Aloe is now almost the only thing that doesn’t come out of the tap: it’s advertised as a miracle plant for everything from curing cancer to treating burns. What’s true of all this?
According to the wisdom circulating on the Internet, aloe is the king of medicinal plants, and we almost get the impression that the dream of the medieval alchemists is coming true: the panacea, the cure-all, the plant, does exist – begins the explanation in his revealing post by the Fog Stripper blogger, Dr. Dezső Csupor, who gives us a glimpse behind the aloe advertisements, which show that this plant really is effective against all ailments.
What’s the catch of aloe-glorifying ads?
“Reading about the plant’s wide-ranging medicinal properties, you might think that the products are marketed as medicines. On the contrary, no product containing aloe vera gel is a medicine in our country, nor is it on the market in other European countries. This is the reason for the double talk about Aloe products, because in our country medicinal properties can (basically) only be attributed to medicines, not to food supplements and cosmetics. However, if the description is not about the product, but about its raw material, the legal situation is less clear, so that bolder statements can be made,” the post says.
Is aloe vera really a miracle plant? But does aloe vera have a place among medicinal plants and what is it really good for? The short answer to the first part of the question is yes, it is one of the major medicinal plants. The milk of the Aloe species (and not the much better known gel thanks to advertising) has been used for centuries as a laxative. Dried Aloe milk thistle is also found in many laxative herbal products, but these have no other miraculous properties beyond producing loose stools. The effect is due to the hydroxyanthracene derivatives in the milk liquid.
However, popular aloe gel preparations do not have a laxative effect. This may come as a surprise, as both aloe gel and milk thistle are made from the fleshy, fleshy leaves of the plant. The apparent contradiction can be resolved: aloe milk and gel are produced by different cells, the former located at the edge of the leaf’s cross-sectional image, the latter in the centre. While aloe milk liquid contains laxative compounds, aloe gel is predominantly polysaccharide (1%) and water (99%), composed of simple sugars. Although the aloe species used to produce laxatives also contain gel and the plants used to produce gel also contain laxatives, modern production methods ensure that the two products do not contaminate each other. The gel is obtained by ‘filleting’ the leaves (mechanically cutting out the gel-containing part from the centre of the leaf) and washing them, while the laxative milk fluid flows out spontaneously from the leaf after transversal incision. The gel and the milk liquid are easily distinguishable: the gel is transparent and colourless, the milk liquid is yellowish, dark brown-black when dried and yellowish when powdered. The Aloe vera products so popular in our country contain the gel.
If we disregard the advertising recommendations, the hundreds of scientific publications on Aloe vera provide a realistic picture of the current professional image of the plant. Aloe gel’s anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting and wound-healing effects have been proven in most studies to accelerate wound healing, burns and frostbite. This effect, as shown by human studies, is expected when applied to the skin, i.e. externally. Some studies have also found the gel to be beneficial in relieving the symptoms of bedsores and psoriasis. Because of its dermatological effects, it is widely used in the manufacture of cosmetics. The monograph on the plant published by the World Health Organisation, which is considered authoritative, refers only to dermatological use.