Mir­a­cle plant, or a load of non­sense?

Aloe vera is sup­posed to pu­rify the body, strengthen the im­mune sys­tem and im­prove well-be­ing. But is any of this sci­en­tif­i­cally true?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Health - By JU­LIA KIRCHNER

FROM creams and gels to juice and pills, aloe vera is ev­ery­where. It is sup­posed to pu­rify the body, strengthen the im­mune sys­tem and im­prove well-be­ing.

Some peo­ple even say it helps pre­vent cancer. But is any of this sci­en­tif­i­cally true?

Not much, in fact. Aloe vera is a suc­cu­lent, which means it re­tains a lot of wa­ter. Such plants can be recog­nised by their thick, fleshy leaves. And it is in­side those leaves that we can find the trans­par­ent aloe gel.

From the outer part of the leaves comes the bit­ter, yel­low aloe la­tex, also known as aloe juice.

The gel and juice are used for dif­fer­ent pur­poses. Aloe juice, for ex­am­ple, is a lax­a­tive that helps fight con­sti­pa­tion.

How­ever, the Ger­man In­sti­tute for Medicine and Med­i­cal Prod­ucts notes that it should only be used short-term.

“Given its side ef­fects, the juice has now been driven out of the mar­ket by less risky sub­stances,” says Wil­helm Brod­schelm, who is in charge of the phar­macy at St Josef Hos­pi­tal in Brau­nau, Aus­tria.

Us­ing aloe vera gel is some­what more harm­less. It can be ap­plied ex­ter­nally on all sorts of wounds and burns, on ir­ri­tated skin and on pso­ri­a­sis le­sions.

Some peo­ple claim that tak­ing aloe vera can help reg­u­late di­a­betes, and even that it can help pre­vent cancer and HIV in­fec­tions.

But we should be care­ful with such rec­om­men­da­tions.

“Those are ex­ag­ger­ated prom­ises,” says Bern­hard Uehleke a phy­tother­apy ex­pert who works in Ber­lin’s Im­manuel Hos­pi­tal.

Tak­ing aloe vera to pre­vent cancer is non­sense, he stresses.

So can we dis­miss the plant as com­pletely use­less?

Not quite. A study has shown that it helps com­bat se­b­or­rheic der­mati­tis, a form of eczema where scaly patches form on the skin. In one study, treat­ment with aloe vera gel led to im­prove­ments in about 60% of pa­tients, com­pared with just 20% in a con­trol group.

For the sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­ease gen­i­tal her­pes, the skin also heals faster with an aloe vera cream.

The ver­dict is less con­sis­tent when it comes to sun­burnt skin, how­ever.

That is where aloe vera is sup­posed to un­leash its full force, but Brod­schelm notes that it fails to sub­stan­tially re­duce skin ir­ri­ta­tion from sun­burn. In fact, he says, aloe vera is no bet­ter than a reg­u­lar oil-in-wa­ter cream. And yet Ul­rike Bauschke, a mem­ber of the Ger­man As­so­ci­a­tion of Non-Med­i­cal Prac­ti­tion­ers, has had good ex­pe­ri­ences with aloe vera. She thinks aloe gel is good for burns. “It mois­turises the skin and pro­motes wound heal­ing and the for­ma­tion of col­la­gen,” she says.

Aloe vera gel also al­le­vi­ates itch­ing and in­flam­ma­tion, and it re­gen­er­ates and re­ju­ve­nates the skin, Bauschke says.

The Ger­man As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­sumer Or­ga­ni­za­tions has tested aloe vera as a food sup­ple­ment and posted the re­sults on its web­site. This kind of aloe vera is sold in cap­sules, as juice or as a gel, and these are said to con­tain car­bo­hy­drates, en­zymes, amino acids, vi­ta­mins and min­er­als.

How­ever, these aloe prod­ucts in fact con­tain mostly wa­ter – about 99% in the case of gels.

“Many of these sub­stances are also found in reg­u­lar fruit and veg­eta­bles,” the con­sumer ad­vice as­so­ci­a­tion notes.

Uehleke of­fers this ad­vice: if you eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles, you do not need to pin your hopes on aloe vera. – dpa

Aloe vera is a suc­cu­lent, which means it re­tains a lot of wa­ter. Such plants can be recog­nised by their thick, fleshy leaves. — Photos: dpa

Aloe vera is sup­posed to al­le­vi­ate the symp­toms of many health con­di­tions, in­clud­ing sun­burn.

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