Nutrient - The wonders of Aloe vera
As with so much in life, plants prized by ancient civilisations are still used thousands of years later for their health-giving properties. Aloe vera or ‘true Aloe’ (Aloe barbadensis Miller) is a remarkable plant referred to by the ancient Egyptians as the ‘plant of immortality’. Apparently Cleopatra used it as a beauty therapy. The Chinese called it the ‘Elixir of Youth’. The true nature of its action is not fully understood but many hundreds of studies over the last few decades are testament to its health benefits, which have been valued so highly.
What is so special about Aloe vera? Well for a start, there are around 75 potentially active constituents within the vitamins, minerals, sugars, lignins, saponins, salicylic acids and amino acids. It is particularly hailed for its anti-inflammatory, immune supporting, antimicrobial, moisturising, anti-ageing and antioxidant properties, as well as maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system and joints and providing digestive support, especially in respect of good bowel motility – quite a list!
The Aloe vera plant grows mainly in the dry regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, America and in some parts of India. It has triangular, fleshy leaves with serrated edges, yellow tubular flowers and fruits that contain numerous seeds. Each leaf is composed of three layers each providing different benefits to ‘whole leaf’ Aloe and from which exudes a gel containing the beneficial nutrients. The whole leaf Aloe contains three times more of these important nutrients than just the inner gel and should ideally contain 17,000 MPS per litres (this is a measurement of the mucinous polysaccharide content). It is the anthraquinonones present in the yellow sap of the leaf that make Aloe bitter to the taste, but these are often filtered out for a more palatable drink. Aloe vera can also be taken as a pleasant tasting drink flavoured with fruits such as cranberry, cherry, orange or papaya – or simply add pure fruit juices; it’s great tasting and health-providing for all the family!
Aloe juice needs to be gently and naturally preserved in order to keep it fresh and prevent bacterial growth. Preservative-free Aloe has often been heated and therefore, the active health giving ingredients are largely destroyed.
As well as its enormous beneficial effects internally, Aloe appears to have many applications externally. When used topically, it seems to increase skin hydration and maintains flexibility, which is important for younger-looking skin. It may also promote cell renewal and, indeed, during the mid 1930’s was found to be beneficial for skin suffering with chronic and severe radiation dermatitis. However, since Aloe encourages the synthesis of collagen, which is really important for skin renewal and healthy skin, its best effects are obviously going to be found by using Aloe both inside and out. Aloe vera has antioxidant properties, which helps to protect the body from free radical damage, thereby also delaying the ageing process.
So, with such a wealth of potential benefits, it really makes sense to use Aloe vera as part of your daily health and beauty routine. Hopefully, Cleopatra was right!