Home Medicinal Plants Aloe vera: effects and risks

Aloe vera: effects and risks

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 335 views

Aloe vera is a recognized remedy for constipation, but you should not take it for too long. Aloe vera gel and aloe vera juice are also used externally to heal wounds and are said to be suitable for skin care. Read more about aloe species, their effects, uses and possible side effects.

What are the effects of aloe vera and other types of aloe?

Aloe is a genus of the asphodel family (Asphodelaceae), of which there are almost 450 wild species in Africa, India and the Mediterranean region. Two types of aloe in particular are used medicinally – aloe vera (or aloe barbadensis, true aloe) and aloe ferox (cape aloe).

What are aloe vera and aloe ferox good for? We present the healing effect in more detail.

Aloe extract against constipation

The bitter-tasting dry extract of the outer leaf layers of both types of aloe is used to treat constipation. This effect is recognized in medicine.

The outer leaf layers of aloe vera and A. ferox provide the dry extract (Extractum aloes), which contains so-called anthranoids (including aloin) as ingredients that determine its effectiveness. The dry extract obtained from aloe vera is called “curaçao aloe”, that of A. ferox “cape aloe” or “bitter aloe”.

Anthranoids have a laxative and stimulating effect on the muscular activity of the intestines. Therefore, the dry extracts in the form of finished medicinal products are very suitable for the treatment of constipation. They are also used in diseases where easy bowel movements are desired. This is the case, for example, with anal fissures and hemorrhoids as well as after surgical interventions in the area of ​​the rectum.

It is not known that aloe vera has a positive effect on the intestinal flora or is suitable for intestinal rehabilitation .

Aloin has harmful effects on health if the dose is too high. Therefore, only use aloe vera products twice a week for a maximum of two weeks.

Aloe juice or gel for skin

The non-bitter-tasting plant sap from the slimy tissue inside the leaves of aloe vera and A. ferox and the gel made from it are said to support wound healing when used externally. So far, there are not enough high-quality studies that prove this effect.

It is also possible to use aloe vera internally: preparations are offered by the food industry as dietary supplements – including aloe drinking gel and aloe vera juice for drinking. The latter has a weak laxative effect and should therefore not be drunk over a longer period of time.

Is aloe vera good for the skin? For example, the cosmetics industry recommends aloe vera for facial care, against pimples and other skin impurities, for example in the form of aloe vera cream. Since the medicinal plant provides moisture, it may also slow down the visible formation of wrinkles, but it cannot prevent it. The effectiveness is basically not proven by meaningful studies.

Also available is aloe vera shampoo. It is said to help with itchy, dry scalp. It also moisturizes dry hair. But there are no meaningful studies that prove that aloe vera helps against hair loss, dry scalp, dandruff or brittle hair. It has not yet been sufficiently scientifically proven, but it is plausible that products made from aloe vera and A. ferox, when applied externally, alleviate the symptoms of certain skin diseases such as psoriasis, neurodermatitis or rosacea. Among other things, the gel is said to have an anti-itch effect.

It also seems to be effective on wounds, burns, sunburn, frostbite, acne and mosquito bites. The multiple sugars (polysaccharides), glycoproteins, amino acids, minerals and salicylic acid it contains may accelerate wound healing.

Therefore, the trade offers appropriate products such as aloe vera spray. However, further scientific studies are necessary to confirm the effectiveness of the plant in the mentioned areas of application.

Other areas of application

The medicinal plant is also often advertised as a “miracle cure” for the treatment of a variety of complaints and diseases, including cancer – this is particularly true for the species Aloe arborescens. However, there is no medical evidence for this.

How is aloe vera used?

In the case of constipation, you should only take aloe preparations if swelling agents such as flaxseed or psyllium and a change in diet have not been able to eliminate the constipation.

Then use preferably ready-made medicines such as dragees, pills or tinctures from your pharmacy. These are carefully prepared and contain a standardized concentration of the extract. The aloe vera juice effect, on the other hand, is too weak to stimulate digestion. Aloe vera drink and drinking gel also contain too few laxative ingredients and are therefore not suitable as a laxative for constipation.

