Aloe Vera: Not Just for Sunburns

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Whether it’s a day at the pool or beach, or an afternoon running through the sprinkler in the backyard, the joys of summer can leave you with something very painful: a sunburn. And if you know the feeling of a sunburn, you probably know the welcome sensation of coating that burn in aloe vera.

But what you may not have realized is that aloe vera can heal more than just a sunburn. This green plant has thick leaves full of a gel-like substance and has been used for a variety of purposes, from treating wounds and cold sores to reducing constipation.

Although aloe can be a great way to improve your health, don’t run to the nearest pharmacy and grab the first bottle labeled aloe vera or take a swig of the aloe vera you keep in your medicine cabinet for sunburns. There are many different forms of aloe, including topical gels, digestible gels and juices. It’s important to know which one to take for your specific health concerns.

Whether applied on your skin or taken orally, aloe vera can provide a number of benefits for your body.

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Aloe Vera And Your Skin: Frostbite, Cold Sores and Psoriasis

Just like aloe can heal your skin after hours in the sun, it can also heal your skin in other ways.

"It contains anti-inflammatory chemical compounds — which reduce swelling — called anthraquinones. These chemical compounds promote healing and alleviate pain when applied to your skin. If your skin needs to heal, aloe may be a good option," explains Manasija Rath, MD, a physician at Penn Presbyterian Internal Medicine.

Frostbite

While aloe is usually associated with damage caused by hot, sunny days, it can also provide relief from a major problem caused by severe cold: frostbite.

Dr. Rath tells us, "Frostbite usually develops on your nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes when your skin is exposed to freezing temperatures (below 32°F). It can cause permanent damage, such as tissue death, if it’s not treated."

In mild cases of frostbite, aloe may promote tissue healing by making new, healthy skin cells replicate faster and more efficiently.

Cold Sores

Cold sores are caused by a contagious disease called herpes simplex virus. These painful sores can develop around your mouth.

"Fortunately, aloe can soothe the pain from cold sores and make them heal faster by making your skin cells regenerate faster — which means healthy cells will grow to replace the infected ones," says Dr. Rath.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes red, scaly patches on your skin. These patches can be itchy and sore, which can often be alleviated with aloe.

Also can reduce the redness and scaling, and soothe your skin. Just be sure to buy creams that contain at least 0.5% aloe in them to get the job done.

Aloe Vera Inside Your Body: Constipation and Blood Sugar Levels

The latex in aloe has been shown to alleviate constipation and lower blood sugar levels.

Constipation

If your digestive system is backed up, that can be uncomfortable — and sometimes even very painful. Fortunately, the latex in aloe vera has a laxative effect and may provide some relief when taken orally.

Constipation affects 16 out of every 100 Americans, and it can last for a short or a long time. If left untreated, it can even lead to more serious medical problems, such as anal fissures (small tears in your anus) or hemorrhoids (swollen veins around the anus).

Aloe gel or juice, which is a drink specifically made for oral consumption, can help keep your bowel movements healthy. It can increase the frequency of bowel movements and improve the consistency of stool — both of which play a major role in how your stomach is feeling.

Blood Sugar Levels

Everyone has sugar (glucose) in their blood. Normally, a hormone called insulin helps your body use glucose for energy.

Dr. Rath says, "If you have diabetes, you either don’t make enough insulin or don’t use it well, causing your blood sugar levels to be too high, called hyperglycemia."

If you have diabetes, you need to keep your blood sugar levels down. High blood sugar can be dangerous if left untreated and may cause a diabetic coma. During a diabetic coma, your body tries to break down fats for energy, which releases waste products called ketones. Too many ketones in your body can be life-threatening.

There are many ways to lower your blood sugar, including regular exercise and healthy eating. An aloe vera drink may be one more way to keep your blood sugar levels in check.

Aloe Vera: What We Know (And What We Don’t Know)

When used on your skin, aloe vera has shown to be safe. For sunburns, mild cases of frostbite, cold sores, and psoriasis, aloe may relieve some of your pain and promote healing.

There is less certainty about the effects of aloe when it is taken orally. At one point, products with aloe were regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and sold as over-the-counter laxatives. However, medicinal companies are required to provide safety data for their products. The companies that made aloe laxative products weren’t doing that, so in 2002, the FDA stopped regulating them. This means you can still buy them — they just don’t have the seal of approval from the FDA.

Some studies have also connected the oral form of aloe with abdominal cramps and diarrhea, and since aloe is a laxative, it may limit your body’s ability to absorb other medicines that you take orally.

Talking With Your Physician About Aloe Vera

Remember — it’s always best to talk to your physician before starting aloe vera. The best way to know you’re taking the right product is by talking to your physician first. Ask them which form of aloe would work best for your health concerns, how much you should take, what any possible side effects might be, and if you should stop after symptoms subside.

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