Aloe Vera: Alternative Medicine’s Most Wanted

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It’s called the plant of immortality, but also goes by aliases such as elephant’s gall, jelly leek, Zanzibar zip, and the plant of life. And then there's its rap sheet, including an exhaustive list of crimes against germs thanks to its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Some even claim it gets users an additional 10-15 years of life.

Miracle Medicine? — the need-to-know

Aloe vera is known for regulating the body by cleaning junk from the stomach, liver, and kidneys— in fact, it's considered the finest, natural colon cleanser around [1]. (Read: it can work as a mild laxative when ingested.) It wrestles indigestion, stomach distress, and ulcers by alkalizing digestive juices and preventing over-acidity, which can cause these digestive ailments [2].

The plant’s gel is also used for treating skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, inflammations, acne, wounds, insect bites, and blisters, just to name a few [3]. In fact, aloe vera is a staple in most Floridians' medicine cabinets as the ultimate post-beach burn relief.

Aloe vera is hypoallergenic and has no known side effects. However, too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing. Dehydration, intestinal spasms, or stomach cramps can result from overdosing on the juice— so be sure to follow the dosage indicated on the instructions. And if taking prescribed medications, check with the doctor before using aloe vera.

Goo From the Gods? — your action plan

The different aliases of aloe vera include gel, juice, sap, extracts, pills, tablets, and (my favorite) slimy goo. For tummy troubles, swig, slurp, or pop it (just be warned, it’s not the most pleasant tasting juice). For healing the skin, smear, swab, or slather it on.

Aloe vera can typically be found in most forms at any health food store, online, or even the local grocery market. Here’s what to look for:

  1. Aloe vera should appear as the first item listed on the ingredients panel, and preferably more than 98 percent pure.
  2. Look for cold processed inner leaf aloe vera. Cold processing the plant means there is no heat involved (and heat can destroy many of the beneficial enzymes).
  3. As a general rule, a product that includes "aloe vera extract" or "reconstituted aloe vera" is likely to be less potent than a pure aloe vera product.

Updated October 2011

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Works Cited

  1. Effect of Aloe vera gel extract on antioxidant enzymes and azoxymethane. Anilakumar, K.R., Sudarshanakrishna, K.R., Chandramohan, G., et al. Biochemistry & Nutrition Discipline, Defence Food Research Laboratory, Mysore, India. Indian Journal Experimental Biology, 2010 Aug; 48(8):837-42.
  2. Polymer fraction of Aloe vera exhibits a protective activity on ethanol-induced gastric lesions. Park, C.H., Nam, D.Y., Son, H.U., et al. Department of Food Science and Biotechnology, Graduate School, Kyungpook National University, Daegu, Republic of Korea. International Journal of Molecular Medicine, 2011 Apr; 27(4):511-8.
  3. Innovations in natural ingredients and their use in skin care. Fowler, J.F. Jr., Woolery-Lloyd H., Waldorf, H., et al. Division of Dermatology, Louisville, KY. Journal of Drugs Dermatology, 2010 Jun;9 (6 Suppl):S72-81.

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