Aloe vera: A plant for many uses

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Abstract
Aloe vera, a cactus-like plant has been used for traditional medical purposes for thousands of years. Aloe leaves can be separated into two basic products: the latex, a bitter yellow liquid beneath the epidermis of the leaf and the gel, a colorless and tasteless substance in the inner part of the leaf. Both of them have many biologically active components, mainly anthraquinones and polysaccharides (the most active is acemannan), which may act alone or in synergy. Scientific studies provide support for the application of Aloe vera in cosmetic-moisturizers, toothpastes etc, food as flavoring compounds or preservative of fresh products and in medicine of humans or animals. Aloe vera seems to treat a variety of conditions because of its wound healing, anti-inflammatory, immunity, antidiabetic, antioxidant, laxative, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and antitumor effects. Besides these applications it can be also included in the animals diet to utilize their benefits to the maximum extent.
Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment, Vol.8 (2), April 2010 24 5
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Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment Vol.8 (2): 245-249. 2010
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Aloe vera: A plant for many uses
Efterpi V. Christaki * and Panagiota C. Florou-Paneri
1Laboratory of Animal Nutrition, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece.
*e-mail: efchris@vet.auth.gr
Abstract
Aloe vera, a cactus-like plant has been used for traditional medical purposes for thousands of years. Aloe leaves can be separated into two basic
products: the latex, a bitter yellow liquid beneath the epidermis of the leaf and the gel, a colorless and tasteless substance in the inner part of the leaf.
Both of them have many biologically active components, mainly anthraquinones and polysaccharides (the most active is acemannan), which may act
alone or in synergy. Scientific studies provide support for the application of Aloe vera in cosmetic-moisturizers, toothpastes etc, food as flavoring
compounds or preservative of fresh products and in medicine of humans or animals. Aloe vera seems to treat a variety of conditions because of its
wound healing, anti-inflammatory, immunity, antidiabetic, antioxidant, laxative, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and antitumor effects. Besides these
applications it can be also included in the animals diet to utilize their benefits to the maximum extent.
Key words: Aloe vera, cosmetic applications, food applications, medicinal applications, animal nutrition.
Received 3 February 2010, accepted 15 April 2010.
Introduction
Aloe vera has been used by mankind for thousands of years in
folk medicine for therapeutic properties especially on skin. This
plant is one of the oldest known and its first documented use by
humans dates back to an Egyptian papyrus from 3500 BC 1. The
Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about the beneficial medicinal
effect of Aloe vera, while references are also found throughout
the Bible 2. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Indians
used it. By the early 1800s Aloe vera was served as a laxative in
the United States. Moreover, modern clinical use began in the
1930s with reports of successful treatment of x-ray and radium
burns 3. Aloe vera derives its name from the Arabic word “Alloeh”
which means “shining bitter substance” because of the bitter
liquid found in the leaves and Vera which means “true” in
Latin2, 3. This species was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753
who suggested the following classification: Kingdom: plantae,
Order: Asparagales, Family: Asphodelaceae, Genus: Aloe, Species:
Aloe vera. There are a number of synonyms: Aloe barbadensis
Mill., Aloe indica Royle, Aloe perfoliat L. var Vera and Aloe
vulgaris Lam 4. Most of the Aloe plants are not toxic, but a few are
extremely poisonous. There are about four main species of
approximately 420, that have medicinal properties and among them
is Aloe vera which is considered to be the most potent and
therefore the most popular, also widely grown as an ornamental
plant 5, 6.
The natural range of Aloe vera is unclear as the species has
been widely cultivated throughout the world, rather originating in
Africa. It is grown in most subtropical and tropical locations
including South Africa and Latin America, then it was introduced
to China, India and various parts of Southern Europe in the 17th
century 1, 6, 7.
Aloe vera is a cactus-like plant, although is related to the onion,
garlic and asparagus 2. It is stemless with triangular, fleshy leaves
ranging in color from grey-green to bright green and in the margin
of the leaves has small white teeth 6. The leaves are composed of
three layers: an inner gel, a yellow sap and the outer thick layer of
15-20 cells called as rind 3, 8. Aloe leaves have long been used for
medical and cosmetic purposes as well in health foods but there is
no clear understanding or scientific analysis of the basis for such
properties 8. According to other researchers 8-10 Aloe vera can be
separated into two basic products, latex and gel. The latex,
representing approximately 20-30% by weight of the whole leaf
referred as “aloe juice” or “aloe sap”, is a bitter yellow exudate
from the pericyclic tubules beneath the epidermis of the leaf. Young
leaves were found to have higher concentrations of latex
components compared to older leaves 11. On the other hand, the
colorless, tasteless gel is the pulp or mucilage from the parenchyma
cells of the plant in the inner part of the leaf 8-10.
