What Are the Benefits of Eating Aloe Vera?

Fresh green leaves of aloe vera plant
The leaves of an aloe vera plant. (Image: olgakr/iStock/Getty Images)

Aloe vera is a plant that has been used historically in various traditional cultures for its health benefits, as well as its medicinal and skin care properties. However, the benefits of taking aloe vera internally have not been completely validated. Aloe leaves are made up of three layers, the innermost being a gel containing the plant's alleged beneficial properties. Today, the gel inside the aloe vera plant is used in skin care products, and it's also consumed in its raw natural form for its purported health benefits.

Nutritional Value

According to a 2008 article in the "Indian Journal of Dermatology," aloe vera gel contains vitamins A, C and E. These are antioxidants, meaning they protect you from free radicals that are responsible for aging and can cause cancer over time. The gel also contains vitamin B-12 and folate. It hosts an array of essential minerals, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, chromium, sodium, copper, zinc and selenium. Its mineral content makes aloe vera beneficial for healthy cellular enzyme and metabolic activity. It also contains 20 amino acids, including 7 out of the 8 essential ones.

Anti-Inflammatory

Aloe contains several anti-inflammatory compounds, including salicylic acid, C-glucosyl chromone and an enzyme called bradykinase. Meanwhile, aloe reduces the production of acid in the body, which also prevents inflammation. According to a study published in "Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics" in 2004, consuming aloe might prove helpful in treating inflammatory bowel disease. Another study from the same publication published in 2004 reported that aloe can also be helpful in mild to moderate cases of ulcerative colitis. In the study, aloe supplementation absolved or improved symptoms in 47 percent of cases, whereas only 14 percent of cases in the placebo group saw improvements.

Diabetes Prevention and Treatment

In a study published in the "Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin" in 2006, scientists tested the anti-hyperglycemic effect of five different compounds called phytosterols found in aloe vera gel on mice with Type 2 diabetes. After being administered the phytosterols for one month, the mice had reduced glucose levels. The researchers concluded aloe gel impacts blood glucose levels in the long term, which could be useful in treating Type 2 diabetes. The "Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal" in 2009 published a study that verified this conclusion. Researchers gave Type 2 diabetic patients aloe supplements daily. After four weeks, researchers noticed a significant reduction in triglycerides, and after six weeks the patients' glucose levels were reduced significantly.

Cautions

The aloe plant's gel, which is in the largest, innermost layer of each leaf, is the safe and beneficial part of the plant to consume, but its skin and the yellow layer directly under it, called latex, is considered most likely unsafe. Aloe is not considered safe for pregnant and breast-feeding women or for children under 12, according to MedlinePlus. It has been associated with birth defects and miscarriage. Aloe can act as a laxative, so it should not be combined with any laxative medications, such as digoxin. Aloe vera juice consumption has been linked to kidney problems and liver injury, according to MedlinePlus. Although some studies show potential use of aloe in pharmacology, and it has some nutrients, it's probably not a food to consume regularly for health benefits.

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