Botanical names: Aloe vera, Aloe barbadensis
© Steven Foster
The aloe plant originally came from Africa. The leaves, which are long, green, fleshy, and have spikes along the edges, are used medicinally. The fresh leaf gel and latex are used for many purposes. Aloe latex is the sticky residue left over after the liquid from cut aloe leaves has evaporated.
Aloe has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):
|Science Ratings||Health Concerns|
Genital herpes (topical)
Seborrheic dermatitis (topical)
Type 2 diabetes
Wound healing (topical)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.
Aloe has been historically used for many of the same conditions for which it is used today—particularly constipation and minor cuts and burns. In India, it has been used by herbalists to treat intestinal infections, suppressed menses, and colic.
The constituents of aloe latex responsible for its laxative effects are known as anthraquinone glycosides. These molecules are split by the normal bacteria in the large intestines to form other molecules (aglycones), which exert the laxative action. Since aloe is such a powerful laxative, other plant laxatives such as senna or cascara are often recommended first.
Topically, it is not yet clear which constituents are responsible for the wound healing properties of aloe.1 Test tube studies suggest polysaccharides, such as acemannon, help promote skin healing by anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immune-stimulating actions. Aloe’s effects on the skin may also be enhanced by its high concentration of amino acids, as well as vitamin E, vitamin C, zinc, and essential fatty acids.
Aloe has been used to treat minor burns.2 Stabilized aloe gel is applied to the affected area of skin three to five times per day. Older case studies reported that aloe gel applied topically could help heal radiation burns,3 and a small clinical trial found it more effective than a topical petroleum jelly in treating burns.4 However, a large, modern, placebo-controlled trial did not find aloe effective for treating minor burns.5
Two small controlled human trials have found that aloe, either alone or in combination with the oral hypoglycemic drug, glibenclamide, effectively lowers blood sugar in people with type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes.6 7
An aloe extract in a cream has been shown effective in a double-blind, controlled trial in people with psoriasis.8
For constipation, a single 50–200 mg capsule of aloe latex can be taken each day for a maximum of ten days.
For minor burns, the stabilized aloe gel is applied topically to the affected area of skin three to five times per day. Treatment of more serious burns should only be done under the supervision of a healthcare professional. For internal use of aloe gel, two tablespoons (30 ml) three times per day is used by some people with conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (see precautions below). For type 2 diabetes, clinical trials have used one tablespoon (15 ml) of aloe juice, twice daily. Treatment of diabetes with aloe should only be done under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.
Except in the rare person who is allergic to aloe, topical application of the gel is generally safe. For any burn that blisters significantly or is otherwise severe, medical attention is absolutely essential. In some severe burns and wounds, aloe gel may actually impede healing.9
The latex form of aloe should not be used by anyone with inflammatory intestinal diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or appendicitis. It should also not be used by children, or by women during pregnancy or breast-feeding.10
In people with constipation, aloe latex should not be used for more than ten consecutive days as it may lead to dependency and fluid loss. Extensive fluid loss may lead to depletion of important electrolytes in the body such as potassium.11
Are there any drug
Certain medicines may interact with aloe. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.
1. Penneys NS. Inhibition of arachidonic acid oxidation in vitro by vehicle components. Acta Derm Venerol Stockh 1981;62:59–61.
2. Visuthikosol V, Chowchuen B, Sukwanarat Y, et al. Effect of Aloe vera to healing of burn wound: A clinical and histologic study. J Med Assoc Thai 1995;78:403–9.
3. Loveman AB. Leaf of Aloe vera in treatment of Roentgen ray ulcers. Arch Derm Syph 1937;36:838–43.
4. Visuthikosol V, Chowchuen B, Sukwanarat Y, et al. Effect of aloe vera gel in the healing of burn wound: a clinical and histologic study. J Med Assoc Thai 1995;78:403–9.
5. Williams MS, Burk M, Loprinzi CL, et al. Phase III double-blind evaluation of an Aloe vera gel as a prophylactic agent for radiation-induced skin toxicity. Int J Rad Oncol Biol Phys 1996;36:345–9.
6. Yongchaiyudha S, Rungpitarangs V, Bunyapraphatsara N, Chokechaijaroenporn O. Antidiabetic activity of Aloe vera L. juice. I. Clinical trial in new cases of diabetes mellitus. Phytomedicine 1996;3:241–3.
7. Bunyapraphatsara N, Yongchaiyudha S, Rungpitarangsi V, Chokechaijaroenporn O. Antidiabetic activity of Aloe vera L juice. II. Clinical trial in diabetes mellitus patients in combination with glibenclamide. Phytomedicine 1996;3:245–8.
8. Syed TA, Ahmad SA, Holt AH, et al. Management of psoriasis with Aloe vera extract in a hydrophilic cream: a placebo-controlled double-blind study. Trop Med Int Health 1996;1:505–9.
9. Schmidt JM, Greenspoon JS. Aloe vera dermal wound gel is associated with a delay in wound healing. Obstet Gynecol 1991;78:115–7.
10. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 80–1.
11. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 80–1.
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The information presented in Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires September 2008.