There's an interesting quirk of how the body works involved with supplements. Did you know that some nutrients are more or less ignored by the body unless other nutrients are present to use them?
For example, your body cannot make use of collagen without having enough vitamin C on hand to absorb and use it properly, since vitamin C is a critical component of collagen synthesis.
Similarly, you can take vitamin D supplements every day, but most of it will pass right through you without enough magnesium to help your body absorb it.
There are a lot of different nutrients that rely on other nutrients to be properly absorbed. This is why some people find they take supplements of certain nutrients and still have low levels; they aren't giving their body the right mixture. It's also why multivitamins and multi-nutrient supplements tend to work better than individual supplements.
Because of this, one of the most common questions we're asked is whether or not a given supplement will necessarily do anything on its own. While we try to make sure all of our supplements work as stand-alone products, we'll still address them individually when the matter comes up.
So let's talk about Aloe Vera, in juice and gel forms.
The 75 Nutrients in Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera is a powerful plant. The gel-like interior of the succulent is surprisingly packed with a wide range of interesting bioavailable compounds. Over 75 of them, in fact!
Vitamins are the first group. There's quite a few here, in reasonable proportions.
- Vitamin A – Also known as retinol, this vitamin is critical for eyesight and skin health, among other things.
- Vitamin C – Crucial for the immune system and for collagen synthesis, this is an extremely powerful vitamin.
- Vitamin E – Present in a lot of vegetables, this vitamin is important for blood pressure and anemia control.
- Vitamin B12 – Mostly found in animal sources, B12 is crucial for fighting anemia and free radicals.
- Vitamin B9 – Also known as folic acid, this vitamin is important for pregnancy and other uses throughout the body.
- Choline – This is not technically a vitamin by many lists, this nutrient is necessary to produce certain neurotransmitters.
Enzymes are present in Aloe Vera as well. There are eight of them; Aliiase, Alkaline Phosphatase, Amylase, Bradykinase, Carboxypeptidase, Catalase, Cellulase, Lipase, and Peroxidase. All of these are used throughout the body to break down sugars and fats, which helps you burn energy and lose weight.
Minerals are also present in useful amounts in Aloe Vera. You can find the following in the gel:
- Calcium, which is critical for bone health, as well as blood pressure and muscle function.
- Chromium, which is a critical part of insulin's blood sugar regulation.
- Copper, which is used in a wide range of enzymes.
- Selenium, which is a powerful antioxidant and immune health component.
- Magnesium, which is used for protein synthesis, immune health, and muscle function.
- Manganese, which is also used for many enzymes.
- Potassium, which is used for fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle function.
- Sodium, which is used for fluid balance and nerve transmission.
- Zinc, which is used in everything from protein synthesis to wound healing to taste to immune health.
Sugars are also present in Aloe Vera. While most sugars, like glucose and fructose, are primarily used as energy sources by the body, some have additional effects as well. For example, Alprogen is a sugar compound identified in Aloe that has antiallergic properties. Another, called C-glucosyl chromone, is a new anti-inflammatory recently discovered in Aloe Vera.
Anthraquinones are compounds commonly used as laxatives, but which have antibacterial, antiviral, and analgesic effects. There are 12 different anthraquinones present in Aloe Vera, at least that have been identified thus far.
Fatty acids are also present in Aloe. You're not getting Omega-3s – those come from fish-based sources – but you're getting a few plant-based steroid fatty acids. Cholesterol, campesterol, beta-sitosterol, and lupeol are all found in Aloe Vera. These are all anti-inflammatory compounds.
Hormones have also been found in Aloe Vera. These include Auxins and gibberellins, which are anti-inflammatories and which help in wound healing.
Amino Acids are abundant in Aloe Vera. There are 20 amino acids (of the 22 known) in Aloe, and 7 of the 8 essential (that is, not synthesized in the body) amino acids are present in the plant.
That's a lot! And if you think that's impressive, remember this: science is still figuring this stuff out. Some of those compounds have only been discovered in Aloe within the last decade or two, despite the plant being used as part of traditional medicine for millennia stretching all the way back to ancient Egypt and Greece. It just goes to show you how even modern science doesn't fully understand everything.
What Aloe Vera Does for the Body
It's one thing to identify nutrients and claim that Aloe can do all of the things those nutrients can, but how true is it? What can Aloe Vera gel do for you specifically? Luckily, a lot of research has gone into figuring this out how it works. Here are the benefits that science has identified.
Aloe Vera promotes healing. This applies both as topical and ingested forms of Aloe Vera. Several of the compounds in Aloe Vera interact with fibroblasts to stimulate them to synthesize collagen, including a shift more towards type III collagen. This resulted in faster healing wounds, stronger scars, and more collagen-dense wound healing.
Aloe Vera offers protection from UV and even gamma radiation. You're not going to be able to slather yourself with Aloe and be protected from a trip to the core of Chernobyl, but you can get some protection from both sun damage and the damage from cosmic radiation. It's an observed effect, so we know it happens, but science isn't exactly sure how it happens just yet.
