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Aloe vera (lat.: Aloe barbadensis iller) is a green herbaceous plant with a distinctive shiny yellow flower. It grows mainly in South Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean. It is derived from the Arabic world 'Allaeh', meaning shiny bitterish substance, and the Latin word Vera, meaning true. There are several aloe plants, but Aloe vera is the most important for its health benefits.

The jelly-like sap of the Aloe vera plant is widely used in medicine and the beauty industry. In traditional medicine, it is used to treat skin conditions (burns, cuts, eczema, inflammation). Studies have shown it to have immune-boosting, anti-cancer, antioxidant and digestive and cardiovascular protective properties. 

Aloe Vera contains over 75 different active ingredients, including:

  • Vitamins A, B12, C, and E: essential for life, there are involved in many biological processes and their deficiency can lead to a variety of diseases and problems.
  • Digestive enzymes (amylase, catalase, peroxidase): help break down various nutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins).
  • Minerals (zinc, copper, selenium and calcium): essential nutrients like vitamins. In their absence, a wide variety of diseases and complications can develop.
  • Fibre (called glucomannan): a complex carbohydrate that helps to restore intestinal flora and has an appetite-suppressing effect.
  • Aloin and emodin
  • Fatty acids, sterols (lupeol and campesterol)
  • Plant hormones: auxins and gibberellins
  • Others (salicylic cid, lignins and saponins)

One of Aloe Vera's distinctive active ingredients is emodin, which has a number of health benefits, including anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, liver-protective and anti-infective properties. However, when consumed in excessive amounts over the long term, it can have the opposite effect.

Lupeol is a triterpene, a very potent anti-inflammatory substance that inhibits the main pathways of inflammation.

Aloin, a natural laxative, is used to treat constipation. It has an effect on bowel movements. Aloin is found in the so-called aloe latex, a bitter liquid found on the inner surface of the bark. Overdosage of this active ingredient can lead to diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Most of the side effects of aloe are related to an overdose of the latex part, as aloin can cause uterine wall contractions, so aloe products should not be consumed during pregnancy.

Campesterol, a phytosterol, is a plant compound with a structure similar to cholesterol. Because it competes with cholesterol, it has cholesterol-lowering effects and may protect against a number of cardiovascular diseases. Campesterol is a precursor of the anabolic steroid boldenone, which has a strong growth (anabolic) effect. The amount in aloe is negligible in terms of muscle building, but the presence of campesterol explains its wound healing effect. It can stimulate the growth of new cells that replace damaged cells. 

Auxin and giberrelin are plant growth hormones, studies have shown that they can inhibit tumour cell proliferation and growth. This effect is thought to be because they stimulate a protein-degrading enzyme involved in the cell cycle.

Lignins are one of the main components of the plant cell wall, so-called biopolymers (in which many small lignin compounds are linked together), and play an essential role in plant development. They are also powerful antioxidants and can protect the human body against many diseases.

Saponins include many compounds, such as certain triterpenes and sterols (cholesterol-like compounds). Because so many compounds are included, their effects are wide-ranging. Studies have shown that saponins have immune-boosting and anti-tumour effects, can lower cholesterol levels and may also have blood glucose-regulating effects. 

As you can see, Aloe vera contains a wealth of active ingredients. Its growth-promoting and anti-inflammatory properties can enhance the healing of external wounds and the treatment of infections, and it can also improve eczema. It is considered safe for external use.

As a dietary supplement, it can improve digestive, cardiovascular and skin problems, diabetes, and may also have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects.

Internally, however, studies on safe dosesare inconsistent, with side effects due to its aloin and plant growth hormone content, and it may have opposite effects when consumed in excessive amounts, increasing inflammation and carcinogenicity. Thus, latex is only used internally for short periods. 

Its gel has been shown to be the safest when used internally. However, consult a doctor before using any aloe preparation.