What is Aloe Vera?
Aloe Vera is often called the Miracle Plant. It goes by many names, which may include The Natural Healer, The Burn Plant or The Miracle Plant. These names have survived the 4000 or so years during which this amazing medicinal herb has benefited mankind.
George Ebers in 1862 first discovered its antiquity in an ancient Egyptian papyrus, dated 3500 BC, which was in fact a collection of herbal remedies. Other researchers have since found it was used by both the ancient Chinese and Indian cultures. Greek and Roman physicians, such as Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder, used it to treat effect. The legend suggests that Aristotle persuaded Alexander the Great to capture the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean to get its rich supply of aloe to heal his wounded soldiers. The Egyptian queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra rated it highly as a beauty therapy, for in those days, health and beauty were linked far more than they ever are today.
Although, there are over 200 species of aloe and there are probably only three or four with medicinal properties. Of these, Aloe Vera Barbadensis (Miller), which is also known as Aloe Vera (linne), is the most potent.
Aloe Vera Barbadensis is a succulent, looking rather like a cactus but is in fact a member of the lily family related to the onions, garlic and asparagus. It reaches maturity in four years when the content of its leaves, a mixture of inner gel and outer sap can be harvested. This then gets preserved and bottled to produce a product that is as near to the natural plant juice as we can get.
To benefit from Aloe Vera, the gel can be taken internally for its nutritional effect or it can be combined with other ingredients to produce topical creams and lotions to nourish and improve the quality of the skin.
Why does it work?
It works by providing a rich cocktail of nutritional elements which combined action and balance produce a more powerful effect together than would be expected from the addition of the individual components. This is because they work as a team, enhancing each other's effect - known as synergism. It also has adaptogenic properties which means that different individuals take from it what they need, therefore the benefits vary from person to person.
Where does it work?
On account of its nutritional qualities and antioxidant properties, Aloe Vera helps firstly to prevent injury to epithelial tissues, and when they are damaged, it promotes healing.
Antioxidants fight the destructive 'free radicals'; the unstable compounds produced by our metabolism and are found in environmental pollutants. They are thought to cause various ailments including some cancers as well as contributing towards the aging process.
An epithelium is an anatomical term defined as follows:-
'An epithelium is a layer of cells that covers the body or lines a cavity that connects with it'.
Our largest epithelium is our skin but also included are the lining of the gut, the bronchial tract. No wonder that aloe works just as well on damaged skin as it does on either an inflamed bowel or in asthma.
How does it work?
Its natural anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial action combined within its nutritional constituents promote cell growth and there for healing. However, it is not only helpful for people with problems; most people taking it report a greater sense of well being - they just feel 'better' or they report feeling calmer and less anxious.
I believe that this last comment is due to aloe's effect on their immune system. You may say that this becomes balanced or fine-tuned and therefore more efficient at defending the body from attack.
Inside an Aloe Vera leaf
Aloe Vera Gel contains over 75 known ingredients, which can be divided into the following groups:
- Vitamins It contains a wide range, but the most important ones are the antioxidant vitamins C and E and Beta-Carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. It is also one of the few plant sources in the world of vitamin B12 - so very useful to vegetarians and vegans.
- Minerals These include magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, chromium, calcium,sodium,and potassium.
- Amino Acids The human body requires 22 amino acids, the building blocks of proteins and Aloe Vera gel contains 20 of them. More importantly, it provides seven of the eight essentialamino acids that cannot be manufactured by the body and which therfore have to be consumed as food.
- Sugars These include the important muco-polysaccharides which act on the immune system as well as helping to detoxify the boby.
- Enzymes Lipases and proteases which break down food and aid digestion.
- Fatty Acids The three main types act as a powerful anti-inflammatory agents.
- Lignin This woody substance bestows on Aloe Vera its penetrative ability to reach deep into the skin.
- Saponins These are soapy substances that exert a powerful anti-microbial effect against bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeasts such as candida or 'thrush'.
- Anthraquinones The most important ones being aloin and emodin, but altogether they are strong painkillers, and are acknowledged to possess anti-bacterial and viruscidal activity. In there pure form, they are very powerful laxatives.
Which type of aloe?
There is no real evidence to suggest that whole leaf aloe, which includes the rind but is filtered and usually concentrated, is any more effective than just the inner leaf gel and sap alone.
However, what is most important is the quality and quantity of aloe in the product being sold. Unfortunately, many products on the market labelled as 'Aloe Vera juice' may contain only a small amount or proportion of the actual inner leaf gel.
Aloe Vera is not a panacea for all ills and there is no magic about it. I believe it works only in the two areas mentioned previously - epithelial tissue and the immune system. That is largely backed up by anecdotal evidence, as many as thousands of people over the centuries have reported benefit for various skin complaints such as eczema, psoriasis, ulcers, burns,acne and even stings and bites. They have found relief for bowel disorders such as colitis, diverticulitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Other conditions resulting from a disordered immune system such as arthritis, asthma and ME (post viral fatigue syndrome) and LE (lupas) have improved after a regular ingestion of Aloe Vera gel.
Aloe Vera therefore has a complementary role to play in the management of various conditions. It is very important however that people should always seek the advice of their doctor when the diagnosis is in doubt or where a condition does not improve. Self diagnosis can be extremely dangerous as many serious conditions can mimic more simple ones.
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Comfort and control is the essence of our Aloe Ever-Shield deodorant. The clean, fresh scent will keep you at your best all day. No harmful aluminum salts makes it a healthy alternative.
By Paul Scarlett
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