Health Benefits of Aloe—and How to Use It

This popular plant is good for more than just sunburns.

Though you are probably familiar with aloe, this potted plant is more than meets the eye. Along with being a beautiful decor addition, this humble plant can help purify the air in your house and much more. Aloe vera is a specific species of succulent from the Aloe genus that is most popular as a houseplant. Aloe isn't just pretty, though; it may be good for you too. We dove into the research to find out more about the health benefits of aloe.

Is Aloe Vera Edible?

You may be more used to hearing of aloe used topically on the skin, but it is also safe for human consumption. In fact, it has a long history of popular and traditional use in countries including India, Mexico and China. The gel holds most of the plant's nutritional value, but the leaves are generally considered safe to eat, too.

You can extract aloe vera gel from living aloe plants by removing the spiky edges and skin from its leaves, then dicing and rinsing the gel (this helps remove any of the bitter latex that coats the gel). Or, to save yourself the trouble of working with the sticky plant, you can buy aloe juice everywhere from health-food stores to Target to Trader Joe's.

Aloe plant on windowsill
Getty Images / Albina Yalunina

Aloe Nutrition

The nutrition in 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of aloe vera juice is as follows:

  • 19 calories
  • 0g protein
  • 5g carbohydrates
  • 0g fiber
  • 5g sugar
  • 10mg calcium
  • 10mg sodium
  • 5mg vitamin C

Research on the plant has found that aloe delivers antioxidants and minerals including magnesium, chromium, selenium and zinc.

Health Benefits of Aloe Vera

Aloe has a variety of health benefits from topical and oral use. Here are the highlights.

Soothes Skin

Aloe can help soothe burns when applied topically to your skin. Who else remembers the tube of bright green aloe that was inevitable after a long day at the beach? Beyond simple sunburns, aloe can have some powerful effects on skin injury, burns and rashes. Some studies have found that it might even help with acne with its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. And a study in Current Oncology found that aloe can help alleviate dermatitis (skin inflammation or irritation) caused by radiation.

Relieves Constipation

Your poop can actually tell you a lot about your health. Feeling backed up? It could be from a variety of factors, including stress and your diet. Aloe may be able to help with that. There is a latex component of aloe vera gel that is commonly used to help treat constipation. Research attributes its laxative effect to the anthraquinone glycosides found in the aloe vera latex. Another study in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that aloe vera can reduce pain and discomfort in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, there is still a general lack of data, and aloe is not approved as an over-the-counter drug by the Food and Drug Administration. If you're considering drinking aloe for digestive symptoms, talk to your doctor first.

Benefit Blood Sugar

Aloe vera is also used to help alleviate symptoms of diabetes in many parts of the world, including in Latin America and the Arabian Peninsula. There is some limited evidence that suggests aloe vera can help moderate chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and elevated lipid profiles. A research review cited several examples where these effects were mimicked in rats, though the mechanism is not yet known. A 2016 study in Nutrients showed that aloe-supplementing participants with prediabetes and diabetes had significantly lower fasting blood glucose, hemoglobin A1C levels and cholesterol levels than those taking a placebo. There isn't guidance around how much to take if you have diabetes, and more studies are needed around aloe vera and its impact on blood sugar.

Bottom Line

Aloe is an attractive houseplant that makes great decor, cleans the air and may have some health benefits too. Whether you use aloe to soothe skin burns and irritation or to help alleviate constipation, it can be a useful natural remedy. As always, consult with your doctor if you have questions about whether ingesting aloe is a good idea for you.

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