation.  Compounds, known as anthraquinones, are found in the aloe latex, and can increase intestinal water content, stimulates mucus secretion in the gut, and increase intestinal peristalsis, all of which promote bowel movements.  Aloe also can be helpful in normalizing pH (acid/base) balance, reducing the formation of yeast, regulating bowel processing, and promoting healthy gut flora.

You might have noticed in the list above that aloe contains all the major antioxidant nutrients: vitamins A, C, & E, as well as selenium and zinc.  Vitamin A is most commonly touted for eye health, but also plays roles in improving neurological function and healthy skin.  Vitamin C plays an essential role in both tissue growth/repair and collagen synthesis.  It is involved in maintaining the integrity of blood vessel walls and adrenal gland function.  Vitamin C is involved in the synthesis of steroid hormones.  Vitamin C is a regulator of immune function by increasing macrophage (a type of white blood cell) activity. Vitamin E main function is the removal of harmful free radicals.  Vitamin E is important in the protection cell membranes and plasma lipoproteins specifically. 

Today, it is easy to find aloe products, including gels, latex, juices, extracts, and combination formulas.  With so many options, it is really important to purchase a product made from a reputable company.  Less reputable companies can alter their formulas to reduce aloe’s therapeutic properties.  Depending on how the product is manufactured, some, if not all, of the active ingredients could be altered or destroyed, meaning it is entirely possible the product on store shelves contains little or no active compounds.

For example, if aloe gel is heated and has fillers added to it, the health benefits can be dramatically reduced, if not completely mitigated altogether.  So make sure you are choosing the right products.  If you are unsure of where to get started, feel free to ask a functional medicine provider for more information on where to look and proper doses for your intended use.

Though based in research, personal, and clinical experience, the opinions in this article should not be taken as medical advice. Botanical medicine and nutriceuticals should be treated with the same caution and care as pharmaceuticals, as both have the potential for strong, potentially adverse effects and allergic reactions. Please consult a trained professional or holistic health care provider before attempting anything on your own.