Long celebrated for its medicinal and healing properties, aloe vera – a short-stemmed, spiky shrub that grows wild in tropical climates around the world – is a go-to remedy when it comes to health.

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And thanks to its array of active constituents in the form of polysaccharides, digestive enzymes and vitamins and minerals, it’s cropping up in an ever-increasing amount of consumer products.

Whether it’s in the form of a trendy new juice drink, a soothing gel or capsules for general digestive health maintenance, the potential benefits are endless.

Alexander Thompson, head nutritionist at Holland & Barrett, takes us through some of aloe vera's top health benefits...

Improve IBS symptoms

Aloe vera contains polysaccharides which are thought to be anti-inflammatory and have healing properties. These effects are also supported by the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals of aloe vera. This may be useful to soothe an irritated digestive tract lining in cases of IBS, and could help reduce symptoms such as diarrhoea and mucous in the stools.

Heals ulcers and gastritis

The polysaccharides may also help to promote healing of the lining of the digestive tract in cases where this has been compromised, such as with ulcers affecting the stomach and small intestine; and in cases of gastritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach lining.

Supports normal digestion

Aloe vera contains naturally occurring digestive enzymes which may work alongside the digestive enzymes the body produces naturally to promote the breakdown of food and better nutrient assimilation. The benefits of aloe vera for improving IBS symptoms, addressing ulcers and gastritis and supporting normal digestion are best derived from juice drinks which provide a high percentage of aloe vera and which are processed at low temperatures. While this conserves and maximises the benefits, products with added water and sugar should be avoided.

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Helps sunburn

Aloe vera has long been used as a popular home treatment to reduce the symptoms of sunburn, and now features in many top brands’ after-sun care ranges. Not only does it utilise the plant’s soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, it promotes healing, is antibacterial, and has a naturally high water content to rehydrate skin too.

Heals mouth ulcers

The healing and anti-inflammatory effects of aloe vera are often used as a means to soothe discomfort and promote the healing of mouth ulcers. The benefits, in this instance, typically stem from the use of a mouthwash or a specialised gel or spray for the mouth.

General dental health

The anti-inflammatory and healing effects of aloe vera may also be useful when addressing gingivitis, which is an inflammation of the gums; plus it can help to reduce bleeding of the gums and doubles up as an antiseptic. An aloe-vera based toothpaste and/or mouthwash has the potential to destroy harmful bacteria and fight infection.

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Acne and eczema

With its anti-inflammatory properties, healing extracts and high water content, aloe vera is a great all-natural, home treatment approach to help with the management of acne, eczema and related skin conditions. A specially formulated gel is recommended for topical use – and it’s important to choose products with a high percentage of aloe vera and with minimal added ingredients, as products with a lot of additives may increase the chance of an allergic reaction.

Aids scalp and hair health

Healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp and by making the most of aloe vera’s healing effects you can better manage any itching and dandruff, plus add moisture and shine to hair. Much like before, choose products with a high percentage of aloe vera and with minimal added ingredients. Opt for those with higher levels of additives and you may worsen scalp issues and trigger an allergic reaction.

Please note: Individuals with any pre-existing health condition(s) should discuss the suitability of any aloe vera product with their GP/dentist prior to use.

Do you reap the benefits of aloe vera? Tell us about your experience in the Comments section below.