How Aloe vera's medicinal properties make it essential in medicine, cosmetics, and food products

In a recent review article published in the journal Foods, researchers in Italy and Portugal investigated the diverse biological activities of Aloe vera (AV), emphasizing its potential in both cosmetic and medicinal applications. AV is a versatile plant with numerous health benefits that thrive in hot, dry regions. Due to its pharmacological properties, it has been widely used in traditional medicine and has earned the "miracle plant" title.

Review: Aloe vera―An Extensive Review Focused on Recent Studies. Image Credit: tilialucida / ShutterstockReview: Aloe vera―An Extensive Review Focused on Recent Studies. Image Credit: tilialucida / Shutterstock

The review's conclusions indicate that AV exhibits significant health benefits, including antiviral, antimicrobial, and antidepressant properties, suggesting promising therapeutic avenues for treating various ailments such as skin disorders and prediabetes. Additionally, AV has demonstrated anti-inflammatory, analgesic, immunomodulatory, anti-constipation, antioxidant, antiulcerogenic, anti-irritant, and anticancer properties, making it a comprehensive natural remedy for numerous health issues. However, toxicity concerns, particularly when AV is taken orally, must be addressed to ensure its safe use.

Antiviral and Antimicrobial Properties of AV

AV, in various forms, offers several medical benefits across different health conditions. It has potent anti-inflammatory properties, with its extracts showing effects comparable to or better than common anti-inflammatory drugs like diclofenac. AV helps stabilize cell membranes, inhibit protein denaturation, and regulate inflammation-related genes. Additionally, AV extracts are rich in compounds such as polyphenols, indoles, and alkaloids, which provide strong antioxidant effects by reducing free radicals and protecting cells.

AV also demonstrates significant antibacterial activity against harmful bacteria, including those causing peptic ulcers and tuberculosis. Its antibacterial properties are linked to compounds such as p-coumaric acid, ascorbic acid, pyrocatechol, and cinnamic acid. Its antibacterial properties can be enhanced when combined with nanoparticles. Moreover, AV gel is effective against fungi, particularly Candida species, by inhibiting growth and preventing the formation of germ tubes essential for fungal virulence. Studies have shown that AV can inhibit the growth of multiple Candida species, including Candida albicans, Candida parapsilosis, and Candida krusei. In terms of antiparasitic benefits, AV extracts and nanoparticles are effective against mosquitoes and parasites, showing promise in treating malaria and leishmaniasis.

AV's antiviral properties are also noteworthy, as it inhibits the replication of viruses like influenza, herpes simplex, and potentially Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Research has demonstrated AV's ability to reduce viral replication and plaque formation in various cell cultures. AV can be used topically for cold sores and to treat food surfaces to prevent viral infections. Overall, it is a versatile natural remedy with broad-spectrum health benefits.

Aloe vera leaf with aloe gel. Image Credit: Inna Dodor / ShutterstockAloe vera leaf with aloe gel. Image Credit: Inna Dodor / Shutterstock

AV in Treating Diseases and Disorders

AV plays a significant role in treating various diseases and disorders. Its immunomodulatory activity helps enhance immune responses and reduce symptoms in conditions like multiple sclerosis and diabetes. Studies have shown that AV can significantly reduce the clinical signs of autoimmune encephalomyelitis and delay the onset of the disease in animal models. In cancer treatment, AV has shown the potential to induce cancer cell death and enhance the effects of chemotherapy, especially in breast and lung cancers. AV has been found to induce apoptosis in cancer cells and enhance the efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents. As a radioprotective agent, AV helps protect against radiation damage, improves antioxidant status, and supports tissue regeneration.

In hepatoprotection and renoprotection, AV protects liver and kidney tissues from toxins and oxidative stress, promoting detoxification and reducing inflammation. Studies have demonstrated AV's protective effects against various hepatotoxins and nephrotoxins in experimental models. It also offers cardioprotective benefits, protecting the heart from drug-induced toxicity and improving heart tissue health.

For skin disorders, AV is effective in wound healing, moisturizing, and treating conditions like acne, psoriasis, and frostbite. Research supports AV's ability to accelerate wound healing, reduce erythema, and improve skin integrity. In dentistry, AV, when used in mouthwashes, can reduce gingival scores, dental caries, and plaque.

In gastrointestinal disorders, AV's laxative properties aid in constipation relief, while its soothing effects help manage reflux disorder and irritable bowel syndrome. It has prebiotic properties and can be used to preserve probiotic yogurts. Additionally, AV shows promise in managing metabolic and endocrine diseases, including diabetes, by improving blood glucose and lipid metabolism. Its multifaceted therapeutic properties make it a valuable natural remedy for a wide range of health issues.

Conclusions

Due to its hydrating and soothing properties, AV is extensively used in cosmetics, including soaps, sunscreens, anti-aging treatments, and moisturizers. It is also utilized in non-alcoholic hand sanitizers for its humectant and healing capabilities. In the food industry, AV gel acts as a natural preservative and edible coating on fruits and vegetables, enhancing shelf life by reducing ripening and preserving quality through antioxidant and antimicrobial effects.

However, AV products have certain drawbacks. The high demand for AV gel-based products generates significant AV-processing waste. This waste is often disposed of in landfills or used as fertilizer, but sustainable management strategies like transforming it into animal feed, biofuel, or natural polymers are being explored. Research into the valorization of AV by-products, such as AV flowers, shows potential for obtaining bioactive compounds with additional health benefits.

Toxicity concerns arise from some of the active compounds in AV, which have been linked to liver and kidney damage and genotoxicity. Numerous cases of AV-induced acute liver injury have been reported, highlighting the need for caution, especially in patients with existing health conditions or those taking hepatotoxic drugs. Despite its benefits, such as antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, further research is needed to fully understand AV's health impacts and manage its toxic potential.

In summary, AV is a remarkable plant with a wide array of health benefits and applications in medicine, cosmetics, and food preservation. However, its potential toxicity, especially when ingested, underscores the need for further research and careful consideration of its use.

Journal reference:
  • Aloe vera – an extensive review focused on recent studies. Catalano, A., Ceramella, J., Iacopetta, D., Marra, M., Conforti, F., Lupi, F.R., Gabriele, D., Borges, F., Sinicropi, M.S. Foods (2024). DOI: 10.3390/foods13132155, https://www.mdpi.com/2304-8158/13/13/2155
Priyanjana Pramanik

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Priyanjana Pramanik

Priyanjana Pramanik is a writer based in Kolkata, India, with an academic background in Wildlife Biology and economics. She has experience in teaching, science writing, and mangrove ecology. Priyanjana holds Masters in Wildlife Biology and Conservation (National Centre of Biological Sciences, 2022) and Economics (Tufts University, 2018). In between master's degrees, she was a researcher in the field of public health policy, focusing on improving maternal and child health outcomes in South Asia. She is passionate about science communication and enabling biodiversity to thrive alongside people. The fieldwork for her second master's was in the mangrove forests of Eastern India, where she studied the complex relationships between humans, mangrove fauna, and seedling growth.

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