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Home > Newsletters > July 2007 > Aloe Barbadensis (Lu hui)

Aloe Barbadensis (Lu hui)

By Aram Akopyan, LAc., Dipl. OM

The word Aloe (meaning “bitter and shiny substance”) is derived from the Arabic word Alloeh. There are over 240 different species of Aloe, growing mainly in the dry regions of Africa, Asia, Europe and America. Although Aloe Vera is a member of the Lily family, it is very cactus-like in its characteristics. This unique plant also belongs to a larger plant family called "Xeroids." Of the 240+ species of Aloe, only four are recognized as being of nutritional value to humans and animals.

Botanical Description

Aloe barbadensis (Aloe Vera species) is the top of these four. The aloe is a perennial plant; grows in the East Indies and Barbary; is now cultivated in the West Indies, as well as in some of the southern sections of Europe. The strong, fibrous root produces a rosette of fleshy basal leaves as in the agaves but considerably smaller. The stem is woody, simple, cylindrical, and short; the leaves fleshy, amplexicaul, first spreading, then ascending, lanceolate, glaucous-green, flat above, convex below, armed with hard, distant, reddish spines perpendicular to the margin, and a little mottled with darker color; the parenchyma is slightly colored brown, and very distinct from the tough, leathery cuticle. The scape is axillary, glaucous, reddish, and branched; the spike is cylindrical-ovate. The flowers are at first erect, then spreading, afterward pendulous, yellow, and not longer than the stamens (L). The fruit is a triangular capsule containing numerous seeds.

Medical Properties

Many of the Aloe plants have the following medicinal properties.

Emollient , purgative, vulnerary, tonic, demulcent, vermifuge, antifungal, alterative, emmenagogue.

Aloe gel contains glycoproteins; protein-carbohydrate compounds that speed the healing process by stopping pain and inflammation, and polysaccharides, types of carbohydrates that stimulate skin growth and repair. The anthraquinones in aloe latex are chemical compounds that work as powerful laxatives, and in smaller amounts, they can help stop kidney stone formation

Biochemical Properties

Many of the Aloe plants have the following biochemical properties:

Anthraquinone, glycosides, resins, polysaccharides, sterols, gelonins, chromones

Aloe also contains the following compounds:

Acemannan

A polysaccharide which has shown exciting antiviral and anti-retroviral and immunopotentiating effects such as inhibiting glycosylation of viral glycoproteins, enhancement of macrophage activity, immune system potentiators, T-cell function, and interferon production. Acemannan is now approved for veterinary use in fibrosarcomas and feline leukemia (a retro-virus), and in preliminary human and in vitro studies, as a synergistic enhancement to the drug azidothymidine (AZT) or Acyclovir to inhibit the replication of HIV and herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1). Sarcoma research is also promising

Vitamin C, E, zinc

Vitamin C, E, and zinc play a critical role in the process of wound healing. Aloe gel, unlike many other anti-inflammatory substances, stimulates fibroblast and connective tissue formation, and additionally, stimulates the epidermal growth and repair process. Topically, its anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, emollient, and antimicrobial actions combine to enhance its effect, and provide for indication of aloe gel for burns, skin inflammation, wounds, topical ulcers, acne, seborrhea, and wounds (although not for deep surgical wounds, especially vertical ones such as laparotomy or cesarean section).

Medicinal Application Notes

Known to herbalists for centuries as the "medical plant" or "the potted physician," this cactus-like plant with green dagger-shaped leaves filled with a clear, viscous gel was brought from Africa to North America in the sixteenth century.

But long before this, aloe was widely regarded as a master healing plant. The ancient Egyptians referred to aloe as the "plant of immortality" and included it among the funerary gifts buried with the pharaohs. In recent decades, medical research has confirmed and extended many of the health claims for the shining bitter substance (used topically or consumed as a liquid) that is the heart of aloe. Here are some specific applications where Aloe has demonstrated beneficial functions.

Wounds

The bulk of the aloe leaf is filled with gel, 96% water with the other 4% containing 75 known substances. Applied to wounds, aloe gel is a mild anesthetic, relieving itching, swelling, and pain: it also is antibacterial and antifungal, increases blood flow to wounded areas, and stimulates fibroblasts, the skin cells responsible for wound healing.

