Allah’s Medicine Chest: Aloe Vera
By Hwaa Irfan
The name comes from the Greek alsos, Arabic alloeh meaning bitter. Brought to attention in the Western world through the cosmetics industry in modern times, the genus Aloe has a long history The genus Aloe originated in southern Africa ~16 million years ago. Today, we are familiar with its wider role in alternative medicine.
Also known as Bitter Aloe(Aloe Forex), Red Aloe (English); iNhlaba (Zulu, South Africa); iKhala (Xhosa, South Africa), saber (Arabic)
The earliest known record of Aloe Vera is on a Sumerian tablet dating from 2100 BC. In Mecca, Saudi Arabia aloes can be found at the extremity of every grave, on a spot facing the epitaph, Burckhardt found planted a low shrubby species of Aloe whose Arabic name, , signifies patience as indicated by its nature: evergreen and requiring very little water, and the waiting-time between the burial and the resurrection morning. The ancient Greeks Dioscorides, Celsus and Pliny as well as Arab physicians used it medicinally. In the 10th century it was imported to Greece by the East Indian Company.
There are around 400 species of Aloe Vera. Today Aloe Vera plantations in the southern U.S. and Mexico include species other than Aloe Vera, so in modern Western culture all aloe plants and products are called “Aloe vera”. Their natural habitat is fairly arid and warm, and grows in sandy, rocky, and bushy locales. It feeds 98% on air and does not flourish with the application of fertilisers. With adaptation it grows in a wide and varied conditions.
Its tubular flowers, yellow to red in colour, grow in arrow-shaped clusters on spikes that are up to 3 feet tall (Moore, 2001). Aloe flowers in springtime. Its fruits are small and not particularly significant. In addition to propagating via seeds, it can reproduce by offsets, which may take root up to 6 feet away from the plant and grow into new plants (Moore, 2001).
In young plants and in the suckers which arise from the plant base, the leaves become bright green in colour, with irregular whitish spots on both sides. The thick fleshy leaves have no stem and are greenish – red in colour, and contain a gel known as aloe gel. Water-logging of soil may cause the leaves to pale and sunlight again restores the colour. Depending on the specie, the young leaf will have pale-green spots that disappear as it matures. The leaves appear sword-like with harmless small teeth-like spine that runs the length of the leaf. The old leaves do not fall off. Near the epidermis or outer skin of the fleshy leaves is a row of fibrovascular bundles which are filled with a yellow juice which exudes when the leaf is cut; this Polysaccharide-rich inner leaf mesophyll provides a reservoir of water to sustain photosynthesis during droughts. When it is desired to collect the juice, the leaves are cut off so the juice is drained off into tubs. This juice thus collected is concentrated either by spontaneous evaporation, or more generally by boiling until it becomes of the consistency of thick honey. On cooling, it is then poured into gourds, boxes, or other convenient receptacles, and solidifies.
The flowers are carried in a large candelabra-like flower-head. There is no calyx, the corolla is tubular, divided into six narrow segments at the mouth and of a red, yellow or purplish colour. The capsules contain numerous angular seeds. There are usually between five and eight branches, each carrying a spike-like head of many flowers. Flower colour varies from yellowy-orange to bright red. The variety “A. candelabrum” has six to twelve branches and the flowers have their inner petals tipped with white.
Flowering occurs between May – August, but in colder parts of the country this may be delayed until September. The flowers produce copious amounts of nectar attract many bird species Insects also visit the flowers which attracts more birds. In natural areas, monkeys and baboons will raid the aloes for nectar.
The main commercial producers today are the Dutch Antilles, the coastal areas of Venezuela and the subtropical regions of the U.S. and Mexico. The main supplier of Aloe Vera gel is the U.S. Aloe Vera has a bitter taste in the raw state, but this can be made more palatable by adding fruit juice. Aloe Vera gel is the inner leaf the Juice is the “Aloe Latex” a bitter substance found just under the skin of the leaf.
In the Western cosmetic and toilet industry, it is used as a base material for skin moisturizers, soaps, shampoos, sun lotions, makeup creams, perfumes, shaving creams, bath aids, and many other products. For pharmaceutical use as a laxative, the juice is taken from the tubules just beneath the outer skin of the leaves. It’s a bitter yellow and dried to become aloe granules that are dark brown in colour. Carrington Laboratories, U.S. have separated the polysaccharide, acemannan from Aloe vera which is is sold as “Carrisyn” and is being used for treatment of AIDS and Feline leukemia. The food industry uses Aloe in the manufacture of functional foods, especially health drinks, and as a bitter agent.
A large variety of varieties and preparations are used medicinally.
Chemical Properties differ according to the plant component, and area grown. There are over 130 chemical constituents and they include:
Barbaloin (formerly called Socaloin and Zanaloin), (present in crystalline Aloes), (Cape Aloes contains 9%+ more)
Barbaloin (present in crystalline Aloes)
Ascorbic acid (leaves)
Isobarbaloin (present in Aloes Forex), (present in crystalline Aloes)
Aloin amino acid
Aloesin amino acid
Arginine amino acid
Glycine amino acid
Glutamine amino acid
Histidine amino acid
Aloe Forex contains 20 more constituents
Laxative and Purgative
Serine amino acid (not in the leaves)
Leucine amino acid
Lysine amino acid
Methionine amino acid
Phenylalanine amino acid
Threonine amino acid
Valine amino acid
Tryptophan amino acid
Aloe Vera is generally non- toxic, but there always exceptions .
