Study Haul: Aloe
Introducing...the great Aloe plant
So much Aloe...so much hyaluronic acid...so much salicylic acid...but why...
We can learn a lot from plants and the Aloe plant is no exception. It can survive with little to no water for long stretches. You can slice a leaf off and it completely regenerates. A dismembered leaf can store for months. Rub it externally and it can permeate the skin and enter directly into the cells and the blood stream. So how can we maximize aloe's beneficial properties for our skin? Well, we need to get it into our bodies for it to work. One way is via the skin, which aloe is well equipped for. Another way of getting those nutrients into the body is the classic method of ingestion, which our digestive system is built for. So what is exactly happening once it's in our bodies? To figure that out, let's learn from Aloe.
Aloe is a member of the lily family, which include the tulip, and well...the lily. It's a genus with over 500 species, but the one prominently used in skincare lines is Aloe Barbadensis Miller, also known as Aloe Vera, which in Latin, translates to true aloe. (Think of the word, veracity.)
The Aloe Vera plant is essentially all water, at about 99.5%; the remaining .5% are of active constituents and has shown to be extremely potent. If that number sounds tiny, we humans are also a majority water, yet look at all the things we can do.
It has been discovered that the Aloe Barbadensis plant contains the greatest concentration of the phytochemical, acetylated mannan, the most active of the mannans. “Acemannnan” is a long chain sugar which interjects itself into all cell membranes. This results in increased permeability and fluidity, allowing toxins to flow out of cells while allowing nutrients to enter the cell easily.
Aloe stimulates the fibroblast and adds new collagen and elastin to tissues. Fibroblast manufactures and maintain connective tissues. These connective tissues contain large complex chains of modified sugars. These modified sugars hold water and give connective tissue flexibility and resistance.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It is the strong fibers that hold everything together. It is the major constituents of tendons and ligaments. When there is an injury to the skin, collagen forms the scar. Elastin is just how it sounds. It is the protein that promotes elasticity in the tissues. Once the collagen forms the scar to heal and protect the skin, the elastin springs it back to its original form. Excessive sun damage weakens elastin fibers, which then causes the skin to droop, sag, and create wrinkles. To produce this collagen for repair, glucose from the diet is stimulated by Aloe Vera and forms glucosamine within the fibroblast. When in the presence of Vitamin C and Zinc, glucosamine forms procollagen, the precursor to collagen. Next, the aloe pushes the fibroblast to convert the secreted procollagen into collagen.
Hyaluronic acid is also formed as a frame for the linked proteins, essential to strong connective tissue. Because of the hyaluronic acid it creates, glucosamine is utilized to accelerate in wound healing. It also improves skin hydration which decrease wrinkle formation. It also inhibits the activation of tyrosinase, which is the thing that controls the production of melanin. This aids with hyper-pigmentation disorders.
Aloe is rich in silica...this helps in strengthening cell and artery walls and mucous membranes. Studies have shown Aloe Vera can heal third degree burns up to 6 times faster than current modern treatments. These healing effects are due to the natural steroids and antiseptics like salicylic acid that is present in the leaf of the aloe plant. Not only was scarring reduced or even eliminated, skin color would return to normal and burned hair follicles were completely regenerated, similar to how the aloe leaves regenerate upon being cut off.
In TCM or traditional Chinese medicine, the Aloe Barbadensis Miller is known as LU HUI and it is used for its cooling, moistening yin properties, while clearing and expunging fires in the liver, large intestine, and stomach meridians. An overabundance of dry heat, trapped due to an unbalanced blockage, results in inflammation.
Okay, so if you've ever drank or bit into raw aloe, you've likely made a sound like this... BLECH! This is actually a good thing. Aloe is extremely bitter due to the high sulfur content. Sulfur is the key to glowing skin. That bitter face actually causes the lymph to move and flush out toxins. *Hint* Exercising, stretching, and deep breathing does this as well.
Studies have shown that much of the nutrients, much like fruits and other vegetables, are contained in the skin, yet locked within the tough cellulose. Different animals have adapted to bypass this initial challenge. Some grow extra stomach chambers like the ruminant and some ferment first prior to ingestion like the Sandor Katz. A popular human adaptation is the utilization of external tools to break down the tough cellulose, tools like the Vitamix. To allow for better palatability, a chunk of the whole leaf, skin and gel interior, can be blended with honey and oranges to make it more bearable. But remember, we want some of the bitter. In Chinese Cuisine, the secret to universal appeal, is due in large part to a heavy focus on the balancing of all flavors, including the oft-maligned bitter flavor.
The skin is a barrier but can also act as an elimination system as a last resort. But with a fine-tuned digestive system, you can relieve your skin by allowing your main elimination system to do the heavy lifting....via the "poop shoot". A clean liver and kidneys allow it to work efficiently by not having to resort to the skin to remove waste as a last defense. This allows the skin to regenerate and glow.
Sulfur is needed in the formation of collagen. Sulfur is associated with the creation of antioxidants and antibodies. It removes and eliminates foreign bodies from the body. This effects not only the skin and skin suppleness, but also hair and nail strength. Sulfur prevents fats from staying stagnant and becoming rancid by dispersing them through the blood. Sulfur may be the most important substance in regards to skin care and aloe is flush with it. Sulfur in combination with aloe's ability of permeation allows for ease of removing allergens, like preservatives from food or pollen, to exit the cell structure with ease, before emergency inflammation is unleashed for protection.
It may even remove cross-linking in tissues which shows externally as wrinkles and could be the source of the many ailments in the world. Google cross-linking theory of aging for more information.
Sulfur may very well be one of the keys to the fountain of youth. So with that, let's not forget what that old guy once said, "Let food be thy medicine and place it in thy mouth and upon thy face...or thine face...or something like that..."