Early, in 1941 was reported that the leaf pulp of Aloe vera
contained 98.5% water and its alcoholic-insoluble portion was a
mucilage containing uronic acid, fructose, hydrolysable sugars
and enzymes 12. Nowadays, it is known that the gel representing
approximately 70-80% by weight of the whole leaf, serves as the
water and energy storage component of the plant 11. When it is
used the whole leaf of Aloe vera, it is difficult to distinguish if their
biological effects are attributed to the gel or the latex because
during the gel preparation exudates compounds may infiltrate 10.
Biological Components
Aloe vera latex and gel have physiologically active substances
with biological effects, acting alone or indicating a synergistic
246 Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment, Vol.8 (2), April 2010
effect 10, 14. The identification of these substances is important for
the effective use of the plant. The chemical composition of Aloe
vera varies and depends on climate, region, growing conditions,
the age of the plant or the processing method 8, 11. According to
Choi and Chung 15,the major substances of Aloe vera are shown
in Table 1.
Aloe vera latex is high in anthraquinones, phenolic compounds,
that have strong laxative effects while they can act also as
antibacterials especially against Gram-positive bacteria 3, 11, 16,
analgetics and antivirals 3, 11. In addition, the latex is reported to
contain, on a dry weight basis, an acid insoluble resin (16-33%),
significant ash content (24.5%) and a small quantity of essential
oil that is responsible for the odor of the latex 17. In spite of these
biological activities, anthraquinones may have harmful effects,
such as genotoxic, mutagenic and tumor promoting 18.
A potent source of polysaccharides seems to be Aloe vera gel19.
It has been shown that three years old Aloe vera contained
significantly higher levels of polysaccharides 10, 11, 20. The most
active among them is acemannan 11, 21 which is reported to have
antiviral 22, antibacterial 23, wound healing 25-27 and
immunnostimulative activity 24, 25, reduces radiation-induced skin
reactions 26 and stimulates hematopoiesis 28. It should be noticed
that active glycoproteins have been also found in Aloe vera gel
and may play some role in therapeutic activity, either
immunologically as lectins or as proteases (antibrady kinins) 10.
Moreover, Aloe vera gel has pH 4.4-4.7, consists primarily of water
(98.5%) and polysaccharides and contains vitamins, enzymes,
steroids etc 11, 15, 29, 30.
The gel when exposed to air rapidly oxidizes, decomposes and
looses much of its biological activities, so there are different
processing techniques with regard to gel’s sterilization and
stabilization 8, 30. Because many of the active ingredients of Aloe
vera gel appear to deteriorate on storage, the use of fresh gel is
recommended30.
There have been also, a few reports of harmful effects of Aloe
vera gel such as eczema, allergic dermatitis or an increase in
circulating leucocyte count probably as a result of stimulation of
the immune system 10.
Mechanism of Actions - Uses and Applications
Cosmetic uses: Generally, Aloe vera has many uses both for
humans and animals. Three distinct preparations of the plant are
used: Aloe vera latex, Aloe vera gel and Aloe vera whole leaf
extract, whose biological ingredients may act alone or in
synergy 11, 19. The use of Aloe vera in cosmetics is not new; there
are many of them on the market which use Aloe vera in
concentrations varying from 1 to 98% 14. It is well known that Aloe
gel enables the plant to hold moisture for extremely long periods
of time and has soothing effects as well 2. So, Aloe vera has found
an extensive application in the cosmetic and toiletry industries,
such as moisturizers, cleansers, sun lotions, toothpastes,
mouthwashes, shaving creams, deodorants and shampoos 6, 8, 31.
In Aloe-derived ingredients used in cosmetics anthraquinone
levels should not exceed 50 ppm, concentrations too low to induce
phototoxicity 32. In the United States the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) has approved the external use of Aloe vera
gel only as cosmetic ingredient 30, 31.
Food uses: The food and beverage market is a promising arena
for Aloe vera. It has been used as a resource of functional food
such as yogurt or for the preparation of health drinks, including
tea 2, 8, 31. It is well known, that botanical products are widely used
as nutritional supplement for promotion of health or prevention
of diseases. According to Serrano et al. 33 Aloe vera gel can be
used as an edible coating to prolong the quality and safety of
fresh products. Table grapes coated with Aloe gel significantly
delayed the loss of functional compounds such as total phenolic
and ascorbic acid. Indeed, Aloe vera inhibits the growth of
microorganisms responsible for foodborne illness in humans or
animals as well as food spoilage 8, 9.