Aloe Vera helps fight inflammation. To quote a specific study, "Aloe Vera inhibits the cyclooxygenase pathway and reduces prostaglandin E2 production from arachidonic acid." Feel free to research what, exactly, that means, but suffice to say that it helps prevent some forms of inflammation in the body.
Aloe Vera helps stimulate the immune system. In a study, triggering the immune system to function better allowed mice to help fight off some forms of free radicals and even the sarcomas they caused, among other effects. Aloe Vera isn't going to be a brilliant and novel cure for cancer, but research into it might lead to better treatments. In general, it can also help prevent you from getting sick as often or as deeply as you otherwise would.
Aloe Vera is an antiviral agent. It doesn't fight off all viruses, but aloin, an anthraquinone, helps deactivate certain kinds of viruses. These include varicella zoster, influenza, and herpes simplex. It's not the cure for the flu, but it can help you fight it off if you get it, or help prevent you from getting it initially.
Aloe Vera helps heal and restore the skin. The same mechanisms that help with wound healing also help with restoring the elasticity and youthful appearance in the skin. Aloe also helps moisturize skin when used as a topical application.
Now, it's worth mentioning that most of these effects are poorly studied. Anecdotal data indicates there may be some promise in these avenues, and some of them are being studied for their effects, but not all of them are fully known. You'll have to wait for more and better studies to helpfully identify all of the benefits of Aloe.
How Aloe Vera Enhances Nutrient Uptake
In addition to all of the nutrients present in Aloe Vera itself, you can also consider the fact – proven by science – that the plant helps increase uptake of other nutrients when you consume it.
Several studies have been conducted on nutrient uptake with aloe. These generally compare bodily levels of a specific nutrient, measuring the difference between people who took the nutrient alongside Aloe Vera, and those who take in alongside water. The results are preliminary, so they aren't necessarily proven and vetted, but they're pretty compelling.
One study showed that some Aloe products increase vitamin C absorption by as much as 2,000%. Now, this study was funded by a company that sells Aloe products, and it preferentially favors their products over other Aloe products, so it's questionable whether or not this is entirely accurate, but you can read the study here if you wish.
A different study showed that Aloe Vera gel increased the absorption of vitamin C by around 304%, and vitamin E by about 369%. This particular study is interesting because it identified the difference between the gel and the whole leaf. Whole leaf Aloe actually made vitamin C absorption worse than no Aloe at all, though it did still boost vitamin E uptake.
A third study, found here, looked at vitamin C as well as vitamin B12. It found an increase in vitamin uptake for both vitamins, with no significant drawbacks or side effects. This was a placebo-controlled and randomized study and is one of the best of the bunch.
While these studies primarily looked at Aloe Vera gel and whole leaf compounds, the effects can be extrapolated to apply to some forms of Aloe juice as well, so long as there's enough Aloe in the juice to make an impact.
The Usual Caution
If you've read any of our other articles on Aloe, you've probably read our disclaimer, but if not, we're going to mention it again.
Aloe Vera is not always 100% safe, and you should make sure you're taking the correct amount. The gel is generally safe, and Aloe juice and other preparations are safe when processed, but Aloe leaves on their own contain aloin. Aloin is a compound that provides some of the laxative effects of Aloe Vera when ingested, which can be both good and bad depending on how strongly you desire laxatives. In large doses, this compound can cause abdominal cramping and other problems, so be careful not to eat too much of it.
Also, since Aloe Vera increases your body's vitamin B12 uptake, it helps regulate your blood sugar. This is good in a vacuum, but if you're already taking any kind of medication for blood sugar regulation, you'll want to talk to a doctor before taking Aloe regularly. You don't want to end up on the other extreme, causing more problems than you're solving, right? If you're familiar with the way grapefruit interacts with medications, Aloe works the same way.
Should You Take Aloe to Increase Vitamin Uptake?
So here's the real question; Aloe increases vitamin update, so should you be taking it? That depends a lot on what your goals are.
If you're deficient in one of the vitamins or nutrients that have been confirmed to increase when taken with Aloe, then certainly, you can take it to enhance your uptake. Vitamin C is also a very safe vitamin; taking too much of it isn't known to do much of anything, and you'll just pee out the excess. You would have to take extreme amounts of vitamin C, even with Aloe, to experience any negative effects.
Vitamin B12 is the same way. Even with Aloe, chances are pretty good that you're not going to absorb more than your body can handle, and the rest of it will just be filtered out and discarded. In some cases, extreme mega-doses of vitamin B12 can cause acne or rosacea, but this is a relatively rare side effect associated with taking many, many times the recommended daily allowance of the vitamin.
So, in short, sure! Three's no reason not to take Aloe Vera gel alongside a vitamin or supplement. As far as we know, there aren't really any nutrients that it actively inhibits, so even if you take Aloe with a multivitamin, you'll be getting all the benefits of the vitamin along with some enhanced update of certain nutrients.
If you're interested in taking Aloe Vera gel alongside one of your supplements, we recommend getting it from a reputable source rather than trying to harvest your own. Getting it processed to remove the laxative-causing Aloin is generally going to be a good idea.