Aloe: The Humble Super Food Gets Better And Better

Friday Sep 11 | BY |
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Sliced of aloe vera leaf

Every one knows aloe is great for soothing a sunburn. For thousands of years it’s been the preferred remedy for skin irritations, including burns, but the humble aloe has a lot more to offer.

My garden is filled with a light green, lance-shaped succulent. It grows like a weed. If I don’t keep it in pots, it takes over an entire patch of garden. It thrives in warm temperatures and hot weather; it even bears up against cold winters, though not freezing temperatures. It prefers direct sunlight, but does okay with indirect sun exposure. It requires a medium amount of moisture, but doesn’t like to be too wet, and as a native desert plant it survives droughts.

Though I’ve grown it for decades, this remarkable healing plant has been used in ancient cultures across northern Africa, the Middle East, as well as in China and India. Its mysterious healing powers go back before written history. Aloe vera is called the plant of gods.

The earliest written record of aloe’s use as a medicine date back to the time of Cleopatra. But its ancestral use extends even further back. The Arabs named it “Alloeh” because of its shiny inner gel. The name stuck. The modern English name aloe vera means, “true aloe.” Its botanical name is Aloe barbadensis miller.

Now, nearly every culture in the tropical and moderate temperate zones around the planet makes use of Aloe vera. It is available in one form or another in every health food store and pharmacy in the U.S.

Aloe Vera Is A Rich Medicinal Storehouse

Aloe vera has more than one use. The two most common uses are for burns and for constipation.

The laxative part comes from the extremely bitter tasting yellowish sap under the outer green rind. It’s a strong purgative, but its laxative effect is almost a sideline to the real value of Aloe. Inside the aloe leaf is a thick gel loaded with special sugars called glucomannans, among other nutrients.

A review paper in the Indian Journal of Dermatology describes more than 75 potentially active components found in the humble aloe. Cumulative data suggests that there are at least 200 nutritional substances in aloe vera.

Aloe Vera Compounds and Properties

Though aloe vera’s laxative and skin-healing properties are the most widely known, complex sugars within the aloe gel hold be the secret to even more exciting benefits.

Antiviral and Antitumor Activity, As Well As Immune-Boosting Effects

Aloe vera contains several complex sugars including glucose and fructose, glucomannans, and polymannose. These sugars are found in the sticky translucent layer of the plant and are known as mucopolysaccharides.

Monosaccharaides are the sweet tasting basic units of carbohydrates. Common ones include glucose, fructose, and galactose. The most common polysaccharides are glucomannans. The most prominent monosaccharide in aloe is mannose-6-phosphate.

Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates. Examples include starching foods like potatoes, corn, rice, and wheat. Glycogen, an energy storage unit found in animal and plant cells, is also a type of polysaccharide.

Acemannan, a type of glucomannan found in aloe vera gel, modulates immune activity. A research paper published in 2001 found acemannan to have antiviral and antitumor activity. A review paper in 2014 validated the healing effects of acemannan. Lots more research is needed, but it looks like science confirms what the ancients already knew: Aloe is an amazing superfood with bountiful healing properties.

Researchers found that alprogen, a glycoprotein with anti-allergic properties isolated from aloe vera gel, contains a novel anti-inflammatory agent called C-glucosyl chromone. The first reported study lead by John Hutter in 1996 showed C-glucosyl chromone equivalent to topical cortisone, without the immune-suppressing effects. Results from these studies inform us that aloe vera is a biological immunomodulatory substance, acting to dampen inflammation and regulate immune response cells.

5 Common Uses For Aloe

  1. Immune booster
  2. Laxative
  3. Natural sunblock
  4. Skin repair
  5. Sunburn
Anti-Aging Benefits Of Aloe

The ancient Egyptians called it the “plant of immortality.”

Aloe may have been nature’s original sunscreen. Though the aloin, an anthraquinone found just under the green skin, is mainly extracted for its laxative value, it also blocks UV rays from the sun. A 2013 review article by Priyanka Goswami lists aloe vera as one of several natural sunscreens.

Every adult wants younger skin. Researchers studying aloe’s anti-aging benefits focus mainly on wrinkle-reducing effects. Aloe mucopolysaccharides hold moisture in the skin. Other aloe compounds stimulate fibroblasts, the building blocks for collagen and elastin fibers that make the skin more pliant, and therefore less wrinkled. Topically applied aloe reduces flaking, making skin softer. And aloe amino acids help tighten pores.

Aloe Vera’s Benefits to Skin

  • Improves the skin integrity
  • Decreases fine wrinkles
  • Decreases redness
  • Produces smoother skin
  • Reduces inflammation resulting in clearer skin
  • Blocks UV rays
  • Acts as a moisturizer

The FDA considers aloe vera a safe product, but like all medicinal substances, too much may be harmful. One case of hepatitis associated with taking an aloe vera was reported in the World Journal of Gastroenterolgy. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health publishes an information fact sheet on aloe vera reminding us that high dosages can interact with some drugs. Drinking too much can also cause diarrhea.

More Benefits From The Amazing Aloe

I find it amazing that the inner translucent gel is composed of 99 percent water, while the medicinal activity happens in the remaining one percent. The high water content keeps the aloe plant alive in the desert, and when cultivated, makes for a refreshing, if slightly sour, health drink.

Commercial aloe vera juice and gel drinks are made from the translucent gel with a small amount of polysaccharide extract. The bitter, laxative part is removed. Like the natural plant, most of the commercial juice consists of purified water.

To improve flavor and increase antioxidant value, add a splash of pomegranate or acai concentrated juice. I like to blend ripe noni fruit from my trees with several cubes of freshly picked aloe vera in spring or filtered water, with a twist of lime or lemon.

When asked about super foods, I first think of Aloe vera. I’ll grow my own aloe forever. Remember, it may be the best, and most humble, of all medicinal plants.

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. June Hanson says:

    I, lived among all kinds of cactus plants for years. Never was informed of all the magical powers of aloe. Knew it was in sunscreen products, creams. Now have such great respect for mighty jewel of a plant. Tried adding gel to drinks, had hard time with it. Pomegranate, should help. Have large bottle in refrigerator, will try in on my skin, for sun protection. Know it is good for burns. Thanks, for giving us all this information, condensed, so we might utilize this economical natural product.

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