Aloe Vera plant has been known and used for many centuries due to its healing and cosmetic properties. The name Aloe Vera comes from the Arabic word, “Alloeh,” meaning “radiant bitter substance,” while “vera” in Latin means “true.” 2000 years ago, Greek scholars considered Aloe Vera a universal panacea. The Egyptians called aloe a “plant of immortality.” Today, aloe vera gel is used for various purposes in dermatology.
For many millennia, Aloe Vera has been used for medicinal purposes in various cultures, like: Greece, Egypt, India, Mexico, Japan and China. The Egyptian queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra used it in cosmetic procedures. Alexander the Great and Christopher Columbus used it to treat the wounds of their soldiers. The first mention of Aloe Vera in English was a translation by John Goodyear in 1655 of the medical treatise Dioscorides “De Materia Medica”. In the early 1800’s, Aloe Vera was used in the United States as a laxative. A turning point occurred in the mid-1930’s, when Aloe plant was successfully used in the treatment of chronic and severe radiation dermatitis.
Plant: The botanical name for Aloe Vera is aloe barbadensis miller. It belongs to the lily family – Asphodelaceae (Liliaceae), and is a shrub or tree-like, perennial, xerophyte, succulent, green pea plant. It grows mainly in the arid regions of Africa, Asia, Europe and America. In India Aloe grows in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
Anatomy: The plant has triangular fleshy leaves with jagged edges, yellow tubular flowers, and fruits that contain numerous seeds. Each leaf consists of three layers:
- an internal light gel that contains 99 percent water, and the rest is glucomannans, amino acids, lipids, sterols and vitamins;
- the middle layer of latex, which is a bitter yellow juice and contains anthraquinones and glycosides;
- the outer layer is 15–20 cells thick, called the cortical, which has a protective function, and carbohydrates and proteins are synthesized in it. Inside the cortical layer pass the vascular ligaments responsible for the transport of water (in xylem) and starches (in the phloem).
Biologically active substances and their properties: aloe vera contains 75 biologically active substances: vitamins, enzymes, minerals, sugars, lignin, saponins, salicylic acid and amino acids, etc.
Vitamins: Aloe Vera contains vitamins A (beta-carotene), C, E, B12, folic acid and choline.
Enzymes: Aloe Vera contains 8 enzymes: aliinase, alkaline phosphatase, amylase, bradykinase, carboxypeptidase, catalase, cellulase, lipase and peroxidase. Bradykinase inhibits skin inflammation with topical application of Aloe, other enzymes are involved in the breakdown of sugars and fats.
Minerals: Aloe Vera is a source of minerals, like calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium and zinc. They are necessary for the normal functioning of various enzyme systems, and some of them are antioxidants.
Sugar: Aloe Vera gel is rich in monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) and polysaccharides, in particular, mucopolysaccharides glucomannans and polymannozoa. The most famous monosaccharide is mannose-6-phosphate, the most common polysaccharide is beta-1,4-acetylated mannan, or acemannan.
Mucopolysaccharides, when applied topically, help retain moisture in the skin and soften it by binding its surface exfoliating cells. In the treatment of dry skin caused by working conditions, the use of gloves soaked in Aloe Vera juice improved the integrity of the skin, prevented the appearance of fine wrinkles and reduced the appearance of erythema.
Recently, alprogen, glycoprotein, and the new anti-inflammatory agent C-glycosyl chromon were isolated from Aloe Vera gel. Alprogen acts on the mast cells of connective tissue, inhibiting their release of the inflammatory agents of histamine and leukotriene. Acemannan stimulates the synthesis of cells of the immune system of interleukin 1 and tumor necrosis factor that destroys tumor cells. Other aloe polysaccharides also have a carcinoprotective effect.
Anthraquinones: Aloe Vera contains phenolic compounds – anthraquinones, whose laxative effect is well known. They increase the water content in the intestines, stimulate the secretion of mucus and increase intestinal motility. Anthraquinones aloin and emodin act as analgesics, antibacterial and antiviral agents that inactivate various viruses, such as herpes simplex, influenza and chickenpox viruses.
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