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Aloe Vera - It's time to take a closer look

Country Remedies, Nature's Cure All, Aloe by Maggie Howe

Country Living, July 1996, p34

Users of Aloe Vera widely report that its healing benefits, though easily experienced, are not easily explained. Many contend that Aloe is an all-purpose "miracle" plant.  

Maryanne Ibarra, for instance, a registered nurse and naturopath in San Diego, California, began merchandising her own line of Aloe Vera products, Aloe Complete, after working in the health-food industry for 27 years.  "Never have I heard so many positive things about any one herb or nutritional supplement as I have about drinking aloe vera juice - its your basic friendly food," declares Ms. Ibarra.

"For the most part," she says, "Clients feel that drinking the juice gives them sustained energy, not simply an adrenaline rush."

Although scientific proof of and research into all of aloe's claims remain in their early stages, evidence of aloe vera's healing qualities is mounting.  Patients assert that drinking aloe juice has helped them to heal themselves of Crohn's disease (an extensive and chronic inflammation of the digestive tract), arthritis, constipation, Epstein-Barr, and digestive dysfunctions.

Recent uses of aloe vera in the medical profession include the medical branches of optometry (there are aloe eye drops), dentistry (aloe toothpaste helps inhibit the growth of plaque), dermatology (aloe ranks high as an anti-inflammatory agent), gastroenterology, and perhaps the most recent and exciting area: the study of immuno-depressive disorders, wherein medical science is utilizing aloe vera for the treatment of the immune system when it is no longer functioning at its optimum capacity.

Gene Hale, managing director of the International Aloe Science Council in Irving, Texas, a nonprofit professional organization devoted to aloe research, has been drinking aloe juice for 16 years,  He says that drinking aloe vera has given him increased energy and notes that he hasn't had a cold in seven years.  His organization maintains a working relationship with the Food and Drug Administration and keeps tabs on the latest approval status of the medicinal effects of aloe.  (to date the FDA has only approved aloe for research purposes.)

Regardless of scientific claims, manufacturers of aloe cite record-breaking sales.  And some cosmetic companies are known to use minimal amounts of aloe derivatives in their products simply because "aloe sells."

Dr John C. Pittman, founder and medical director of the Carolina Center for Bio-Oxidative Medicine in Raleigh, N.C., became intrigued with the power of aloe vera when he was working in a hospital emergency room.  One morning a patient came in with burns on her hands, the result of a cooking accident.  The hospital at the time was conducting a study of aloe vera, so Dr. Pittman asked the burn victim if he could dress her right hand with the traditional treatment of the antibiotic cream Silvadene while dressing the left with a purified form of liquid aloe vera concentrate.  She agreed.  That evening the patient returned to the hospital and demanded that he put whatever he had out on her left hand on her right.  She told Dr. Pittman that her right hand was still throbbing with pain, while her left hand had no pain whatsoever.  To his surprise, while redressing the wounds he found the redness, swelling, and pain were greatly reduced on the aloe-treated hand but not on the one that he had treated with Silvadene.  

Dr. Pittman helps his patients design individual and family wellness programs that combine the best of both allopathic and complementary medicines.  "in 1994," says Pittman, "the state of North Carolina opened the door to the legal practice of holistic health care by a medical physician when it added a statute to its laws giving physicians the right to explore all types of treatment in order to best serve their patients.  That made my center possible."  Now Dr. Pittman prescribes aloe vera juice for patients who suffer from immuno-depressive conditions like the Epstein-Barr virus, chronic fatigue syndrome, AIDS, and systemic candidiasis.

Leaky Gut Syndrome

Dr. Pittman found that most immuno-depressive conditions have one common symptom: a high incidence of digestive dysfunction and poor digestion.  "Food allergies - especially to dairy - are a major source of digestive dysfunction," remarks Dr. Pittman.

Poor digestion happens when foods are not being broken down properly and are not being used to help the body regenerate itself.  The intestines then become inflamed as the intestinal lining reacts by swelling.  Increased intestinal permeability develops as partially digested food particles are released into the bloodstream.  Alternative health practitioners call this "leaky gut syndrome".  Once in circulation, the body reacts to these particles as though they were foreign and alerts the immune system to attack them by building up antibodies.  After a lengthy fight the immune system enters into a chronic hyper immune state.  "The immune system becomes so overworked," says Dr. Pittman "that it is similar to draining a battery."

This hyperimmune state can lead to rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and connective tissue disorders.  "In addition to a worn-out immune system," comments Dr. Pittman, "food remnants provide fuel for the overgrowth of fermentative fungal organisms such as candida albicans and various types of Parasites

Candida in turn can worsen food allergies, create hypoglycemia and digestive disturbances, and cause bloating, flatulence, skin rashes, and extreme fatigue, all of which can further damage the immune system.  Drinking aloe vera juice helps to seal the intestinal wall much in the same way aloe gel seals a wound or soothes a burn when applied to the skin.

"Aloe effectively heals the lining of the intestines," says Dr. Pittman.  "It fixes the damaged membranes, intestinal swelling decreases, and the cells of the intestinal wall are tightened, which basically corrects intestinal weakness.  The continual flow of protein to the blood is also stopped."  In addition to prescribing aloe to his patients with leaky guy syndrome, Dr. Pittman suggests a modified juice fast from three to 10 days.  This puts the GI tract to a well needed rest.

"Unfortunately, most people do not realize that they even have leaky gut syndrome," says Dr. Pittman, "until one day they have organ system failure and just collapse."  He suggests that patients take notice of their health and pay particular attention to any long-term or recurring infections that could indicate immune system failure.  Dr. Pittman also recommends that his patients have a comprehensive stool study done   (Great Smokies Lab); This enables him to know all of the aspects of the patients' digestion and whether they could be suffering from bacterial, yeast, or parasitic infections.