The lily of the desert, the aloe vera plant, is a plant with topical and oral value. Both the gel and the juice are beneficial, but come from different parts of the plant and have specific and vastly different uses. Talk to a trusted health care adviser before using aloe vera as an oral or topical medicine.
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Aloe Vera Gel
The central portion of aloe vera leaves contains a clear gel that is often used as a topical ointment. The gel makes a skin-soothing salve for sunburns and is a remedy for minor cuts and burns as well. In fact, the University of Maryland Medical Center, or UMMC, reports that active compounds in aloe vera gel known as glycoproteins and polysaccharides may reduce pain and inflammation while stimulating skin growth and healing. Other uses for aloe vera gel include treating psoriasis and genital herpes.
Aloe Vera Juice
Aloe vera juice is derived from the outer parts of the leaf and is consumed orally as a health tonic. The same skin-healing substances that exist in the gel are present in the juice and have immune-system enhancing effects.The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that aloe vera juice is used to treat asthma, epilepsy, diabetes and osteoarthritis. And while more research is needed to determine its effects as a diabetes treatment, the UMMC notes that preliminary evidence shows it has a blood-sugar lowering effect on type-2 diabetics. Additionally, the skin of the aloe leaf yields a bitter liquid that is a potent laxative.
As a laxative, aloe vera juice causes bothersome cramping and discomfort, which is why other herbal laxatives are preferred for this use. The juice may also interact with certain medications, such as diabetes drugs. Aloe vera gel is generally safe, and is not linked to any significant side effects. To avoid irritation, however, you should never apply the gel to open wounds.
Uses and Forms
Although aloe vera is a common ingredient in commercial skin-care products, you can purchase your own plant and extract the juice and gel by simply breaking the leaves to access the inner components. Other forms you might experiment with include capsules, tablets and creams, which are available over the counter at health food stores and pharmacies.