Herbal Medicine – Part III – Aloe Vera – A Case Study


History of Aloe Vera

The aloe plant most likely originated in the semi-arid regions of Africa. It was used by the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, and Greeks in the healing of wounds. Alexander the Great purportedly conquered the Mediterranean island of Socotra so that his troops would have a reliable source of aloe to use in treating their wounds.

Aloe has been used throughout history in all cultures; in Ayrvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, and Native American medicine, to name a few. It was brought to the Americas by Spanish missionaries centuries ago, and its use eventually spread across both continents.

The first modern scientific paper on aloe in the United States was published in 1934. It describes the use of whole aloe leaf to successfully heal radiation injuries, burns, and dermatitis in 50 documented cases.

A chemical analysis undertaken in 1978 discovered a wide variety of amino acids, saccharides, sterols (similar to cortisone), salicylic acid (aspirin-related), and lupeol (a painkiller and anti-microbial agent).

A 1987 study concluded that aloe might be used to control or kill many viruses, including the common cold, measles, mumps, chicken pox, and flu. This led to the approval by the FDA in 1994 of the use of aloe for human testing in the treatment of HIV.

Uses of Aloe Vera

The first use of aloe was likely as an external agent in the treatment of wounds and burns. Sap from the leaves or the leaf as a whole can also be used to cure a wide variety of skin ailments: dermatitis, acne, skin allergies, fungus infections, ringworm, herpes, and shingles.

Since ancient times, aloe gel has also been used internally as a laxative. It was at one time regulated by the FDA as an ingredient in over-the-counter laxative preparations. Their approval was discontinued in 2002, due to the lack of safety data provided by the manufacturers.

Boiled juice from aloe sap and skin has been used to treat ulcers and indigestion, and to cut excess stomach acid. It has also been used orally to treat diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, and osteoarthritis. However, this use has not been supported by traditional medicine, or approved by governmental agencies.

Cosmetically , aloe vera gel is the most popular ingredient in skin lotions and sunblocks. It has been shown to balance pH levels in the skin. However it is doubtful that it has anything but a psychological effect, as it has been shown that a relatively high concentration of aloe is necessary for it to provide any benefit.

In Conclusion:

It has been found that in order for the ingredients in aloe to work properly, they must be used as found in the plant. The isolated chemicals do not have the same effect. This synergistic relationship between aloe's various antiseptic and pain-killing ingredients tends to support the position of traditional herbalists. So far, at least, Mother Nature seems to be better at mixing chemicals than scientists.

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