- Aloe Vera supplements could result in intestinal spasms, dehydration or stomach cramps
- Those on antiarrythimic medicine
- Those on corticosteroids, licorice, or diuretics
- People who suffer from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- People who have undergone surgeries like laparotomy
- People taking drugs with cardiac glycosides
- Ingestion in pregnant and breast-feeding women, children younger than 12 years
- Those who have inflammatory bowel disease
- Elderly patients with suspected intestinal obstruction.
When buying from a store
In the West, the first case report of the beneficial effects of Aloe vera in the treatment of skin and wound healing was published in 1935, with fresh whole-leaf extract reported to provide rapid relief from the itching and burning associated with severe roentgen (radiation) dermatitis and complete skin regeneration (Collins and Collins 1935).
One study showed that aloe vera actually contains vitamin B12, which is required for the production of red blood cells.
Because Aloe Vera is natural, it works gently within the intestinal tract to help break down food residues that have become impacted and help clean out the bowel. When the bowel is cleaned out, it greatly reduces bloating, discomfort, and helps ease stress, which only leads to more attacks of irritable bowel syndrome.
Aside from being an excellent body cleanser, removing toxic matter from the stomach, kidneys, spleen, bladder, liver, and colon, aloe can also offer effective relief from more immediate ailments, such as indigestion, upset stomach, ulcers, and inflammation in the gut. It also strengthens the digestive tract and alleviates joint inflammation, making it a great option for arthritis sufferers.
It improves joint flexibility and helps in the regeneration of body cells. It strengthens joint muscles, which therefore reduces pain and inflammation in weakened or aged joints.
Gertrude Baldwin refers to “one polysaccharide, acemannan, is known for its ability to restore and boost the immune system by stimulating the production of macrophages and improving the activity of T-Lymphocytes by up to 50 %. Acemannan produces immune agents such as interferon and interleukin which help to destroy viruses, bacteria, and tumour cells. It improves cellular metabolism by normalizing cellular function and regulating the flow of nutrients and wastes in and out of the cells. It knows how to destroy parasites and fungus. In some AIDS patients, it even protected the immune system from the toxic side effects of AZT”.
For bacteria, inner-leaf gel from Aloe Vera was shown to inhibit growth of Streptococcus and Shigella species in vitro.
The concomitant oral administration of 1 mL twice a day of Aloe vera tincture (10% Aloe vera and 90% alcohol) and 20 mg/day of melatonin compared to melatonin alone was studied in 50 patients with locally advanced or metastatic solid tumours for whom no other effective standard therapy was available. In the group treated with Aloe vera and melatonin combined, 12 of 24 patients had their disease stabilized compared to only 7 of 26 patients in the melatonin-only group. In addition, the percentage of individuals surviving 1 year was significantly higher with Aloe vera plus melatonin compared with melatonin treatment alone (Lissoni et al. 1998).
Aloe Vera has been especially helpful of patients with severe and various skin diseases. It acts as a rejuvenating action. It acts as a moisturizer and hydrates the skin. After being absorbed into the skin, it stimulates the fibroblasts cells and causes them to regenerate themselves faster. It’s the cells that that produce the collagen and elastin so the skin will get smoother and look younger. Lignins a constituent of the cellulose penetrates the toughened areas of the skin being beneficial for skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis.
Aloe vera has been reported to accelerate postoperative wound healing in periodontal flap surgery (Payne 1970). n a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial of 28 healthy adults, aloin was reported to have a laxative effect compared to a placebo that was stronger than the stimulant laxative phenolphthalein (Chapman and Pittelli 1974). In subjects with chronic constipation, a novel preparation containing Aloe vera, celandine, and psyllium was found to improve a range of constipation indicators (bowel movement frequency, consistency of stools, and laxative dependence) in a 28-day double-blind trial; however, the effect of Aloe vera alone was not investigated in this study (Odes and Madar 1991).
A team of plastic surgeons compared Aloe vera gel to 1% silver sulphadiazine cream for the treatment of second degree burn wounds. The burn wounds among the patients treated with Aloe vera healed remarkably earlier compared to those treated with 1% silver sulfadiazine (SSD). – Journal of Pakistan Medical Association
When applied topically, the gel acts as best moisturizer, removes dead skin cells and rejuvenates the skin.
Ulcerative Colitis A two year trial at the Neath, Morriston and Singleton hospitals in Swansea for use of Aloe Vera involved 44 patients suffering from Ulcerative Colitis has been completed at the Royal London Hospital and the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. The trial was completed in January 2004 and an improvement found in 38% of Patients given Aloe Vera gel as opposed to 8% given a placebo.
- In Cape Town, South Africa Aloe Ferox is as a laxative, wound healing, and for arthritis.
- In Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean it is used for hypertension.
- Mexican-Americans used it for Type 2 diabetes mellitus.
One of the home remedies for asthma was to boil some Aloe Vera leaves in a pan of water and breathe in the vapour.
Drinking Aloe vera juice allows the body to cleanse the digestive system. It encourages the bowels to move and helps with elimination if a person is constipated. And if you have diarrhoea, it will help slow it down.
“Aloe Vera”. legacy.earlham.edu/~banvael/aloevera.html
Foster. M, Hunter. D, and Samman, Samir. “Evaluation of the Nutritional and Metabolic Effects of Aloe vera” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92765/
Allah’s Medicine Chest