Monday, December 18, 2017
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Magic aloe vera?

All the goodness of aloe veraAloe vera has been in use for over thousands of years with apparently Cleopatra applying it to get her well-famed great complexion and ancient Chinese and Egyptians using aloe vera to treat burns, wounds, and reduce fever. Legend even has it that Alexander the Great, upon Aristotle’s advice, secured extensive supplies of aloe vera to treat wounded soldiers. But is there any truth in the reported benefits of this spiky succulent which can be found in abundance on the tropical island of Hispaniola?

 

 

Aloe vera - used by Egyptians in ancient timesWhat’s in a name
When doing some research online you’ll find that there is some controversy surrounding this plant, starting by its name. With over 400 different aloe plants identified, two different scientists recognized aloe vera as a separate species in 1768, one calling it Aloe vera (L.) Burm.f., and another Aloe barbadensis. Both names can now be used interchangeably.

Back in the day
The first authentic record of Aloe as a plant with healing properties is accredited to a Mesopotamian clay tablet dated at ca 2100 BC. However, the first detailed depiction of the plant’s medicinal value is found in the Papyrus Ebers, an Egyptian document dated at ca 1550 BC, which sets out multiple Aloe-containing preparations for the treatment of external and internal ailments. The aloe vera plant is also described in detail in the Greek Herbal of Dioscorides (ca 70 AD), and its use promoted for the treatment of wounds, hair loss, genital ulcers, and hemorrhoids.

Composition of aloe vera leafWhat’s in it
The plant has triangular, fleshy leaves with serrated edges, yellow tubular flowers and fruits that contain numerous seeds. Each leaf is composed of three layers:
1) An inner clear gel that contains 99% water and rest is made of glucomannans, amino acids, lipids, sterols and vitamins.
2) The middle layer of latex which is the bitter yellow sap and contains anthraquinones and glycosides.
3) The outer thick layer of 15–20 cells called as rind which has a protective function for the plant and synthesizes carbohydrates and proteins.

Aloe vera contains 75 potentially active constituents including vitamins, enzymes, minerals, sugars, lignin, saponins, salicylic acids and amino acids.

Aloe vera can be found in many creams and medicinesSaid benefits
Aloe vera is mostly used topically to treat minor burns and abrasions as well as sunburn, frostbite, psoriasis and cold sores. Some people also use aloe gel to help surgical wounds and bedsores heal faster. A number of lifestyle magazines advertise aloe vera as a great natural way to beautiful skin and even a reduction in wrinkles.

Some people ingest aloe vera, usually against constipation. Less often, the plant is used orally against epilepsy, asthma, colds, bleeding, absence of menstrual periods, colitis, depression, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, bursitis, osteoarthritis, and glaucoma and other vision problems.

The science
Applied topically, aloe vera is found to be safe and according to research does help with chronic psoriasis and burn injuries. Some chemicals in aloe gel appear to be able to increase circulation in the tiny blood vessels in the skin, as well as kill bacteria.  It also works well as a laxative and helps lower blood glucose levels in diabetes patients.

In relation to the other claims the usual outcome is that more research needs to be done using standardized doses. 

Possible risks
Taking aloe vera orally is likely unsafe, when taken in high doses or for extended periods. The plant contains aloin, which some studies have shown can be cancerogenic in rodents. More recent studies however see scientists less worried about the potential risks of aloin.

When using fresh aloe vera you will find that the aloin is in the yellowish brown sap in the outer green leaf. If only the clear gel used in the center of the leaf is used, taking care not to contaminate it when taking out the gel from the leaf, risks are minimalized. See tips below on how best to harvest the gel from an aloe leaf.

Aloe vera plantationAlso good to know
The use of aloe vera products often involves some type of processing such as heating, dehydration, and grinding. Unfortunately, studies show that as a result of improper processing procedures, many aloe products contain only very little or virtually no active ingredients.

Also, industrialized aloe vera drinks that are made from the whole leaf, usually called aloe vera juices, can have higher traces of aloin and can be potentially dangerous if consumed regularly or at high doses.

Last tips
All in all, it seems that using a fresh aloe vera leaf can work wonders for the skin and may be beneficial when only the gel is ingested for short periods of time and using small doses, with the suggested maximum amount being a quarter of a teaspoon per time. As with and trend, you’ll see that what is considered harmful today may well become the next health fad tomorrow and the other way round. More research will hopefully dispel any further doubts in the future.

If you do want to try out fresh aloe vera, we’ve compiled a few tips for you:

+ Find out if you’re allergic
Apply a small amount of juice on the inside of your arm or behind your ears. If a rash appears or you experience a stinging sensation within a few minutes, do not use aloe vera on your skin. Follow the same principle if you want to ingest the gel. Put a little bit under your tongue and if after a few minutes you don’t feel anything weird eat a small piece. Again wait a few hours to see if any adverse reactions happen.

+ Cutting a leaf
It’s easy to cut a leaf with a sharp knife. To harvest the gel, either to apply on your skin or to ingest (use only very little and for short periods of time) cut the leaf lengthwise and filet out the clear gel. Here’s a photo tour that shows you how to do it precisely.

+ Keep it fresh
You can keep a harvested leaf fresh in the fridge if you’ve put some plastic foil around the cut part. The leaf can be kept for several weeks like this. Harvested gel can also be kept fresh in the same way, but only for a few days.   

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