From Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, Author: Judith Turner. http://www.gale.com

aloe veraAloe

Commercial products:  Choosing effective Aloe Vera products can be challenging. Once a leaf is cut, enzymes start to break down some of the long chain sugars which make Aloe Vera gel an effective healing product, so it is important for the plant to have been properly handled and stabilized. Ask for help in selecting a reputable company to buy from. When shopping for a product to use for topical healing, look for Aloe Vera to be one of the first products listed to ensure that it is not too dilute to be efficacious. Commercial, stabilized gel products may not work as well as the fresh gel, but cold processing is thought to best retain the beneficial properties. The FDA does not regulate labeling of Aloe Vera products.

Aloe Vera juice is most often the form of the gel that is used internally. At least half of the juice should be Aloe Vera gel. If laxative properties are not desired, be sure that the juice does not contain latex. A product that is made from the whole leaf does not necessarily contain anthraquinones from the latex layer, as those are water-soluble and can be separated out during processing. Capsules and tinctures of the gel are also available. Oral forms of the latex extract are generally capsules, as it is extremely bitter.

Growing at home:  For common topical use, keeping a plant at home is one of the easiest ways to get the freshest and most concentrated gel. It is easy to cultivate, requiring only good drainage, mild temperatures, and occasional watering. Bring the plant inside if outside temperatures are less than 40°F (4.4°C). It will tolerate either full or partial sunlight, but will require more frequent watering in full sun. Water it only when the soil has become dry. To use the gel, break off a leaf and cut it lengthwise to expose the inner layer. Scoop the gel out and apply generously to the area needing treatment. Discard whatever gel is not used immediately, as it will degenerate quickly. The inner portion of the leaf may also be applied directly to a skin injury, and bound to it.

Precautions:  Gel is generally safe for topical use, but it is best to apply it to a small area first to test for possible allergic reaction. Stinging and generalized dermatitis may result in individuals who are sensitive to it. The vast majority of the warnings apply only to products containing anthraquinones, such as aloin and barbaloin (as well as the numerous others), which are found in the latex layer of the plant. Aloe Vera latex should not be used internally by women who are pregnant or lactating, or by children. This product can cause abortion or stimulate menstruation. It may pass into the milk of breast feeding mothers. People who have abnormal kidney function, heart disease, or gastrointestinal diseases are best advised to avoid any product containing latex or anthraquinones. Prolonged, internal use in high doses may produce tolerance so that more is required to obtain the laxative effect. Be aware of the possibility that any product for internal use that is supposed to contain only the gel portion can become contaminated by the anthraquinones of the latex layer. For this reason, people who have a contraindication for using latex should use caution when taking a gel product internally.

Side effects:  Internal use of Aloe Vera latex may turn the urine red, and may also cause abdominal pain or cramps when products containing anthraquinones are consumed.

Interactions:  Chronic internal use of products containing latex may increase the likelihood of potassium loss when used concomitantly with diuretics or corticosteroids. It may possibly compound the risk of toxicity when used with cardiac glycosides (both prescription and herbal types) and antiarrhythmic drugs. Absorption of other oral medications can be decreased. Latex should not be used with other laxative herbs, which may also lead to excessive potassium loss.

Internal use of gel can cause changes in blood sugar, so diabetics should monitor blood glucose levels during use, particularly if insulin or other pharmaceuticals are being used to control hyperglycemia.

Topical Aloe Vera may enhance the effect of topical corticosteroids and allow a reduction in the amount of the steroid being used.

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