In creams, makeup products, wet wipes, multivitamin complexes, deodorants, mouthwashes, toothpaste.... in recent years aloe vera has become one of the star products in cosmetics, natural medicine and personal hygiene. It only takes a quick glance around any supermarket to realise that this plant has become important in our everyday lives. So much so, in fact, that it is now available in the form of a drink.
"If it continues to be this popular it is possible that it will become the soft drink of the future. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and it isn't expensive. Also, we are talking about a product which is nutritionally natural - it is not a drug. All this means that now, in the type of society in which we live, when people are aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle, aloe vera sales are booming," said Dr Julián Álvarez, a specialist in sports medicine who also collaborates with Herbalife on nutritional matters.
Among the principal benefits of aloe vera is its ability to stimulate intestinal bacterial flora, which is very important in the digestive process.
"At a scientific level, aloe vera has been shown to have anti-inflammatory power over the digestive epithelium, an epithelium which withstands a number of chemical and physical aggressions. That's why it was considered a good idea to use the aloe in a drink. It's like a cactus juice with powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which also has a stabilising and stimulating effect on the immune system," explained Dr Álvarez.
Both the small and large intestines suffer, at times, from inflammatory conditions which aloe vera helps to control, heal and eradicate. For that reason it is a product taken for stomach and intestinal ulcers. It also helps to control irritable intestine syndrome and other problems which involve an inflammatory process, such as colitis. What's more, it rapidly eliminates toxins and undesirable substances from the organism because of the major stimulus it causes to the digestive system in general.
Results with athletes
"Because it normalises digestion, it prevents constipation as well as diarrhoea. I have worked for the Estudiantes [basketball] team, the Spanish Triathlon Federation and the CAR in the Sierra Nevada, and when I have been consulted by a nervous athlete I have recommended that they drink aloe vera for two or three days before the match or the competition to prevent stomach and digestive problems. The result has always been satisfactory," said Dr Álvarez.
There is no exact measurement for the daily consumption of aloe vera. As it is a product with no chemical components, there are no restrictions regarding quantity, but for people who are wary of this type of thing a maximum of two glasses a day is recommended at first, while the organism becomes accustomed to it. Later, when the body is used to it, the amount doesn't matter.
"Aloe vera prevents acidity thanks to its alkaline agents. It is also very refreshing so it means we don't consume as many drinks which are more damaging to our bodies, such as sugary soft drinks or coffee," explained the doctor.
Other collateral benefits of drinking aloe vera are the reduction of bad cholesterol (LDL); the multiplication of the effects of vitamins, especially C and E; a reduction in oxidative stress; better oxygenation and circulation of the blood, which leads to more robust cardiac health; and help to relieve the symptoms of seasonal allergies: "This plant gives us a lot of small, beneficial things, and that's why it is so good for us," said Dr Álvarez.
Nevertheless, what about risk groups such as people with diabetes or pregnant women?
Scientific research is being carried out to come up with a conclusion that is 100 per cent reliable, and in the case of diabetics there has been significant progress.
"First indications are that aloe vera helps to regulate blood sugar levels. There is no evidence that it is an anti-diabetes product, but it does help to control glucose levels and can therefore be a great help for diabetic people," said Dr Álvarez.
With regard to pregnant women, some theories say they should not ingest aloe vera because it could stimulate the uterus and cause contractions. The same applies to breastfeeding mothers, because it could affect the baby through the milk, although Dr Álvarez said there is no cause for alarm.
"There are no scientific conclusions about these theories, so we can't be categorical about it. Nobody has shown that aloe vera could be bad for women who are expecting a baby. What is true is that we always need to be cautious when it comes to pregnant women, and use common sense.
"In this case, while we're waiting for science to give us reliable information, it is only common sense not to drink aloe vera during the nine months of pregnancy," he added.