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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Aloe vera: A Plant with immense healing and cosmetic properties

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What is Aloe vera?
Aloe vera is a species of succulent plant which is being used as a medicinal plant since long. This plant has been reported to be originated in northern Africa, the Canary island and Cape Verde.
This plant grows in arid climate and it is widely distributed in many parts of the world. The species Aloe vera has a number of synonyms like A. barbadensis Mill., Aloe indica Royle, Aloe perfoliata L. var. vera and A. vulgaris Lam., and common names including Chinese Aloe, Indian Aloe, true Aloe, Barbados Aloe, burn Aloe, first aid plant.

The species namevera” means "true" or "genuine." The natural populations of the plant have not been observed to stand anywhere, and hence it is very difficult to trace its actual origin. The taxonomists are of the opinion that it might have been originated through the natural process of hybridization.

Some taxonomists suggested that naturalized stands of the species occur through North Africa in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia along with the Canary and Madeira Islands. The species is reported to have been introduced during 17th century in many countries like China, India, Pakistan, and various parts of Europe. Now the species has widely been naturalized in a number of countries of the world.

Aloe vera can be grown in pots too. This plant requires little water and demands less care. It can be grown in partial shady places as well though it loves sunlight. It can tolerate poor drainage and extreme cold conditions. Cold areas that experience frost or snow, aloe vera plants are grown in glass houses or indoors. Many countries in the world undertake large scale agricultural production of this plant. Some of these countries are Australia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, China, Mexico, India, Jamaica, Kenya, South Africa, and U.S.A.These countries supply aloe vera gel to cosmetic industries

Chemical constituents of aloe vera plant
The plant aloe vera has been reported to contain a number of active constituents. The aloe plant contains between 99 and 99.5 per cent water, with an average pH of 4.5. The remaining solid material contains over 75 different ingredients including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, sugars, anthraquinones or phenolic compounds, lignin, saponins, sterols, amino acids and salicylic acid. The plant contains many vitamins, excluding vitamin D but including the important antioxidant vitamins A, C and F. Vitamins B (thiamine), niacin, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), choline and folic acid are also present. Some authorities suggest that there is also a trace of vitamin B12 (Coats1979).The mineral constituents of this plant are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, chromium and iron. Magnesium which is found in lactate form inhibits histidin decarboxylase and prevents the formation of histamine which is released in many allergic reactions and causes intense itching and pain. This finding by Sheldon(1991) suggests the antipuritic effects of aloe vera.

Some of the important chemicals found in this plant with antiseptic property are Lupeol, natural Salicylic acid, urea nitrogen, Cinnamic acid, Phenol, and Sulphur.Some important fatty acids, campesterol, and B-sitosterol found in the plant have been reported to have anti-inflammatory property. The extract or gel of the plant is reported to possess anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties also. The unique polysaccharide component of aloe vera is reported to destroy intravascular bacteria. This polysaccharide is reported to activate the cascade phenomenon in our bodies. This phenomenon relates to the arrangement of proteins in specific sequence to build a critical defense system in the body to attack bacteria.

Green, and Kahlonetal (1996, 1991resp.), the mucilage layer of the plant which forms 25 percent of the solid fraction comprises both mono- and polysaccharides. The long chain polysaccharides found in this plant comprises glucose and mannose which is known as gluco-mannas or Beta-(1, 4) –linked acetylated mannan. The polysaccharide of aloe vera if the plant extract is taken internally appears in blood unchanged. Here it acts as immune-modulator and is capable of enhancing and retarding immune response.
Traditional/ Medicinal valuesBold

Aloe vera has been known as a great heeler since thousands of years. Early use of aloe vera was discovered on a Mesopotamian clay tablet dating from 2100Bc. According to a report, in Cairo in 1862, George Ebers, a German Egyptologist, bought a papyrus which had been found in a sarcophagus excavated near Thebes a few years earlier. Aloe vera as a herbal preparation, was mentioned in the papyrus no fewer than 12 times. The heeling properties of aloe vera are known since ancient times to Egyptians, Romans, Greek, Arab and Indians. Many famous herbologists of those times including Dioscorides, Pliny the Elder and Galen - considered to be the father of modem medicine - included aloe vera in their therapeutic armouries.

According to another report - myths and legends surrounding the use of aloe vera in ancient times suggest that it was an important part of the beauty regime of the Egyptian queens, Nefertiti and Cleopatra. Legend has it that, in 333 BC, Alexander the Great was persuaded by his mentor Aristotle to capture the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean, famed for its supply of aloe which he needed to heal his wounded soldiers.

