You’ve probably heard of using aloe vera as a topical ingredient. With rising popularity, people are eating it in smoothies and juices, but why?
When most of us think of aloe, we think of this cooling clear aloe gel that we slather on our hot skin after we’ve been in the sun for too long to help our skin cool down from a sunburn. The aloe vera plant is a super hydrating ingredient with anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it’s been used to treat burns for centuries in many different cultures. But does it actually work?
Beyond using it on the skin as an aloe vera cream or lotion, people also drink aloe vera juice and add it to different recipes, sometimes including the gel. The aloe plant may have some interesting health-boosting properties, so let’s dive in to learn what exactly aloe is, including where it comes from, how it could help your health (and how to use it safely if you choose), and where to get it.
What is Aloe Vera?
Aloe is more than just a beautiful part of home decor with its thick green leaves. Aloe is actually a cactus-like plant that grows in hot conditions, typically in places like Florida, Texas, Arizona, and here in Tennessee if you have proper pot, soil, and a healthy plant to start with! If you’re looking to grow your own, the good news is that they’re easy to take care of as long as there’s ample sunlight and it’s kept dry.
You can often find aloe as a gel form, which is a clear gel that typically comes from the inner part of the long aloe vera leaf. There is also a latex portion of the aloe plant, which comes from right under the leaf’s skin and is more yellow in color, which we’ll discuss more when covering the side effects you should know about.
Aloe Vera Nutrition
Aloe vera contains small amounts of several vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A (beta-carotene), C, E, folic acid, and choline, along with antioxidants that help fight free radicals. It also contains minerals like calcium, chromium, selenium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, and zinc to support your body’s everyday metabolic functions. Enzymes like alkaline phosphatase, amylase, catalase, peroxidase, and more in aloe help you break down sugars and fats, while bradykinase reduces inflammation on the skin.
Aloe contains many compounds in addition to the vitamin and mineral content, including some you might not have heard about before. For example, the laxative effect of aloe vera comes from phenolic compounds known as anthraquinones (1). Meanwhile, hormones auxins and gibberellins help with wound healing and provide more anti-inflammatory benefits. Finally, aloe contains seven of the eight essential amino acids needed to help your body maintain its tissue and cell health (2).
Health Benefits of Aloe Vera
So what are the health benefits of aloe vera? Thanks to its content of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and digestive enzymes, there are a multitude of ways that aloe vera can improve your health. Here are a few of the top health benefits.
1. Soothing Skin Conditions with Aloe Vera
Most of us are familiar with using aloe for the face and skin and it’s a common ingredient found in natural products to moisturize your skin or relieve any inflammation. Pure aloe vera gel is most often used as a topical treatment for sunburn, which is why we see it in most after-sun gels you rub directly on the skin after a few hours on the beach, by the pool, or in the sun in general — and it feels good to use especially when you put aloe vera gel in the refrigerator before putting it on your skin!
Some people use aloe vera gel for skin conditions like psoriasis or cold sores. It’s likely the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of the aloe that contribute to these advantages. (3). Aloe vera juice can also be used as a makeup primer, skin moisturizer, or an easy treatment for scalp irritation.
2. Disease Prevention from Aloe Vera
In addition to soothing sunburns, studies show that aloe vera may have additional benefits including anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic effects, as well as antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-allergic properties (4). In translation, people have used and studied aloe for its potential benefits, which range from disease prevention to soothing cuts and scrapes.
A study showed aloe may be particularly helpful with diabetes, as it can potentially help control and lower blood glucose levels, keeping blood sugar in check. This is also a potential side effect though for those who need to monitor their blood sugars closely since preliminary research has shown aloe can lower blood sugar (5).
3. Alleviating Digestive Problems with Aloe Vera
When ingested as an aloe vera drink, aloe can also help with digestion problems, particularly gastroesophageal reflux disease (or GERD) (6). Although the latex portion has also been used as a laxative (and in many laxative medicines) to help relieve constipation, this isn’t recommended as it may be potentially unsafe. In fact, there are many better ways to relieve constipation, since it’s very difficult to measure with precision the amount of anthraquinones present in your aloe drink. So on that note, check out these quick tips on relieving constipation with your diet and these vegetables rich in fiber.
4. Promoting Hydration with Aloe Vera
Adding aloe vera juice to your routine is an excellent way to promote proper hydration. Keeping your body well-hydrated helps support regularity, brain function, physical performance, fluid balance, and body temperature. In addition to keeping you hydrated, aloe vera juice can also provide a hearty dose of electrolytes, antioxidants, and vitamins. This can be especially beneficial after an intense workout to speed up muscle recovery and replete electrolytes that may have been lost through the sweat.
Side Effects of Aloe Vera
Although there are several benefits of aloe, there are also a few side effects to consider as well. The biggest thing you’ll want to look out for when eating aloe vera or putting it your next smoothie is the latex portion of the plant, which is that yellowish substance right below the surface. Its use as a laxative dates back many years, but this can also cause serious stomach cramping and pain in some people.
We recommend other ways to improve digestion or relieve constipation such as making sure your diet is rich in fiber, staying hydrated, eating plenty of minerals like magnesium and of course working with a health professional to sort out your needs or digestion challenges.
Just as aloe has been shown to potentially help some digestive issues, in just the same, the aloe latex isn’t recommended for anyone who might have an intestinal obstruction, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, appendicitis, ulcers, hemorrhoids, abdominal pain or nausea, due to some of the irritating effects from a compound in aloe latex. Also, consuming aloe latex might make kidney disorders worse, since some studies show this has been linked to renal failure.
Aloe is a versatile ingredient that has several important health benefits. Available in aloe vera lotion, gel, cream, and juice forms, there are many different ways to take advantage of the benefits that this ingredient has to offer.
You’ll find aloe juice and gels at many local health foods stores and even grocery stores. Look for labels that say 100% aloe, and for juice, you can often decide if you want the pulp in or not, just like orange juice.
You can easily just sip on the juice or use the gel portion only in addition to smoothies and smoothie bowls. As for the gel topically, you can put it directly on the skin, letting it cool sunburns or help alleviate dry patches.
Is aloe a magic food that will “heal” health conditions? No, and more research is needed to see what aloe can or can’t help with. Will we be adding aloe to all our smoothies at Nutrition Stripped? Probably not, but we love a good cold aloe gel kept in the fridge to soothe sunburned skin! Above all, it’s always a good idea to talk to your dietitian or doctor before trying anything new like this, especially if you’re looking to treat digestive issues or problems like psoriasis.
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