Skin lotions and topical anti-inflammatory treatments tout aloe vera as a healing and soothing wonder gel. The gel comes from the thick leaves of the aloe vera plant. It does more than just leave skin soft, however. Aloe vera is used to heal first- and second-degree burns, protect against radiation damage, rev up the immune system, make bowels move, and fight viruses and bacteria. All this, thanks to the vitamins and minerals found in the plant.
Aloe vera gel is packed with vitamins. It contains B-12, which helps make DNA, and also maintains blood and nerve cells. The gel contains folic acid, which makes new cells and prevents birth defects. It has choline, which transmits nerve impulses in the body and sends signals between the cells. It also contains the vitamins A, C and E, which are antioxidants. Antioxidants protect cells against damaging free radicals, molecules that damage the cells and lead to heart disease and cancer.
Minerals are vital to humans, and they abound in aloe vera gel. The gel contains at least nine minerals, which are needed to make enzyme systems and metabolism function properly. Among the standouts in aloe vera are calcium, the key component in bones, teeth and cell signaling; zinc, selenium and magnesium, all essential for as many as 300 metabolic functions; and chromium, which enhances the insulin that provides cells with energy. Aloe vera also contains copper, manganese, potassium, and sodium.
In addition to vitamins and minerals, aloe vera has ingredients that act as anti-inflammatories. Bradykinase is an aloe vera enzyme which reduces skin inflammation. Aloe vera has 12 anthraquinones, also known as laxatives. It has fatty acids, salicylic acid and hormones called auxins and gibberellins, all of which result in inflammation reversal. These anti-inflammatories work most often by stimulating immune system function and collagen growth, or by blocking the paths of irritants.
Aloe vera gel can be applied topically and also taken orally. One can break open the plant leaf and apply the natural gel directly onto the skin, or one can buy the gel in lotions and creams for topical treatment. Aloe vera is also available in capsule and pill form. Users should consult a doctor first, as aloe vera can decrease blood sugar levels and interact with hypoglycemic drugs and insulin. It may also increase the absorption of certain creams, including hydrocortisone.
James Roland started writing professionally in 1987. A former reporter and editor with the "Sarasota Herald-Tribune," he currently oversees such publications as the "Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor" and UCLA's "Healthy Years." Roland earned his Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Oregon.