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Aloe

Botanical name(s):

Aloe africana, Aloe barbadensis, Aloe ferox, Aloe perryi, Aloe spicata, Aloe vera.

Family: Liliaceae. There are over 200 known species of aloe.

Other name(s):

Aloe vera, burn plant, lily of the desert, elephant's gall, laxative, aloin, barbaloin

General description

Aloe is a plant that likely came from Africa. More than 200 known species of aloe exist. The term "aloe vera" translates from Arabic and Hebrew to mean a "true shining, bitter substance." The succulent leaves are the part of the plant that’s most often used. The flower may also be used.

Aloe vera has long been used in folk medicine. It’s known mostly for being able to aid in the healing process of cuts and burns. It’s also known to moisturize and soften the skin. Aloe vera is also one of many anthelmintics. These are substances that destroy or get rid of worms from the digestive system.

When taken internally, aloe acts as a laxative. When you scratch aloe leaves, they make a bitter yellow liquid. It contains anthraquinone barbaloin. This is a strong laxative agent.

Medically valid uses

The following are properties of aloe extracts:

  • They work as an astringent. This is a substance that has a constricting or binding effect. It works to seal off cuts or scrapes.

  • They work as a laxative. The anthraquinones and barbaloin in aloe stimulate the bowel and increase its tone.

  • They increase the turnover rate of collagen. They may also increase collagen production. Collagen is needed to help wounds to heal.

When it’s applied to your skin, aloe:

  • Helps heal minor burns and sunburns.

  • Helps heal wounds, insect bites, or stings.

  • Stimulates cell regeneration.

  • Has astringent, emollient, anti-fungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties.

  • Moisturizes and softens your skin.

Note that aloe vera promotes healing best in the open air. When you apply it to minor cuts and burns, leave the treated area uncovered. Do not cover it with a bandage.

Dried aloe latex taken from the leaf (98 to 99 percent pure) has laxative properties. It can be taken internally to help treat constipation, hemorrhoids, rectal itching, colitis, and other colon problems. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required laxative manufacturers to remove aloe from their products in 2002. This is because there have not been enough studies done on it to confirm that it’s safe.

Aloe juice is dried and used to make tincture of benzoin. This is a sticky material used to make bandage material sticks to the skin. Also, acemannan (a complex mannose carbohydrate) found in aloe is used to make denture adhesive.

Unsubstantiated claims

Please note that this section reports on claims that have not yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

People claim that aloe soothes stomach irritation. It may also help to heal stomach problems and ulcers and ease menstrual problems. It may also prevent immune suppression in the skin due to ultraviolet light.

Aloe vera is sometimes helpful in treating calluses and corns, varicose veins, infections, and arthritis. Aloe may also help treat skin cancer. Essence of the aloe vera flower may also aid in relieving mental and emotional burnout. This may be useful for women who are prone to hot flashes.

When you take the aloe vera gel internally for ulcers or menstrual problems, make sure you use a brand of gel that won’t have a laxative side effect.

Aloe vera is available as a tablet, gel, or liquid for internal use. It comes as a gel, lotion, ointment, or spray for topical use.

You can apply the gel from a freshly broken leaf from an aloe plant to minor burns, scrapes, lacerations, or sunburn for relief. You can use over-the-counter (OTC) forms of aloe for the same conditions. OTC products may be more convenient than keeping an aloe plant in your home.

Take OTC oral forms of aloe exactly as directed on the packaging.

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

A study done by the National Toxicology Program found negative effects of non-decolorized whole leaf extracts of aloe vera when it was added to drinking water. It caused cancer in female rats, but not in mice. 

Allergic reactions to aloe are rare. You can find out if you’re allergic to topical aloe by applying a dab of it under your arm or behind your ear. If you develop a rash or stinging feeling, do not use it.

You can develop an intolerance to aloe vera juice. So, you should not take aloe by mouth too often. Talk to your healthcare provider before using herbal medicines.

People with diabetes who take medicines to lower their blood sugar should not use oral aloe vera. Doing so can lower your blood sugar too much.

You should not use internal aloe when you have stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting. This is because it’s a laxative. Using it could make your symptoms worse. You also shouldn’t use it if you have chronic intestinal problems. These can include Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, sprue, or irritable bowel syndrome.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your healthcare provider before using aloe or any other herbs.

There are no known significant food or drug interactions with aloe.