Aloe vera gel can also be taken internally. Precautions should be taken that the gel of the plant should not be heated or filtered during the process of manufacture due to the fact that heating and filtering can destroy or reduce the effect of certain essential chemical compounds such as enzymes and polysaccharides. Besides providing nutrition, and having anti-inflammatory properties, the aloe vera-gel is reported to have a vide range of anti- microbial activities. The experiments conducted in vitro have proved that aloe vera is either bactericidal or bacteriostatic against a number of common wound pathogens.
Properties of aloe vera have been summarized in the table below-

Number & Identification
Properties & Activity
Amino Acids
Provides 20 of the 22 human required amino acids & 7 of the 8 essential ones
Provides the basic building blocks of proteins in the production of muscle tissue etc
The 8 essential amino acids are those the human body cannot manufacture
Provides 12 anthraquinones: Aloe emodin, Aloetic Acid, Aloin, Anthracine, Antranol, Barbaloin, Chrysophanic Acid, Emodin, Ethereal Oil, Ester of Cinnamonic Acid, Isobarbaloin, Resistannol.
In relatively small concentrations together with the Gel fraction they provide Analgesic, Anti-bacterial, Anti-fungal & Anti-viral activity. In high concentration on their own they can be toxic.
Traditionally known as laxatives.The antraquinones are found in the sap. The anthraquinone derivatives (anthrones & chromones) comprise the phenolic fraction of the sap. The primary sap component is Aloin/Barbaloin anthrone derivative
Provides 8 enzymes: Aliiase, Alkaline Phosphatase, Amylase, Carboxypeptidase, Catalase, Cellulase, Lipase, Peroxidase
Helps breakdown of food sugars and fats aiding digestion & enhancing nutrient absorbtion
Auxins & Gibberellins
Wound Healing & Anti-inflammatory
Cellulose based substance
Thought to provide penetrating power in Aloe vera skin preparations and may act as a carrier for other components
Provides 9 minerals: Calcium, Chromium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc
Essential for good health and is known to work in certain combimation with each other, vitamins and other trace elements
Salicylic Acid
Aspirin like compound
Soapy substance both cleansing and antiseptic
Provides 4 main plant steroids: Cholesterol, Campesterol, Lupeol, ß Sitosterol
Anti-inflammatory agents. Lupeol also possesses antiseptic and analgesic properties
Monosaccharides: glucose & fructose
Polysaccarides: gluco-mannans / polymannose
Anti-inflammatory action
Anti-viral, immune modulating activity of Acemannan
The long chain gluco-mannons are absorbed intact by the pinocytotic process of certain cells lining the digestive tract.
A, C, E, B, Choline, B12, Folic Acid
Antioxidant(A,C,E): neutralises free radicals
B's & Choline involved in amino acid metabolism, B12 required for production of red blood cells, Folic Acid in the development of blood cells

Cosmetic properties of Aloe vera

Aloe vera is a unique plant having a property of producing anti-ageing properties when applied regularly on skin. This plant is especially known for its power of healing various skin problems. It also helps in psoriasis, shingles, itching, cuts, abrasions, and burns. When aloe vera gel is applied on the skin, it produces fast and effective results.

The gel of aloe vera is soothing, toning, protective and moisturizing to the skin. In cosmetics the juice of aloe vera is used as moisturizing agent. The use of aloe vera gel in cosmetic products are so widely popular that it is being used in almost all the standard skin care products. Now a days even animal creams for dogs and cats contain aloe vera gel or juice to make their skin healthy.

Aloe vera is used to make facial moisturizers, hair gel, sun burn gel, remedies for minor cuts and burns of skin, in treating acne and pimples, in removing stretch marks during pregnancy, in regenerating new skin cells, in improving the health of scalp and health of hair,in preventing wrinkles, in making dandruff removing creams, in producing cooling effects in shaving creams, and in removing black circles around eyes.


  • Coats BC (1979) The Silent Healer, A Modern Study of Aloe Vera. Texas, Garland
  • Green P (1996) Aloe Vera extracts in equine clinical practice. Veterinary Times.
  • Kahlon JB et al (1991) Inhibition of Aids Virus replication by Ace Mannan in vitro. Molecular Biothermy. 3127-135.
  • Sheets MA et al (1991) Studies of the effect of ace Mannan on retrovirus infections, clinical stabilisation of feline leukemia virus Heggers JP (1996) Beneficial Effect of Aloe on wound healing in an excisional wound healing model. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2, 2, 271-277
  • infected cats. Molecular Biothermy. 3, 41-45
  • Shelton MS (1991) Aloe Vera, its chemical and therapeutic properties. International journal of dermatology. 30, 679-683.

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