Author: Celia C. Peters, February 22, 2007
The stress and strain of constipation has stopped all of us in our tracks at one time or another. Inconvenient at best and painful at worst, the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse reports that constipation is one of the top digestive complaints in the United States, resulting in more than two million doctor visits annually and more than $700 million spent on over-the-counter laxatives. Instead of looking to the drugstore for relief, though, one of the best solutions to the problem may have been in the garden all along: the Aloe Vera plant.
A Real Roadblock
Constipation happens in the colon, when it either absorbs too much water from the waste passing through, or the colons muscular contractions move waste into the rectum too slowly. Either kind of colonic glitch leaves the stool hard, dry and difficult to eliminate.
Holistic nutritionist Iris Shedlock of the Palmetto Family Wellness Center in Summerville, S.C., frequently encounters constipation in her practice. “Constipation is a prevalent problem in today’s society. When I question clients about their bowel habits, they do not consider themselves constipated despite only having three or four bowel movements per week. The holistic community considers anything less than one good bowel movement per day to be constipation. That puts a lot of people in this category.”
Holistic practitioner Cheryl Caruso of The Joyce Center in Manhasset, N.Y., also finds constipation to be a frequent complaint in her clients. “I have treated many patients who suffer with constipation…I’ve seen it in children, adults, male and female, and many different ethnic backgrounds. Poor diets [and] lifestyle stresses are huge components in creating the propensity for such a condition.”
Aloe: An Old Friend With A New Purpose
Aloe Vera has been used medicinally for thousands of years by many cultures. It is most popular as a topical treatment for burns, cuts and other skin conditions, but aloe has also been used by indigenous cultures as a laxative.
The Mayo Clinic reports that there is strong scientific evidence in support of the laxative properties of aloe latex (found in the plant’s leaf).” This is thanks to the relief given by the anthraquinone glycosides found in the aloe leaf.1 These same findings are also reported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine.2
What’s more, the Health and Wellness Resource Center, an online resource published by the Gale Group, cites extensive scientific pharmacological research showing that the anthraquinones in aloe act by stimulating the colon, and possibly by also softening the stool.
According to Borchard, anthraquinones increase intestinal muscle contractions in the intestinewhich is exactly what is needed when a lack of colonic tone causes constipation.
Shedlock opts for natural treatments when constipation shows up in her practice and recognizes aloe’s success as a laxative. “Aloe has some very useful and beneficial healing properties to the G.I. tract that can effectively address constipation in some people.
Caruso has found it to be very helpful to her clients as part of a larger holistic treatment approach. “Aloe Vera has a healing and cleansing effect on the digestive tract. I recommend aloe water be taken before meals and on an empty stomach for full benefit. Alternatively, I suggest a full protocol for lifestyle modification in preventing and treating constipation.”