Medical Attributes of Aloe vera - The Aloe Plant

by Chris Haydu, Natalie Karpinich, and Tina Sidonio
Wilkes University
Wilkes-Barre, PA

July, 1997

Aloe vera, commonly referred to as aloe, is a member of the Liliaceae (Lily family). Aloe vera evolved in Africa. However, it is now cultivated in many parts of the world including the southern United States (Anon., 1997a). A. vera contains four active ingredients used to treat various ailments. B-sitosterol, a sterol found in the skin or sap portion of the leaf is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent (Waller, 1978). The second active ingredient consists of mucopolysaccharides (MPS) which are long chain sugar molecules effective in the treatment of inflammation, AIDS, and cancer (Danhof, 1997). The emodin and lectins are anti-tumor agents effective in their ability to control cancer (Anon., 1997c).

The anti-inflammatory quality of B-sitosterol found in A. vera has been tested extensively. In an ear swelling assay, A. vera extracts decreased inflammation by 29.2% when applied topically (Davis et al., 1991). In another study, A. vera appeared beneficial in an acute inflammatory model involving rats, but demonstrated no significant effect on chronic inflammation (Udupa et al., 1994). Mucopolysaccharides of 50 to 600 molecules also reduce inflammation particularly in diseases like ulcerative colitis, arthritis, and gastric reflux (Danhof, 1997).

A. vera contains very large mucopolysaccharides of up to 9,000 molecules that can treat AIDS (Danhof, 1997). In a clinical trial conducted in the 1980's, patients who took oral mucopolysaccharides showed a 70% improvement in symptoms within three to four months (Clumick et al., 1997). The CD4 helper lymphocytes rose, and HIV virus was unable to be cultured. The P-24 antigen levels of the HIV virus dropped during the course of this research (Clumick et al., 1997). When 20 ounces of Aloe vera juice was orally administered to 69 AIDS patients per day, eighty-one percent of these patients showed eventual disappearance of their symptoms (Pulse, 1988).

Aloe vera produces mucopolysaccharides, emodin, and lectins that aid in fighting cancer. Aloe mucopolysaccharides are phagocytized by macrophages that release cytokines (Kemp and Tizard 1997). This immune effect contributes to the prevention and healing of malignant neoplasms (Kemp et al, 1997). Emodin and lectins are anti-tumor agents that control cancer (Anon, 1997a). The anti-cancer effect of aloe on sarcoma 180 in the ICR mouse did not suppress tumor growth, however, it did promote an increased lifespan between 19% to 32% when it was administered in dosages between 10 to 100 mg/kg/day respectively (Jeong et al., 1994). The lectin-like substances in Aloe vera promoted the attachment of normal human cells instead of tumor cells (Winters et al., 1981).

Another healing property of A. vera is its use in the treatment of burns. Heggars (1980) noted that A. vera healed third degree burns up to six times faster than traditional medical treatments and that these effects were due to steroidal like compounds and salicylic acid. Another study comparing the healing effects of Aloe vera gel to commercial products found that in all trials the aloe gel was more effective in the treatment of burns as noticed by the better histological appearance and reduced bacterial contamination (Sumano-Lopez et al., 1989). In another study, burns covering the body surface in canines were examined. It was found that when an Aloe vera cream was used, it not only reversed the damage caused by the burns due to prostaglandins, but also wiped out a bacterial infection in animals with over a 35% burn (Cera et al., 1980). Various data from this study affirm the bactericidal and antiprostaglandin effect of Aloe vera cream in the canine species (Cera et al., 1980).

The reputation of Aloe vera as a healer for various ailments is well known. Dioscorides, Pliny, and Galen have all detailed the successful uses of aloe. As the centuries passed, A. vera has been used as a therapy for many more ailments. Even though few negative side effects regarding the use of A. vera were reported in the literature, caution and discretion should be employed before venturing into the local nutrition store and attempting to heal oneself. Companies continue to promote falsehoods about A. vera and the consumers must take appropriate measures to ensure that they do not succumb to the advertising scams. First, A. vera has not been proven to cure anything (Anon., 1997b). Therefore, if the product promises a cure, more than likely it's a scam. Also, just as many people are allergic to various foods, it is possible that one could be allergic to A. vera (Anon, 1997b). Development of hypersensitivity to aloe has been documented, as for example, after four years of using oral and topical aloe, a 47 year old man acquired hives and papular dermatitis (Morrow et al., 1980). It would be wise to consult your physician before beginning an aloe regimen, and even a possible skin patch test before drinking the extract. Since the aloe industry is virtually unregulated, the consumer must be alert of the benefits and possible side effects when using aloe.

 

LITERATURE CITED

Anon. 1997a. About Aloe vera.(obtained from defunct webpage)

Anon. 1997b. Aloe vera-What to Believe. (obtained from defunct webpage)

Anon. 1997c. Why Aloe Works. (obtained from defunct webpage)

Cera, L.M., J.P. Heggars, M.C. Robson and W.J. Hagstrom. 1980. The therapeutic efficacy of Aloe vera cream in thermal injuries: 2 cases. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 16: 768-772.

Clumeck, R.M., T. Pulse, and T. Watson. 1997. Aloe vera and AIDS research. http://www.santrel.com/clinicalabstract/immuno4.html

Danhof, I. 1997. Fundamentals of Aloe vera mucopolysaccharides. http://wholeleaf.com/aloeverainfo/aloeveramucopolysaccharides.html

Davis, R.H., W.L. Parker, R.T. Samson, and D.P. Murdoch. 1991. The isolation of an active inhibitory sytem from an extract of Aloe vera. J. Am Podiatr Med Assoc 81: 258-261.

Jeong, H.Y., J.H. Kim, S.J. Hwang, and D.K. Rhee. 1994. Anticancer effects of aloe on sarcoma 180 in ICR mouse and on human cancer cell lines. Yakhak Hoeji 38: 311-321.

Kemp, M. and I. Tizard. 1997. Cancer Research. http://www.santrel.com/clinicalabstract/cancer1.html

Morrow, D.M., M.J. Rapaport and R.A. Strick. 1980. Hypersensitivity to aloe. Arch Dermatolo 116(9): 1064-1065.

Pulse, T.. 1988. Whole leaf Aloe vera juice used in AIDS treatment. About Aloe vera. (obtained from defunct webpage)

Sumano-Lopez, H., L.O. Camberros, and A.A. de Ocampo. 1989. Comparative evaluation of a mixture of propolis and Aloe vera with commercial wound healing products. Veterinaria 20(4):407-414.

Udupa, S.L., A.L. Udupa and D.R. Kulkarni. 1994. Anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties of Aloe vera. Fitoterapia 65(2): 141-145.

Waller, G.R. 1978. About Aloe vera. (obtained from defunct webpage)

Winters, W.D., R. Benavides, and W.J. Clouse. 1981. Effects of aloe extracts on human normal and tumor cells in vitro. Econ Bot 35: 89-95.


This paper was developed as part of the BIO 368 - Medical Botany course offered at Wilkes University during the summer of 1997. Course instructor was Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D. (kklemow@wilkes.edu). The information contained herein is based on published sources, and is made available for academic purposes only. No warrantees, expressed or implied, are made about the medical usefulness or dangers associated with the plant species in question.

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This page posted and maintained by Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D., Biology Department, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766. (570) 408-4758, kklemow@wilkes.edu.