Aloe vera does not appear to affect food taste or appearance, so
it seems to be promise as a safe, natural and environmentally-
friendly alternative solution to conventional synthetic
preservatives 33.
FDA, in the United States has approved the internal use of gel
as a “dietary supplement”. In the European Commission (EC)
according to Annex I of Regulation No 1831/2003 Aloe vera can
be used by the feed industries as sensory additive functional
group “flavoring compounds”, to increase smell or palatability of
feedings stuff 30, 31.
Medicinal uses:
Healing wounds: Due to polysaccharides and the growth hormone
gibberellins, increased collagen and elastin formation may reduce
wrinkling 3, 10, 19, 27, 28, 35. The high healing capacity of Aloe vera is
to find out a number of mucopolysaccharides (MPS) present
between 10,000-20,000 MPS per litre 8. Moreover, Aloe vera effects
are in the treatment of scar tissue and the prevention of scar
formation following injury to the skin, probably are attributed to
the activity of the amino acids necessary to new cell formation
Glycoproteins Anthraquinones Saccharides Vitamins Enzymes Low molecular –
weight substances
aloe-emodin
aloetic acid
aloin
anthranol
barbaloin
isoberbaloin
emodin
ester of cinnamic acid
cellulose
glucose
mannose
aldopentose
acetylated mannan (acemannan)
glucomannan
acetylated glycomannan
galactogalacturan
glucogalactomannan
galactoglucoarabinomannan
B1
B2
B6
C
ȕ-carotene
choline
folic acid
Į-tocopherol
amylase
carboxypeptidase
catalase
cyclooxidase
lipase
oxidase
arachidonic acid
cholesterol
gibberellin
lectin-like substances
lignins
salicylic acid
ȕ-sitosterol
steroids
triglycerides
uric acid
Table 1. Major substances of Aloe vera.
Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment, Vol.8 (2), April 2010 24 7
and due to the ability of its enzymes to promote regeneration of
the deepest layers of the skin 8, 15.
Anti-inflammatory action and immunity activity: Because of
salicylic acid, which is both analgetic and anti-inflammatory, the
production of prostaglandins from arachidonic acid is inhibited 9,
10, 19. So Aloe has been used to help with arthritis and joint related
problems 2, 27. Immunity activity is enhanced by Aloe
polysaccharides 15, 25, 31, 36.
Effects on skin exposure to UV and X-radiation: Aloe vera
supports the healing of first to second degree burns 37 although
the exact role is not well known 2, 10. It is suggested that lectin may
be responsible for the therapeutic effect 8.
Effects on ulcers: Aloe vera can be used successfully in the general
treatment of skin ulcers including mouth ulcers 2, 8, 24, herpes simplex
and psoriasis 10, 35. Also, this plant was found to protect against
the formation of gastric ulcers 8, 31.
Antidiabetic activities: Some inorganic elements (vanadium,
manganese, copper) 38 and especially the polysaccharides present
inAloe vera may have a significant role for antidiabetic activities10,
31. This plant has been linked with reduced blood glucose levels
in diabetics 2, 10, 31 and with lower blood lipid levels or
cholesterol 31, 39 (approximately 30% lower) 40 in hyperlipidaemic
patients.
Antioxidant activities: Antioxidant activities have been studied10,
40, 41. According to Lee et al. 42 Aloe vera activity was similar to
that of α-tocopherol. Also, it has been noticed that the growth
stage of the plant is important for such activities 20.
Laxative effects: Anthraquinones present in Aloe vera latex are a
potent laxative, increasing intestinal peristalsis 11, 31.
Antibacterial properties: Many researchers 3, 11, 23 mentioned that
Aloe vera inhibits the growth of some microorganisms like Str.
pyogenes,Shigella flexneri,Klebsiella sp., especially against
Gram-positive bacteria causing food poisoning or diseases in
humans and animals 16.
Antifungal activity: Antifungal activity has received less attention,
although inhibitory activity against Candida 35 has been reported.
For its antifungal properties Aloe vera is used as a fish tank water
conditioner 43.
Antiviral and antitumor activity: These actions may be due to
the indirect or direct effects: indirect through the stimulation of
the immune system and direct to anthraquinones 3. So, clinical
trials are in progress to obtain conclusive evidence for the use of
Aloe vera in the treatment of HIV-AIDS or cancer 8-10, 31.
Age-related effects: Aloe vera was investigated on pathogen-free
rats with some promising results on age-related diseases 44, 45.
The Use of Aloe vera in Animal Nutrition
Aloe vera apart from the above mentioned uses, seems to play an
important role in promoting growth in chickens 46 or in their health
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