Whether it’s a day at the pool or beach or an afternoon running around with the garden sprinkler, the joys of summer can leave you with something very painful: sunburn. And if you know the feeling of sunburn, you probably know the welcome feeling of a coating that burns in aloe vera.
But you may not have realized that aloe vera can heal more than just sunburns. This green plant has strong leaves filled with a gel-like substance and has been used for a variety of purposes, from treating wounds and cold sores to relieving 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 sip of the aloe vera in your sunburn medicine kit. There are many different forms of aloe, including topical gels, digestible gels, and juices. It is important to know which one to take for your specific health issues.
Whether applied to the skin or taken orally, aloe vera can provide several benefits to your body.
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Aloe Vera and your skin: frostbite, cold sores, and psoriasis
Just as 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 relieve pain when applied to the skin. If your skin needs healing, aloe can be a good choice,” explains Manasija Rath, MD., a physician .
While aloe is usually associated with damage caused by hot, sunny days, it can also provide relief from the main problem caused by a bad cold: frostbite.
Dr. Rath tells us, “Frostbites usually develop on the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, hands, or feet when the skin is exposed to subfreezing temperatures (below 32°F). It can cause permanent damage, such as tissue death if left untreated.”
In mild cases of frostbite, aloe can promote tissue healing by allowing new, healthy skin cells to replicate more quickly and efficiently.
Cold sores are caused by a contagious disease called herpes simplex virus. These painful sores can form around your mouth.
“Luckily, aloe can soothe the pain of cold sores and speed up their healing by making your skin cells regenerate faster—meaning healthy cells replace the infected ones,” says Dr. Rath.
Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes red, scaly patches on the skin. These patches can itch and hurt, which can often be alleviated with aloe.
It can also reduce redness and scaling and soothe the skin. Just make sure you buy creams that contain at least 0.5% aloe to get the job done.
Aloe Vera Inside Your Body: Constipation and Blood Sugar
Latex in aloe has been shown to relieve constipation and lower blood sugar.
If your digestive system is backed up, it can be uncomfortable – and sometimes even very painful. Fortunately, the latex in aloe vera has a laxative effect and can provide some relief when taken orally.
Constipation affects 16 out of every 100 Americans and can last for a short or long time. If left untreated, it can even lead to more serious health problems, such as anal fissures (small tears in the anus) or hemorrhoids (swollen veins around the anus).
Aloe gel or juice, a drink specially made for oral consumption, can help keep your bowel movements healthy. It can increase stool frequency and improve stool consistency, both of which play a major role in how your stomach feels.
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 you don’t use it well, causing your blood sugar to be too high, called hyperglycemia.”
If you have diabetes, you need to keep your blood sugar levels low. High blood sugar can be dangerous if left untreated and can cause a diabetic coma. During a diabetic coma, your body tries to break down fat 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 a healthy diet. Drinking aloe vera can be another way to keep your blood sugar under control.
Aloe Vera: What We Know (and What We Don’t)
Aloe vera is safe when used on the skin. For sunburns, mild cases of frostbite, cold sores, and psoriasis, aloe can relieve some pain and promote healing.
There is less certainty about the effects of aloe when taken orally. At one point, aloe products were regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and sold as over-the-counter laxatives. However, medical companies are required to provide data on the safety of their products. Companies that made aloe laxative products didn’t, so in 2002 the FDA stopped regulating them. That means you can still buy them—they just don’t have the FDA seal of approval.
Some studies have also linked the oral form of aloe to abdominal cramps and diarrhea, and because aloe is a laxative, it can limit your body’s ability to absorb other medications you take orally.
Talk to your doctor about Aloe Vera
Remember – it’s always best to talk to your doctor before taking aloe vera. The best way to make sure you are taking the right product is to check with your doctor first. Ask them which form of aloe would work best for your health problems, how much you should take, what any side effects might be, and whether you should stop once symptoms subside.