Aloe vera is best known as being an ingredient in moisturizers and skin care treatments, but it is so much more versatile than that. Aloe vera juice is a popular home remedy for a lot of digestive issues and is thought to offer a number of other health benefits too.
What Is Aloe Vera?
Aloe vera is one of the oldest plants that is documented as having health benefits. The leaves of the plant contain polysaccharides, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, and these are the factors that make the plant so valuable medicinally.
The ancient Egyptians and Chinese would use the extract of the plant to treat wounds, soothe burns, and reduce fevers.1 Even today, we still use aloe vera to soothe minor burns, and it is also used to treat acne, as well as to relieve constipation and to soothe other stomach issues.2
Chemical Properties of Aloe Vera
There are 75 compounds in aloe vera which could be considered active ingredients for various medicinal purposes.3 This includes vitamins, minerals, hormones, fatty acids, enzymes, sugars, and other compounds, such as saponins.
The ingredients that help the most with the digestive system are anthraquinones, which are a plant phenol with laxative effects; the enzymes, which can aid digestion; and the sugars, such as alprogel, which can be anti-allergenic.4
How Can Aloe Vera Help with Digestive Issues?
Aloe vera is often used as a treatment for constipation, glucose management in diabetics, and also to promote weight loss.
Aloe Vera and Constipation
Aloe vera can be used as a laxative because the pulp of the leaves, known as the latex, contains anthraquinones. These compounds have a laxative effect when taken orally. Whether or not aloe vera will be effective as a laxative depends on the type of constipation that a person has. If using aloe vera does not clear up your constipation in a day or two, then you should seek professional advice.5
Aloe Vera and Diabetes
People who suffer from type 2 diabetes or who are pre-diabetic may benefit from using Aloe vera to help manage their blood sugar. Taking aloe vera orally can help regulate blood sugar and HbA1c levels and also help regulate cholesterol levels.6
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More research is needed to determine which kind of aloe is most effective, but early trials have been quite promising and could help stop pre-diabetics and those with mild type 2 diabetes from becoming insulin dependent.
Aloe Vera and Weight Loss
Preliminary studies into the use of aloe vera for obesity management, conducted on rats, have been promising. Researchers believe that taking aloe vera powder orally can help manage diabetes by stimulating increased energy expenditure.7
Similar studies have been performed on humans and showed that the use of aloe vera can reduce body fat, weight, and insulin resistance.8 It is thought that aloe vera works through several mechanisms: regulating blood sugar levels helps reduce cravings and improve diet compliance, while other compounds help stimulate the metabolism, having a small but measurable impact on metabolic rate.
Aloe Vera and Irritable Bowl Syndrome Symptoms
Irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) is a common and frustrating condition which can cause stomach cramps, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Some people have a mild version of the condition and can live a fairly normal life, but others find that the symptoms are severe enough to limit them in their day-to-day lives. The causes of IBS are not known, although it is thought that there may be a genetic component.9 Some people experience attacks of IBS if they are stressed or generally unwell, and food intolerances can play a role.
IBS is often managed through diet changes, but that is not always enough. There is some evidence to suggest that probiotics can be beneficial for reducing IBS symptoms.10 However it can be difficult to work out which probiotics are needed and in what quantity.
Aloe vera has been found to be helpful for the management of IBS symptoms, although to what extent is unclear since researchers are divided. One recent study found that IBS can help reduce discomfort, constipation, and flatulence related to IBS.11
Other studies suggest that aloe is not helpful in people with IBS characterised by diarrhea.12 If the anti-inflammatory and laxative effects of aloe vera can help with even some IBS symptoms, however, then it is well worth considering trying it for the potential quality of life improvements.
Safety and Precautions
Aloe vera gel is generally recognized as being safe to use in small quantities. Taking a small amount of aloe vera gel daily during flare-ups could help to reduce some of the more frustrating symptoms of IBS and is unlikely to cause any unpleasant side-effects. Long term use of aloe vera gel has not been researched and as such is discouraged.
Aloe vera latex and whole-leaf aloe vera extract should not be used orally, not even in small quantities. There are some compounds found in the latex that are thought to be carcinogenic.13 Because of this, the FDA has asked that certain medications that have aloe vera as an active ingredient be reformulated.
For most people, however, short term use of aloe vera gel is considered to be “likely safe,” and worth the potential quality of life improvements that you would get from improved digestion or reduced severity of IBS symptoms.
Aloe vera is a versatile supplement, and it is well worth trying if you are looking for a home remedy to manage any of the above symptoms. It is not, however, a replacement for medical treatment, and if you are unwell and have not yet had a diagnosis, or your symptoms are becoming worse, then you should talk to your doctor before you start trying home remedies. Only a doctor can rule out the possibility of a more serious underlying condition.
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