The aloe vera plant has been used for centuries in many cultures across the globe as medicine, both in food form and as a topical (most commonly). Historically, this medicinal plant has been used to treat wounds, burns and other skin ailments, but has other powerful healing properties, as well. The leaves of the aloe plant fill with water that form a gel-like consistency, and this is the part that is best known for its medicinal and healing purposes.
Aloe vera has been nicknamed “the lily of the desert,” and is one of the most well-researched medicinal plants on the planet. While you might have used it to treat sunburns, did you know that it is also rich in antioxidants, amino acids, enzymes, minerals and vitamins that can support not only skin health, but also strengthen your immune system, support your digestion and promote optimal nutrient absorption?
Nowadays, the aloe vera plant is grown commercially to use in products like creams, soaps and balms, and perhaps you’ve seen it popping up in your local health food and grocery stores as a juice. Most of aloe vera’s benefits can be reaped by simply picking it right off the stalk, breaking open a leaf and using the gel inside, but for those of us not lucky enough to have an aloe plant in our backyard, it can also be purchased in various forms.
First and foremost, check out some of the incredible ways that aloe vera can support and improve your health:
High in Antioxidants and Antibacterial Agents
Aloe vera is high in polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that prevent free radical damage (1). Free radicals are caused by a myriad of reasons, such as using rancid/oxidized fats and cooking oils, being exposed regularly to dietary toxins, etc, and antioxidants are critical for fighting the damage these molecules can cause to our cells and DNA. Aloe vera not only provides substantial antioxidant support, but these same antioxidants are thought to deliver antibacterial benefits, as well.
Speeds Up Burn and Wound Healing
Probably the most well known benefit of aloe vera is that it can heal wounds, burns and abrasions on the skin. Instead of ingesting it like a food or beverage, aloe vera can also be used as a topical medicinal agent, usually in gel or lotion form. Aloe vera is most commonly used (and was actually approved in 1959 by the FDA for this very purpose) on sunburns. Studies have shown that, when compared with regular lotions and creams, aloe vera can speed up the healing of a first or second degree burn by 9 days (2). In fact, using a regular lotion on a sunburn can actually extend healing time, so aloe vera is a much better choice.
Treats Canker Sores, Dental Plaque and Mouth Ulcers
If you’ve ever had a canker sore, you know how painful they can be. These small mouth ulcers generally last anywhere from one week to 10 days, and can get in the way of eating, not to mention be embarrassing if visible. Several studies have shown the effectiveness aloe vera has on healing canker sores, as well as the pain they cause (3). While it won’t necessarily heal these sores faster than the conventional, corticosteroid treatment, it is completely safe and natural.
Aloe vera has also been shown to reduce the occurrence of dental plaque. which can potentially lead to gum disease and tooth decay over time. Rinsing with aloe vera juice (or a specific aloe vera mouthwash) can prevent dental plaque just as effectively as the common, conventional mouthwash (and again, without the exposure to chemicals or other potentially harmful ingredients) (4).
Relieves and Prevents Constipation
Aloe vera is incredibly soothing, so when taken as a drink, it can also work to soothe the digestive tract and relieve symptoms of constipation. Interestingly, it is not the commonly-used aloe vera gel portion of the plant that provides this relief, but is the latex found just under the skin of the aloe plant. The main plant compound responsible for this is called aloin, which has been long known for its laxative effect (5). Keep in mind that (as with any laxative) you do run the risk of becoming dependant, so frequent use of aloe vera for constipation relief should be avoided. Getting to the root of the problem is key.
Lowers Blood Sugar Levels in Diabetics
Last but certainly not least, aloe vera has proven effective in lowering blood sugar levels in diabetics. Aloe vera has actually been used historically as a diabetes treatment (6), as it is thought to improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar management. Of course, this should be discussed with your doctor, first.
Impressed yet? After learning about some of the ways aloe vera can be used to improve health, you might be wondering how you can actually use aloe vera in your daily diet or skin-care/beauty regimen in order to reap these benefits. Great question!
How to Use Aloe Vera:
Apply Topically on Burns and Skin Injuries
If you’re lucky enough to have an aloe plant growing in your backyard, simply break off a leaf and have at it. If not, purchase an aloe gel or cream from the store, and apply it to burns, skin rashes or minor cuts and wounds. Using aloe vera topically will leave you feeling sticky at first, but that sensation goes away quickly.
Drink Aloe Juice for Constipation Relief and Prevention
If you suffer from constipation or just want to prevent it, you can purchase aloe vera juice to drink. The latex found in the aloe plant is what offers the healing properties that benefit your GI tract, but remember to keep aloe vera use for constipation to occasional use, so as not to depend on it for proper bowel function.
Use as an Eye Makeup Remover and/or Facewash
Aloe vera makes an excellent face wash, especially for those with sensitive skin. Simply mix one tablespoon of aloe gel with 1 tsp. each of lemon juice and almond or coconut milk (unsweetened), wash and rinse. Due to aloe’s high antioxidant and nutrient content, it can work to nourish and moisturize your skin surprisingly well. You can also use it as an all natural eye makeup remover by simply using a dab of the gel itself on a cotton ball.
Use it as a Mouth Wash
Due to aloe vera’s dental plaque lowering effects discussed above, it can make for a great mouthwash. Simply mix two to three tablespoons of gel with water, rinse and spit. Or, you can drink 1/4 cup gel mixed with water or juice (no sugar added) to cure bad breath. What can’t this plant do?
Apply it to Dry, Cracked Skin
If you suffer from dry, cracked skin (especially on your hands and feet), use aloe vera as a moisturizer. It will not give any sort of oily, greasy after-effect like many common lotions, so can also be used on the face. Or, try using aloe as a shaving gel or after-shave lotion, as its soothing properties will leave your skin feeling shiny and fresh.
There you have it! Aloe vera is a safe and natural dietary and home remedy for a myriad of ailments, and is generally considered safe for just about everyone. Incorporate into your skin care routine and your diet, and know that you are doing your body some serious favors.