An animal-based study in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association found that both oral and topical aloe preparations speed wound healing. Animals were given either aloe (100mg/kg body weight) in their drinking water for two months or 25% aloe vera cream applied directly to wounds for six days. Aloe had positive effects in both cases. The size of wounds decreased 62% in the animals taking oral aloe compared to a 51% in the control group. Topical aloe produced a 51% decrease in wound size compared to a 33% in the control group.

Supports Surgical Recovery

Aloe decreases surgical recovery time, according to a report in the Journal of Dermatological Surgery and Oncology. Eighteen acne patients underwent facial dermabrasion surgery, in which lesions are scraped away. Dressings were applied to their faces, with half of each person's face receiving the standard dressing coated with surgical gel, and the other half with aloe added to this dressing. The half of the face treated with aloe healed approximately 72 hours faster than the other side.

Soothes Burns

In a study in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 27 patients with moderate burn wounds were treated with gauze coated in either aloe gel or Vaseline™ (petroleum jelly). The burns healed more quickly in the aloe group, with an average healing time of 12 days compared to 18 days for the group using Vaseline.

Minimizes Frostbite Damage

A study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine established that aloe works for frostbite. Researchers gave standard treatments for frostbite (antibiotics, ibuprofen, and re-warming) to 154 patients with mild to severe frostbite. Of patients who additionally received aloe vera cream, 67.9% healed without any tissue loss (amputation) compared to 32.7% in the control group. Researchers concluded that aloe prevented a decrease of blood flow to the frozen tissues, a common cause of tissue loss in frostbite.

Screens Out Radiation

Aloe protects against skin damage from X rays, according to researchers at Hoshi University in Japan publishing in the journal Yakugaku Zasshi. They found that aloe was an effective antioxidant, mopping up the free radicals caused by radiation, and that it protected two of the body's healing substances, superoxide dismutase (an antioxidant enzyme) and glutathione (an amino acid which stimulates the immune system).

Heals Psoriasis Lesions

In a double blind, placebo-controlled study published in Tropical Medicine and International Health, 60 patients with chronic psoriasis were given a 0.5% aloe vera extract in a mineral oil crème. The ointment was applied three times daily for five consecutive days (15 applications total per week) for four weeks.

When patients were checked after eight months, far more psoriasis skin lesions had healed in the aloe group (82.8%) than in the placebo group (7.7%). Further, 83.3% of the aloe group was considered cured of their psoriasis compared to only 6.6% of the placebo group.

Eases Intestinal Problems

Aloe vera juice can be effective for treating inflammatory bowel disease, according to a study in the Journal of Alternative Medicine. Ten patients were given two ounces of aloe juice, three times daily, for seven days. After one week, all patients were cured of diarrhea, four had improved bowel regularity, and three reported increased energy.

Researchers concluded that aloe was able to rebalance the intestines by "regulating gastrointestinal pH while improving gastrointestinal motility, increasing stool specific gravity, and reducing populations of certain fecal microorganisms, including yeast." Other studies have shown that aloe vera juice helps to detoxify the bowel, neutralize stomach acidity, and relieve constipation and gastric ulcers.

Reduces Blood Sugar in Diabetes

Aloe reduced the blood sugar levels in diabetics, as reported in Hormone Research. Five patients with adult (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes were given 1/2 teaspoon of aloe extract daily for up to 14 weeks. Blood sugar levels were reduced in all patients by an average of 45%, with no change in their total weight.

Reduces Arthritic Swelling

Aloe can help prevent arthritis and reduce the inflammation in joints already affected by arthritis, according to the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association. Aloe can also inhibit the autoimmune reaction associated with certain forms of arthritis, in which the body attacks its own tissues.

Animals were injected with a bacterium to cause arthritic symptoms, namely inflammation and swelling. To determine if it could prevent arthritis, aloe (150mg/kg body weight) was injected under the skin daily for 13 days. Physical measurements were taken daily to determine the amount of swelling and inflammation.

