Aloe vera is an exceptional healing plant with an extensive history of use covering 18 centuries. World-wide there exist hundreds of species of this succulent, yucca-like plant, but those most often used are Aloe barbandensis, Aloe perryi, Aloe ferros, and the ever-popular houseplant Aloe vera, whose fresh leaves can serve as an effective treatment for minor burns, abrasions and cuts.
Aloe vera gel, derived from the mucilaginous cells contained inside the leaves, is widely used in a variety of forms such as lotions, moisturizers, cosmetics, and shampoos. Aloe powder, derived from the tough outer leaf of the plant, is a strong cathartic consumed internally as a cleanser and often touted as a treatment for a variety of conditions ranging from liver disease to AIDS.
Clinical evidence supports many of the health claims attributed to Aloe vera. Researchers have found that fresh Aloe gel promotes wound healing by speeding up the growth of skin cells and aiding recovery from surgery. Aloe has also proved effective in treating pressure sores, chronic leg ulcers, and frostbite.
Aloe vera has also been shown to have strong antibacterial and antifungal properties against a broad range of microbes. Carrisyn, an extract of aloe, has shown recent evidence of being able to inhibit a number of viruses in vitro, including the strains responsible for herpes simples, measles, and HIF. Carrisyn appears to work by stimulating the immune system to trigger the production of T cells, thereby increasing immune function.
Other active ingredients of the aloe plant include salicylates, which control inflammation and pain, and an enzyme that inhibits bradykinin, the chemical messenger responsible for transmitting pain signals through the nerves. Aloe also contains magnesium lactate, a chemical known to inhibit the release of histimines responsible for skin irritation and itching.
While generally regarded as safe, some people using aloe products may experience a form of hypersensitivity evidenced by skin rash which disappears soon after discontinuing use of the product. When choosing an aloe vera product for topical application, look for a product high in aloe content, which should appear as the first item listed on the ingredients panel. As for internal consumption, long-term studies have not been performed to determine safety or effectiveness, and the guidance of a knowledgeable professional is highly recommended.