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Aloe Vera: Benefits and Possible Side Effects
Aloe Vera is a spiky, succulent plant that has been used as medicine to treat sunburn, rashes, burns, wounds and other skin conditions. Studies claim that aloe vera juice may ease digestion problems like heartburn and constipation and reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Moreover, it may fight cavities and strengthen your hair.
Aloe vera is available as a distilled juice, dietary supplement and active ingredient in hair care and skin care products like shampoos, face creams, body lotions and skin creams. The gel which is found in the aloe plant can be eaten raw or cooked. While aloe vera has a plethora of health benefits to offer, it comes with some possible side effects and risks. Let us understand this medicinal succulent plant in detail.
Types of Aloe Vera
According to the National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), there are two medicinally useful parts of the aloe vera plant which are aloe lead and aloe latex.
The aloe vera plant has long and thick triangular leaves which are filled with a clear gel. This extracted gel is usually used on the skin directly or is made in liquid or capsule form to be taken orally. Aloe vera juice is also made by extracting gel from the leaves and mixing it with water. Aloe vera gel has a bitter taste and so some brands may add flavor or sweeteners to the aloe vera juice.
The aloe vera plant has three main layers. The thick outer layer is the rind, the middle layer is yellow sap or pulp and the centre is a gel. The yellow pulp or sap which is found under the outer surface of the aloe leaf is aloe latex. It can be taken orally to treat constipation as it has laxative properties.
Health Benefits of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera which has been known for its healing properties is called a 'burnt plant', 'lily of the desert' and 'elephant's gall'. Over time, Indians, Chinese, Mexicans and North Americans have used Aloe vera to treat wounds, hair loss, digestive problems, skincare and haemorrhoids. Apart from the above-mentioned health benefits, aloe vera can also be used for many other medicinal uses.
Aloe Vera gel can be directly applied to the skin to treat, prevent or relieve skin conditions like sunburn, burns, surgical wounds, rashes, skin ulcers, cold sores, genital herpes, psoriasis, eczema, bedsores and mouth ulcers. Some research also suggests that Aloe Vera can be used for promoting skin cell growth and the aloe vera gel has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, aloe vera gel may slow the ageing of the skin, increase collagen production and improve skin elasticity. It can also help the skin to retain moisture and enhance skin integrity.
Aloe creams can have a calming effect on the skin and thus help to reduce itchiness, inflammation and acne. Moreover, aloe vera has demonstrated its ability to soothe symptoms of sunburn and speed skin recovery. Although it may not be effective in treating sunburns, it can provide relief and decrease the redness on the skin.
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), aloe latex contains aloin which has laxative properties. This may relieve constipation which can occur in people with chronic digestive problems. Aloe vera can also help in relieving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Aloe latex can act as a stimulant laxative and increase the coordinated contractions of intestinal muscles that move stool through the digestive tract. This helps to improve digestion and treat gastrointestinal problems.
Research published in the journal 'Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome' in 2021 concluded that aloe vera may lower blood sugar levels when taken as a juice or supplement. Some healthcare experts have found that when two tablespoons of aloe vera juice are consumed every day for two weeks, type 2 diabetic people have reported lowered blood sugar levels. Additionally, aloe vera supplements may decrease triglyceride levels and improve HDL cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes. As a result, the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases may reduce.
Side Effects and Health Risks
Aloe vera is typically safe to use, however, there might be a few side effects associated with the use of aloe vera. The most common side effects of aloe vera are mentioned below −
Skin irritation when aloe vera gel is applied topically
Skin allergies or hives in people who are allergic to plants in the lily family
The risk of side effects may vary by the aloe vera formulation. Aloe vera latex may cause some severe side effects if taken in higher doses, while aloe vera gel and juice may cause fewer reactions.
Prolonged use of aloe vera supplements for months or years may put you at risk of liver toxicity. This may lead to drug-induced hepatitis. Moreover, acute kidney failure may occur in some people who take aloe vera latex for a long time and in doses higher than one gram per day.
Aloe vera may interact with certain medicines and can increase the concentration of the drug in the bloodstream. In some cases, aloe vera may reduce the concentration of the drug in the bloodstream and minimise the drug's effectiveness. People taking the following medications should consult their healthcare provider before taking aloe vera supplements −
Diabetes medicines including metformin and insulin
Diuretics which are also known as water pills
Anticoagulants or blood thinners
Medications for maintaining heart rhythm.
It is always advised to consult your doctor before taking any aloe vera supplements and to speak to a dermatologist or healthcare provider for choosing the best aloe vera skin care product.
How to Select and Store Aloe Vera?
Humidity and temperature can affect the shelf life of aloe vera products. You may find aloe vera juice in amber-colored bottles and this dark bottle is designed to keep light from affecting the ingredients of the juice. Aloe vera gel or juice can be stored in a cool and not-too-humid environment. You can keep the bottle of aloe vera juice or a can of aloe vera gel at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
Aloe vera supplements are not fully regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and hence, one must check the labels of these aloe vera products thoroughly to be sure of their quality and safety. You can check the seal on the product before purchasing the aloe vera product. The seal from the International Aloe Science Council ensures the buyer that the product has been tested for the aloe vera's quality and purity.
Aloe vera has medicinal benefits like skin care, hair loss, digestive problems and diabetes control. Aloe vera comes in gel, juice, latex or supplements form and is easily available online, at supermarkets or in pharmacies. Although the aloe vera gel and aloe vera juice may not have many side effects, aloe vera supplements if consumed in higher doses may pose health risks.
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