If you haven’t noticed, succulents are becoming quite popular as a chic decoration. They mostly appeal to us “brown thumb” gardeners who can’t seem to keep anything alive, requiring hardly any attention. Well, and they look adorable on a windowsill or desk. Succulents aren’t just a faithful plant to keep around the house, they have also been harnessed for their magical healing powers. Perhaps the most celebrated of all succulents is Aloe barbadensis, better known as Aloe vera. The use of aloe can be traced back to 6,000 years ago, where pictures of aloe could be found on stone carvings. This “plant of immortality,” as it has been called, was even presented to pharaohs as a funeral gift.1
Aloe is mainly harvested for its clear gel and yellow latex and can be found in numerous skin and health products. Topically, aloe is often used for burns, frostbite, psoriasis, and cold sores.1 Even though aloe is 99 percent water, it contains glycoproteins and polysaccharides that speed up healing, reduce pain and inflammation, stimulate skin repair and possibly even the immune system.2 Aloe isn’t just for skin; it can be used orally as well. As aloe gently sloshes through the stomach into your intestines (nice visual, right?), it sends love to your digestive system, offering up the powers of its active ingredients.
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Aloe vera is the most biologically active of all aloe species and contains over 75 potentially active constituents. These include vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and amino acids. Derivatives of one of these constituents, aloesin, contains “potent antioxidant effects,” while plant sterols from the gel of aloe have shown to decrease HbA1c (used to determine average blood glucose levels) in mice, and even lower plasma cholesterol levels.3 When taken internally, aloe is used to treat constipation, peptic ulcers, digestive tract inflammation, diabetes, and asthma.3,4 One study conducted by Vinson and team have shown that aloe can enhance vitamin C and E’s bioavailability and may even protect other vitamins from breaking down in the intestinal tract.3
Aloe vera is a good way to treat gastrointestinal complications because it poses a low risk for side effects and is relatively easy to obtain. You can grow aloe in your own home for topical use, or reap the internal benefits of drinking aloe juice or taking an aloe capsule. You should avoid aloe if you are pregnant, have renal or cardiac disease. As with any laxative, inappropriate use may result in electrolyte imbalance. For these reasons, it is always best to discuss use with your primary care physician or nutritionist.