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Healthlines: Aloe Vera.

Summary: Aloe Vera is one of the oldest medicinal plants in existence. It comes from a cactus-like member of the lily family and is natural to the Gulf countries; you may well have one Aloe Vera plant in your garden without even realizing it. They grow wild and are very common. The cool soothing gel made from slicing open the leaf has been used since ancient times to treat sunburn or minor skin conditions and stomach complaints.



Uses of the Aloe Vera plant can be traced all the way back to the ancient Egyptians whose healers used it in 1500 BC; Cleopatra regarded Aloe Vera as her beauty secret. It was held in such reverence in Egypt that it was considered to be the "Plant of Immortality". Drawings of the Aloe plant have even been found inscribed in the tombs of Pharaohs. In Pakistan the plant has been used for centuries for digestion mixed with herbs and taken after a meal.

The Plant

Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) is a cactus-like plant with succulent long, thick spiky leaves; growing to 80-100 cm tall, the green to grey-green leaves have serrated edges. The flowers are produced on a spike and are yellow. The plants are strong and hardy and can live for 25 years. They can tolerate drought by remaining dormant until conditions improve. They can be grown in a pot on your balcony but need a well-drained soil so water sparingly -- or even dry out -- in the winter months. Inside its spiky leaves there is a pulp containing essential vitamins (including B12, which is vital for vegetarians), minerals and amino acids.


There are different ways of using Aloe Vera (drink it as a tonic, or as a spray or gel to be rubbed on the skin). An Aloe Vera drink is claimed to help the body regulate itself and alleviate such chronic conditions as psoriasis, asthma and arthritis. It can be used externally to promote healing of cuts, burns, acne and eczema; when added to skin products it may rejuvenate and improve the skin. Cosmetic companies add Aloe Vera sap to products such as makeup, tissues, moisturizers and soaps; its function as a beautifier and natural healer are universally acknowledged


Scientists are not sure how Aloe Vera works but they have identified many of the active ingredients, which reduce swelling and soothe itching skin and promote healing. Some studies show that it destroys spread of bacteria. Whether or not it promotes wound healing is unknown, and even though there are some promising results, clinical effectiveness of oral or topical

Aloe Vera remains unclear at present. An article published in the British Journal of General Practice suggests that Aloe Vera is effective at treating athlete's foot. A study performed in the 1990s showed that the healing time of a moderate to severe burn was reduced when the wound was treated on a regular basis with Aloe Vera gel. During the Gulf War, the American military stockpiled the extract for use on the wounded.

Precautions and Warnings

Health food stores sometimes carry Aloe Vera juice for oral consumption, claiming it relieves gastrointestinal complaints such as indigestion. Such claims are unproven; thus, it is wise to limit Aloe Vera to external use, particularly if you are pregnant, a nursing mother, or have one of the following conditions: Gastritis, heartburn, kidney disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal obstruction, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, hemorrhoids or menstrual disorders. Aloe Vera gel is sometimes recommended as a laxative. Whilst Aloe does contain a purgative agent (an agent that stimulates bowel movements) the bowels may become dependent on Aloe Vera if it is used regularly to regulate the bowels.

Ask Alva

My mother has brown marks on her face. What are they, and is there anything she can take to avoid them?

-- Nula

These are known as age spots or liver marks and are also common on the back of the hands. They are caused by the Melanin pigment clumping together to form patches. This is normally the result of too much sun exposure. She can protect the skin on her face and hands by wearing a factor 25 sunscreen every day if possible, and factor 50 if she in the sun for long periods. If she keeps them covered they will fade. They can be removed by laser, but be careful as the new skin is very delicate and can easily go brown. So after treatment she should stay out of the sun and use a strong sunscreen.

-- Alva

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Dec 22, 2010
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