Several compounds from aloe showed antiarthritic activity, according to the researchers. One organic acid in aloe reduced inflammation by 79.7% and suppressed the autoimmune response by 42.4%. Another aloe compound (anthraquinone) reduced inflammation by 67.3% but had no effect on the autoimmune response.

Stimulates Immune Response Against Cancer

Aloe may help prolong survival time and stimulate the immune system of cancer patients, according to recent research.

In a 1994 study in the Japanese medical journal Yakhak Hoeji, mice with cancerous tumors were given aloe orally for 14 days. While the aloe did not suppress tumor growth, the average life span of the mice was prolonged by 22% for those given 50mg aloe/kg body weight and by 32% for those given 100mg/kg daily. A simultaneous experiment on human cancer cells (in vitro) found that high doses of aloe significantly suppressed the growth of these cancer cells.

Researchers writing in Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy found that a compound (lectin) from aloe, when injected directly into tumors, activated the immune system to attack the cancer. Killer T cells, white blood cells that bind to invading cells and destroy them, began to attack the tumor cells injected with lectin.

Aloe turns on the immune system by activating macrophages (white blood cells which "swallow" antigens), causing the release of immune-activating (and anticancer) substances such as interferons, interleukines, and tumor necrosis factor. In addition, aloe promotes the growth of normal (non-cancerous) cells, researchers said.

Benefits Lung Cancer

Aloe's protective effect was confirmed in a study of 673 lung cancer patients in Okinawa, Japan, published in the Japanese Journal of Cancer Research. This survey looked at the connection between smoking, comparative amounts of 17 plant foods in the diet, and the occurrence of lung cancer over a five-year period.

Aloe was the only one of the plant foods that was protective against cancer. "The results of plant epidemiology suggests that aloe prevents human pulmonary carcinogenesis," stated the researchers. Further, aloe is "widely preventive or suppressive against various human cancers."

Dosage, Applications, Formulaes, and Contraindication

Powder:

A dose is from .3 – 1.5 grams. Short duration only.
Juice or gel:

Taken orally, 1 tbsp., up to 3 times daily. 12% by volume.
Fluid Extract:

5-30 drops. 25% by volume concentrate

Wash:

Dissolve 1/2 tsp. aloes in 1-cup water. If desired, add 1 tsp. boric acid as a preservative and to help in healing.

Ointment:

Gel or Crème consisting of 95% or greater Aloe Gel extract. To prepare. Squeeze Extract from aloe leaf and combine with petroleum based ointment in 2 to 1 mixture ratio.

Contraindications:

Pregnancy and Menstruation. Not recommended in Children under 12.

Legends, Myths and Stories

"I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon" (Proverbs 7:17). For more than 3,500 years, healers and physicians have touted the benefits of this fragrant desert lily.

Queen Cleopatra regarded the gel as a fountain off youth and used it to preserve her skin against the ravages of the Egyptian sun. The Egyptians were also believed to have used the aloe plant in their embalming process.

Aloe was known to Greeks and Romans, who used the gel for wounds; one of Pliny's many recommendations was to rub leaves on "ulcerated male genitals."

Aloe was a favorite purgative during the Middle Ages. In China, similar uses developed to those in the West, although only the gel is used; in India, the gel is a highly regarded cooling tonic. Aloe reached the West Indies in the 16th century and is widely cultivated there.

In the East Indies, aloes are used as a varnish, to preserve wood from worms and other insects; and skins from insect bites, and even living animals are anointed with it for the same reason.

Aloes have been found effectual in preserving ships from the ravages of the worm and the adhesion of barnacles. The resinous part of this juice is not soluble in water so the ship's bottom, for this purpose, is smeared with a composition of hepatic aloes, turpentine, tallow, and white lead, (equal parts).

One blade of aloe can be used for weeks. The severed end of the blade is self-healing. The thin film can easily be broken with each use.

The juice of aloes was formerly used in Eastern countries in embalming and to preserve dead bodies from putrefaction.

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This Month's Articles

July 2007
Volume 5, Number 7

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All Shook Up? It May Not Be Parkinson’s Disease

Aloe Barbadensis (Lu hui)

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