Aloe is typically known for easing sunburns, treating dry skin conditions, and healing wounds. However, aloe vera is now being explored as a treatment for gastrointestinal disorders.
Prebiotics vs. Probiotics
Aloe vera is a prebiotic. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that enhance the function of beneficial bacteria that live in the human digestive system. This is in contrast to probiotics, which are the beneficial bacteria themselves. Probiotics are living microorganisms that confer health benefits to the host when consumed in adequate amounts. Examples of microorganisms include bacteria, yeast, and viruses, many of which are found naturally in the human body. Probiotics are often used to treat chronic digestive problems, and aloe vera is often used in tandem with probiotics to maintain a healthy digestive tract.
When prebiotics and probiotics are mixed together, they form a synbiotic. Thus, combining aloe vera and probiotics would form a synbiotic. It has been hypothesized that synbiotics may have additive or synergistic effects on digestive health, meaning there would be more benefits from using both components together than from using either component alone. Therefore, using aloe vera with probiotics may be better for the digestive tract than using either by themselves.
Digestion-Related Uses of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera and probiotics are frequently used to treat constipation and alleviate digestive problems associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that causes abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. Aloe vera and probiotics are also purported to treat ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation of the large intestine and rectum, which leads to abdominal pain and diarrhea. The theory of synbiotics suggests that combining aloe vera and probiotics would further ease symptoms of these conditions.
How It Works
Probiotics contain bacteria that help break down food and lactose, which can be hard for adult systems to digest. Prebiotics enhance the function of those bacteria, which can include altering mineral absorption or lipid metabolism in the gut. Additionally, aloe vera has laxative effects that are caused by aloin, which is found in the sap of the aloe vera plant. Aloin stimulates colon contractions and decreases water absorption in the intestines, which induces and softens stools, respectively. This helps alleviate constipation. Aloe also has anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, which may help lessen other digestive symptoms.
Aloe vera can cause diarrhea or cramping, and probiotics can cause gas and bloating. While Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health suggest that there is good scientific evidence for use of aloe vera and probiotics to treat certain digestive problems, the long-term safety and side effects are unknown. Therefore, as with any new treatment, consult your doctor before using it.