Aloe Vera is a plant that grows in Africa, the Canary islands, and a few other places. For years, various medicinal properties have often been ascribed to aloe. Aloe vera juice is recommended for the treatment of various digestive ills, such as heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome. When used in a topical form, aloe is said to impart soothing and moisturizing effects on the skin. Indeed, I used a product called “Hoffman’s sun tan lotion” over 40 years ago to protect my skin against sunburn. I learned about this product from reading a now defunct magazine called Strength and Health, which was published by the York Barbell company, owned by Bob Hoffman. Hoffman’s sun tan lotion was largely composed of aloe vera, and while it did offer a considerable level of sun protection, it was even more effective if you experienced the painful effects of a sunburn. In fact, Hoffman had developed the product after reading about the remarkable soothing and healing effects of aloe on even serious skin burns. When you applied aloe to burned skin, the pain subsided almost instantly. Small wonder that even today, aloe is still the primary ingredient used in various sunburn lotions and creams.
Other studies show that aloe may be useful for lowering elevated blood glucose levels in diabetics, along with elevated blood lipid levels. Compounds extracted from aloe have been used as a treatment for cancer in dogs and cats. But when given to humans, some cancer patients have died. The theory behind this is that aloe stimulates the immune system, which is important in treating cancer. A recent study, however, found a surprising use of aloe in relation to nutrient absorption in the body. This is important because with age, some nutrients are harder to absorb. One example of this is vitamin B12, which is the structurally largest and most complex of all vitamins. In order to be absorbed through an oral route, B12 must interact with a protein in the stomach called the intrinsic factor. But there must be a certain level of stomach acid present to activate the intrinsic factor. Without enough gastric acid secretion, intrinsic factor isn’t activated, and any B12 consumed in food isn’t properly absorbed. As we age, the cells that produce acid in the gastric mucosa tend to atrophy, producing less acid. Besides being required for B12 uptake, you also need sufficient gastric acid to begin the process of protein absorption. Small wonder why many older people suffer health problems related to poor nutrient uptake. In fact, a B12 deficiency can produce mental symptoms, including significant memory problems, that appear identical to Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.
In the new study, two different types of aloe preparations were provided to 15 subjects. Some of the subjects got a placebo. Then they switched places, where the people that ingested the genuine aloe now received a placebo, while the placebo group now ingested real aloe. This is known as a crossover study. The groups also received 1,000 micrograms of B12 and 500 milligrams of vitamin C. The results of the study showed that both types of aloe significantly increased the bioavailability of B12 and C. While this is good news for anyone who ingests these vitamins, it’s particularly useful for older people, in whom nutrients are more difficult to absorb.
Mi-Jung Y, et al. A randomized placebo-controlled crossover trial of aloe vera on bioavailability of vitamins c and B12, blood glucose, and lipid profile in healthy human subjects.J Dietary Supp 2010;7:145-53.
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