Behind aloe vera’s health benefits

Behind aloe vera’s health benefits

Remember those childhood encounters with stinging nettles and the immediate search for dock leaves? Whilst folklore may have embellished their magical properties, there’s one plant whose healing prowess is anything but mythical: Aloe vera.

What is aloe vera?

Aloe vera, a succulent, resilient perennial plant from the lily family, thrives in the arid regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, and America. Its lineage traces back millennia, revered by ancient civilisations such as the Egyptians, who dubbed it “The plant of immortality” for its varied medicinal and skincare properties.

Aloe vera owes its therapeutic power to a rich array of active constituents, including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, anthraquinones, fatty acids and more. Aloe vera’s versatility is showcased through its wide array of both traditional and modern applications such as:

  • Skin health and healing
  • Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties
  • Immune support and detoxification
  • Sun protection and antiseptic effects
  • Anti-bacterial
  • Anti-fungal
  • Hydrating and much more

Aloe vera’s positive effects on gastrointestinal (GI) function are extensively documented, especially for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (FGIDs).

What are FGIDs?

FGIDs are also described as disorders of the gut-brain which refers to the connection between the gut-brain axis that describes the two-way communication system between the gut and the brain. The various types and symptoms of FGIDs can occur along the whole length of our GI tract and present with a wide range of symptoms ranging from IBS, gastroesophageal reflux, indigestion (dyspepsia), functional nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, constipation, diarrhoea, and faecal incontinence in the absence of any pathology. [i] These disorders account for at least 40% of referrals to gastroenterologists. Of the 33 recognised adult FGIDs, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most prevalent, estimated at 12% worldwide. [ii]

Many of these disorders are caused by altered gut sensitivity, mobility, microbiota changes, immune functioning, increased permeability, and nervous system processing. Due to the complex interactions between the gut and the brain, it is important to eke out the possible causes and triggers such as endocrine dysfunction, food, drinks, stress, life events, lifestyle habits including sleep and the general environment that an individual is exposed to internally and externally.

Removal of triggers is important for a more positive outlook, there are several natural interventions such as herbs, spices, acupuncture, structural alignments, mindfulness,  and supplements that can be supportive.

Aloe vera and FGIDs

Studies show that the herb Aloe vera can be supportive for a host of GI conditions due to its active compounds such as aloin, acemannan, aloesin, emodin and others, and may therefore, have a positive effect on:

  • Microbial balancing
  • Stomach pH balancing
  • Supporting digestion such as helping protein breakdown
  • Gut healing
  • Inflammation reduction
  • Supporting bowel eliminations.

In one randomized controlled trial, 151 patients with IBS showed a significant difference for patients who were prescribed Aloe vera juice compared to those in the placebo group.

Aloe vera has been shown to be a natural laxative, enhances intestinal motility, and stimulates natural mucous secretions in the colon. Therefore, Aloe vera can be considered for individuals with constipation or IBS where constipation is dominant.

The number of mast cells in the colonic tissue in individuals with IBS is significantly higher, therefore pro-inflammatory markers such as cytokines levels are increased with IBS which can lead to increased intestinal permeability. Aloe vera has an anti-inflammatory action making it a possible treatment for, not only IBS but also other inflammatory GI conditions such as colitis.[iii]

Another study showed that by taking 30ml of aloe vera juice 2x daily for 8 weeks, IBS pain and discomfort levels decreased as well as levels of flatulence.[iv]

Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, consuming aloe juice may help other GI complaints such as acid reflux by soothing inflammation and irritation. The immune-stimulating, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties render it a promising option for managing various digestive disorders. 

Whole-leaf aloe juice

Many aloe vera juices are made from concentrated or freeze-dried aloe powder reconstituted and diluted with water, sweeteners, and artificial preservatives which we want to avoid. Instead, look for organic whole-leaf aloe vera where careful de-pulping and cold filtration processes extract the whole-leaf aloe juice and all its bioactive phytonutrients, whilst removing the impurities, fibre and unwanted aloin latex fraction.

You can take your daily shot straight from the bottle, or you can mix it with smoothies or juices.

Whichever way you enjoy the revitalising power of whole-leaf aloe vera, know that you are enjoying an elixir that has been treasured since ancient Egyptian times for its medicinal and healing properties.


References

[i] https://www.rcpjournals.org/content/clinmedicine/21/1/44

[ii] Lacy BE, Patel NK. Rome Criteria and a Diagnostic Approach to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. J Clin Med. 2017 Oct 26;6(11):99. doi: 10.3390/jcm6110099. PMID: 29072609; PMCID: PMC5704116.

[iii] https://www.jnmjournal.org/journal/view.html?doi=10.5056/jnm18077

[iv] Khedmat H, Karbasi A, Amini M, Aghaei A, Taheri S. Aloe vera in treatment of refractory irritable bowel syndrome: Trial on Iranian patients. J Res Med Sci. 2013 Aug;18(8):732. PMID: 24379854; PMCID: PMC3872617.

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Contributors:

Elisabeth Philipps

Karen Devine

Karen Devine

Shelley Harvey

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