The juice from the freshly cut leaves of the plant – also from Aloe capensis – can help with initial wound care for cuts, first-degree burns and sunburn. To do this, cut the leaves open and let the juice drip directly onto the appropriate spot. Alternatively, ointments or powders based on the medicinal plant from the pharmacy can help.

There are creams, serums or gels with aloe vera for use on the face. Products with aloe vera gel are also available for the intimate area.

Capsules with aloe vera are also available. Above all, they should strengthen the immune system. However, scientific evidence is lacking. Aloe Vera is also added to some types of tea. However, they do not focus on the healing effect.

While the gel-like interior of the leaf is edible, the foliage contains poisonous anthrachiones.

What side effects can aloe vera cause?

For internal use it should be noted:

  • There have been reports of gastrointestinal spasms associated with internal use of aloe vera and aloe ferox products such as aloe vera juice. Then please reduce the dose.
  • A slight red discoloration of the urine during treatment with aloe is harmless.
  • Because of their laxative effects, aloe vera and A. ferox could interfere with the absorption and thus the effectiveness of medications that are also taken orally.
  • People with diabetes who take blood-sugar-lowering medications should be careful: Aloe vera and A. ferox supplements taken by mouth can also lower blood sugar levels.
  • The dry extracts irritate the intestinal mucous membranes and should therefore not be taken for longer than one to a maximum of two weeks. In addition, with long-term use of laxative preparations, the body loses many important salts (electrolytes), which can lead to disorders of the heart function such as cardiac arrhythmia and muscle weakness.

External use of aloe vera and A. ferox appears to be safe.

What you should consider when using aloe vera

You should not take aloe preparations for internal use for longer than two weeks – otherwise there is a risk that the intestinal mucosa will be overstimulated and constipation will reappear or worsen.

  • The additional intake of cardiac drugs can dangerously increase the loss of mineral salts. Therefore, discuss the combined use in advance with your doctor.
  • If the medicinal plant is offered as a dietary supplement or in cosmetic products, according to the Medicines and Food Act, no disease-related statements may appear on the label.
  • To be on the safe side, aloe preparations should not be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is also not recommended for children under the age of twelve.
  • External use of creams with aloe vera, such as for sunburn and insect bites, is also possible for babies and children.
  • People who have dry and cracked skin or are prone to allergies should avoid external use of aloe vera. Otherwise the skin may burn or become itchy.

Aloe preparations should not be taken for certain medical conditions. These include:

  • intestinal obstruction
  • appendicitis
  • inflammatory bowel diseases (such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
  • Abdominal pain of unknown cause
  • severe dehydration

How to get aloe vera and its products

For the treatment of constipation or wounds, give preference to finished medicinal products from the pharmacy: they are carefully prepared and contain a standardized extract. Take aloe vera and A. ferox supplements according to the directions on the package insert. For safe use, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Dietary supplements and cosmetic products with aloe (such as aloe vera face cream or aloe vera oil for skin care) are available in drugstores and health food stores.

Aloe vera and other aloe species: what is it?

Well-known aloe species are aloe vera and aloe ferox, both of which are used in the manufacture of medicinal preparations.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera is an old cultivated plant that probably originally came from North Africa or the Arabian Peninsula. Today it is grown in many tropical-subtropical regions. The plant, which is about 40 to 50 centimeters high, forms one or more rosettes of fleshy, non-thorned leaves. Upright inflorescences with yellow flowers, up to 90 centimeters high, protrude from these from May to June.

The botanically correct name of aloe vera is actually aloe barbadensis MILLER. Manufacturers often offer preparations with A. barbadensis MILLER under the name “Aloe vera” (e.g. as aloe vera gel) in order to circumvent drug law, which only recognizes A. barbadensis for the treatment of constipation. The declaration of other effects is therefore prohibited.

Aloe ferox

With a height of up to three meters (sometimes six meters), the aloe ferox towers significantly over the aloe vera. The plant reaches this height through its upright trunk, on which the leaves fall from bottom to top. At the top it wears a stately crown of thorny, lanceolate leaves.

There are spikes on the underside of the leaf – in contrast to the leaves of aloe vera. From May to June, A. ferox bears long, cylindrical racemes with numerous pale red flowers.

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