The succulent aloe plant has been valued since prehistoric times for the treatment of burns, wound infections, and other skin problems. Medicinal aloe is pictured in an ancient cave painting in South Africa, and Alexander the Great is said to have captured an island off Somalia for the sole purpose of possessing the luxurious crop of aloe found there.
Most uses of aloe refer to the gel inside its cactus-like leaves. However, the skin of the leaves themselves can be condensed to form a sticky substance known as drug aloe or aloes. It is a powerful laxative, but it is seldom used because its effects are unpleasant. The uses described below are intended to refer only to aloe gel, not to drug aloe. However, to make matters trickier, some aloe gel products contain small amounts of drug aloe, and it is possible that this contaminant is the actual source of benefits seen in some studies.
We suspect millions of people would swear by their own experience that applying aloe to the skin can drastically reduce the time it takes for burns
Aloe also appears to be ineffective for treating the burn-like skin damage caused by
Besides its use for burns, aloe has been widely recommended for aiding
Does topical aloe provide any benefit at all? There is some evidence (although quite incomplete) that it might help
Aloe gel has also been tried as a treatment to be taken internally by mouth. Two studies suggest that that aloe gel taken in this way might be helpful for type 2
aloe is also sometimes recommended as an aid in the treatment of
One of the constituents of aloe gel, acemannan, has shown some promise in test tube and animal studies for stimulating immunity and inhibiting the growth of viruses.
A 2-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial enrolled 60 men with active genital herpes
A previous double-blind, placebo-controlled study by the same author, enrolling 120 men with genital herpes, found that cream made from aloe was more effective than pure aloe gel or placebo.
According to a double-blind study that enrolled 60 men and women with mild to moderate symptoms of
However, another study failed to replicate these results.
Further studies will be needed to sort out these contradictory results.
Lichen planus is a chronic skin condition characterized by itchy, flat, scaly patches. It can occur in various parts of the body, including the wrists, legs, trunk, mouth, and vagina.
One study evaluated the potential value of aloe vera as a topical treatment for oral lichen planus.
Evidence from two human trials suggests that aloe gel can improve blood sugar control in individuals with type 2
A single-blind, placebo-controlled trial evaluated the potential benefits of aloe in either 72 or 40 individuals with diabetes (the study report appears to contradict itself).
Another single-blind, placebo-controlled trial evaluated the benefits of aloe in individuals who had failed to respond to the oral diabetes drug glibenclamide.
Although these are promising results, large studies that are double- rather than single-blind will be needed to establish aloe as an effective treatment for hypoglycemia.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 44 people with active
Topical aloe vera cream typically contains 0.5% aloe and is applied three times daily.
For the treatment of diabetes, a dosage of 1 tablespoon of aloe juice twice daily has been used in studies.
Other than occasional allergic reactions, no serious problems have been reported with aloe gel, whether used internally or externally. However, comprehensive safety studies are lacking. Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
Keep in mind that if aloe is used as a treatment for diabetes, and it proves effective, blood sugar levels could fall too low, necessitating a reduction in medication dosage. Close monitoring of blood sugar levels is, therefore, advised.
In addition, there is one report of an herb-drug interaction between aloe and the anesthesia drug sevoflurane, in which it appeared that aloe may have increased sevoflurane's "blood thinning" effect. 30
Another isolated report appears to connect aloe to liver inflammation in one person.
7. Williams MS, Burk M, Loprinzi CL, et al. Phase III double-blind evaluation of an aloe vera gel as a prophylactic agent for radiation-induced skin toxicity. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 1996;36:345-349.
8. Bunyapraphatsara N, Yongchaiyudha S, Rungpitarangsi V, et al. Antidiabetic activity of Aloe vera L. juice II. Clinical trial in diabetes mellitus patients in combination with glibenclamide. Phytomedicine. 1996;3:245-248.
10. 't Hart LA, Nibbering PH, van den Barselaar MT, et al. Effects of low molecular weight constituents from Aloe vera gel on oxidative metabolism and cytotoxic and bactericidal activities of human neutrophils. Int J Immunopharmacol. 1990;12:427-434.
12. Kemp MC, Kahlon JB, Chinnah AD, et al. In-vitro evaluation of the antiviral effects of acemannan on the replication and pathogenesis of HIV-1 and other enveloped viruses: Modification of the processing of glycoprotein precursors [abstract]. Antiviral Res. 1990;13(suppl 1):83.
13. Syed TA, Afzal M, Ashfaq Ahmad S, et al. Management of genital herpes in men with 0.5% Aloe vera extract in a hydrophilic cream: a placebo-controlled double-blind study. J Dermatol Treat . 1997;8:99-102.
14. Syed TA, Cheema KM, Ashfaq A, et al. Aloe vera estract 0.5% in ahydrophilic cream versus Aloe vera gel for the management of genital herpes in males. A placebo-controlled, double-blind, comparative study [letter]. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol . 1996;7:294-295.
18. Bunyapraphatsara N, Yongchaiyudha S, Rungpitarangsi V, et al. Antidiabetic activity of Aloe vera L. juice II. Clinical trial in diabetes mellitus patients in combination with glibenclamide. Phytomedicine. 1996;3:245-248.
23. Olsen DL, Raub W Jr, Bradley C, et al. The effect of aloe vera gel/mild soap versus mild soap alone in preventing skin reactions in patients undergoing radiation therapy. Oncol Nurs Forum . 2001;28:543-547.
26. Montaner JS, Gill J, Singer J, et al. Double-blind placebo-controlled pilot trial of acemannan in advanced human immunodeficiency virus disease. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr Hum Retrovirol . 1996;12:153-157.
27. Su CK, Mehta V, Ravikumar L, et al. Phase II double-blind randomized study comparing oral Aloe vera versus placebo to prevent radiation-related mucositis in patients with head-and-neck neoplasms. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys . 2004;60:171-177.
31. Paulsen E, Korsholm L, Brandrup F, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of a commercial Aloe vera gel in the treatment of slight to moderate psoriasis vulgaris. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol . 2005;19:326-231.
35. Choonhakarn C, Busaracome P, Sripanidkulchai B, et al. The efficacy of aloe vera gel in the treatment of oral lichen planus: a randomized controlled trial. Br J Dermatol. 2007 Dec 11. [Epub ahead of print]
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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