Aloe vera is a succulent plant that's believed to have been used medicinally since 1500 BC in various countries due to its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties. Not to mention, it's full of nutrients, and it can be consumed in foods or as a juice.
Aloe vera can be ingested orally or applied topically, depending on the health benefits you're looking for. Here's what you need to know about the science behind why aloe is so beneficial and how to use it safely and effectively.
Aloe is one of the most popular natural remedies for sunburn relief, and for good reason. Aloe helps heal sunburn in a number of ways:
Additionally, a 2007 systematic review of four small studies found that aloe was beneficial for first and second-degree burn wound healing, and shortened the overall amount of healing time.
It's best to use aloe gel straight from the plant, since bottled aloe can contain numbing agents like lidocain that may have adverse effects or added fragrances that can irritate skin, says Rahman.For extra cooling effects, keep your aloe in the fridge and apply to sunburn when the gel is cold.
Aloe vera is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, which means it has the potential to reduce acne-causing bacteria and alleviate redness. There have been no formal studies about how aloe affects acne on its own but it can still have benefits when used with other treatments.
Specifically, Rahman says using aloe in conjunction with more scientifically proven acne treatments, such as a retinoid, can help decrease the irritation of the acne treatment and combat drying of the skin.
In fact, a small 2014 study consisting of 60 people with mild to moderate acne gave participants either a topical retinoid alone or a topical retinoid alone with aloe vera. The researchers found that the combination was more effective than using only the retinoid, suggesting that aloe may be beneficial for acne in certain cases.
Aloe can moisturize the skin by triggering the production of hyaluronic acid, which hydrates and plumps skin, Rahman says.
Additionally, the mucopolysaccharides in aloe that help moisture bond to the skin.
To use aloe to moisturize your skin, use aloe from the plant or aim for a gel without lots of added ingredients. Rahman says to really lock in the hydration from aloe, you can moisturize afterward with a product containing dimethicone, which helps skin retain moisture.
Aloe vera is great for the gut, especially if you have trouble with digestion. Taking aloe orally can actually help to protect the gut since it contains mucilage, which is the gel-like substance in aloe, says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RDN, founder of Essence Nutrition in Miami.
Auslander Moreno says mucilage can calm irritation of mucous membranes, like those in the gut, as well as bulk up fecal mass, which is helpful for people with certain types of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Additionally, aloe can have a laxative effect, which is beneficial for those with constipation, Auslander Moreno says. However, she warns that a little goes a long way, and drinking too much may cause diarrhea.
A small 2013 study found that people who drank 30 ml of aloe vera juice twice a day over eight weeks experienced a reduction in symptoms of stomach pain, discomfort, and flatulence.
Additionally, a small 2015 study found that drinking aloe vera resulted in a lower frequency of symptoms like heartburn, flatulence, and burping in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
If you want to incorporate aloe into your diet for GI health benefits, Auslander Moreno says it's always best to check with your doctor first to make sure it won't interact with any other supplements or prescription drugs you might be taking.
To use aloe for digestive health, specifically for constipation, Auslander Moreno suggests starting with one to two ounces of aloe juice and waiting a day to see if it works. Then, you can build up by another ounce per day until reaching the desired effect.
Aloe vera is rich in vitamins. According to a 2008 review, aloe vera contains:
Aloe juice, sold at most supermarkets, is the easiest way to consume aloe. Auslander Moreno says just as with the digestive recommendation, you should start small and work your way up to make sure you don't have any adverse effects before consuming larger amounts. Additionally, pay attention to the label. If the aloe juice is sweetened, you might want to avoid added sugars for the healthiest option.
It's no wonder that aloe has been used medicinally for centuries. Just remember to start slow when consuming aloe orally and opt for more natural products when applying topically. If you have concerns about using aloe or if you have a medical condition or are taking any medications (orally or topically), consult your doctor first.
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