Walking home from the beach as children, tired and sunburnt, we’d instinctively break aloe vera leaves from our neighbor’s porch and rub the gel over our skin. We knew, as children have known for thousands of years, stretching back to the ancient kingdoms of Sumeria, that aloe would soothe the burn.
A Brief History of Aloe Vera
Aloe vera has been appreciated for its medicinal properties for so long, the species has garnered the name ‘The Plant of Immortality’. Painted in vivid green on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples, aloe was elevated to a god-like status. Its use in the Levant can be traced from the skin-care routine of Queen Nefertiti to the perfumed gardens of King Solomon.
In 333 B.C., Alexander the Great captured the Island of Socotra merely to procure aloe for his wounded soldiers. In 600 B.C., Arab traders brought aloe to Persia, naming the plant the ‘Desert Lily’. In China, it was known as the ‘Method of Harmony’. In Japan, the ‘Royal plant’ was used by the samurai to relieve the pain of sprains.
And long before the United Colonies were established, Native Americans allegedly used aloe vera not only to soothe their skin but to treat gastrointestinal and colon problems. In fact, throughout its medicinal history, aloe appears to have been used traditionally for digestive issues due to its anti-inflammatory properties. But it’s only recently that the plant has come under clinical investigation.
So, where does the science currently stand, and what do you need to know about taking aloe vera for IBD?
Can Aloe Vera Help with IBD?
There is plenty of evidence that aloe vera gel has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant capacities. However, there is little evidence that it has a therapeutic effect on IBD. That said, according to the few clinical trials on aloe vera for colitis, it may be able to soothe some specific symptoms of IBD.
Aloe Vera for Intestinal Inflammation
Very few studies have been conducted on aloe vera for ulcerative colitis. One human study in 2004 found that ingested aloe gel could better reduce disease activity than placebo, although the trial was small and no subsequent study has shown the same results.
In 2020, an animal model of colitis found that aloe could improve UC symptoms, and potentially protect against the development of the disease. Aloe vera showed protective and therapeutic effects on colon tissue, and the inflammation rate and lesion depth of the colon tissue and fibrosis were lower in the group taking aloe treatment.
The researchers suggested that aloe vera at a dose of 50 mg may possess cytoprotective activity, meaning it protects against mucosal injury. All in all, it was concluded that aloe vera could potentially be used to improve UC symptoms.
At this point, the evidence suggests that aloe vera does not appear to impact the driving factors behind intestinal inflammation. Rather than a ‘cure’ or ‘therapy’, it may offer more benefit in easing specific symptoms or complications of IBD.
Aloe Vera for Heartburn
A study in 2015 tested 79 subjects with aloe vera syrup for 8 weeks and assessed the 8 main symptoms of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). These include heartburn, food regurgitation, flatulence, belching, dysphagia (difficulties swallowing), nausea, vomiting, and acid regurgitation. Aloe was found to reduce the occurrence of all the above symptoms, with no adverse events.
Since many with IBD (though more specifically, Crohn’s disease) also experience some kind of heartburn or acid reflux, aloe vera may help ease this specific symptom. However, it’s best to consult with your doctor first, especially as taking oral aloe products may cause digestive disturbances.
Aloe Vera for Psoriasis
In 1996, a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that aloe vera cream cured 83.3% of psoriasis patients, compared to placebo (6.6%). And a 2010 study found that topical aloe vera may be more effective than triamcinolone cream 0.1 in reducing the clinical symptoms of psoriasis.
While there isn’t enough evidence to claim that aloe vera will definitely work for psoriasis, it’s a low-risk, natural option or complementary addition to your usual treatment that may provide relief.
Please note that the National Psoriasis Foundation recommends topical creams and ointments rather than orally ingesting aloe vera as this may cause kidney or digestive problems.
Aloe Vera for Anal Fissures
For those suffering from anal fissures, topical application of aloe vera appears to be exceptionally beneficial for healing, repairing, and soothing the affected area.
This was confirmed in a 2014 study, which found significant differences in fissure pain, hemorrhaging, and wound healing before and after a week of topical aloe vera cream compared to the control group.
Not only does aloe gel help heal damaged skin tissue in the area, but it also contains anti-inflammatory compounds called anthraquinones, which help reduce swelling and alleviate pain.
A Note on Aloe Latex (Aloin)
Topical use of aloe vera gels and creams is a perfectly safe way to alleviate skin issues involved with IBD.
However, the oral consumption of Aloin (aloe latex) is not recommended for those with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis as it is a strong laxative and can cause severe abdominal cramps.