Aloe: The healing plant

Updated 02 October 2013

Aloe: The healing plant

Aloe arborescens and aloe vera are the most common and best-known kinds of the aloe plant that is otherwise known as sibr, or sabbar. There are over 300 classified varieties, growing wild in the desert, though they can also be cultivated in gardens and pots.
The succulent thorny green plant is known here as sabbar, deriving from the word sabr, meaning patience in Arabic for its capability to sustain drought and heat in the harsh climate of the desert. The transparent gel-like sap (over 90 percent water) is used for remedial purposes. The resin, which is left to dry, is called sibr in Arabic. It comes in round solid reddish-brown hard patties, available in the herb and spice market.
Sibr was noted in the memoires of the British adventurer Sir Richard Burton on his celebrated pilgrimage to the Holy cities of Makkah and Madinah in 1853. The plant was often grown in Muslim graveyards. Its popularity comes from the fact that it requires minimum watering and sustains extreme heat and cold climates.
Travelers and camels crossing the desert quench their thirst and nourish their bodies with the life-saving aloe gel and its juice. It does not only replace water but also food due to its high nutritional value.
The succulent plant grows a tall majestic flowering stalk in its center during the winter season. The green thorny thick leaves, or branches, envelop a transparent viscous resin. The gel is valued in this part of the world for its potency and medicinal qualities.
Traditionally, sibr, the dark brown dried sap, is prescribed for diabetics to lower blood sugar levels. It is also applied to heal stubborn wounds, in its fresh or dried form. It is taken orally as a laxative to relieve constipation; cleanse the intestines; regulate bowel movement; and soothe digestive disorders. Dried aloe is diluted in water and taken on empty stomach to control elevated blood sugar levels and cleanse the digestive tract. It is believed in Hejaz, the Western region of Saudi Arabia, that oral overuse can cause damage to the liver in the elderly.
Wounds and cuts get washed with water and applied with the gel or the diluted dried cake to cleanse and speed healing. Sometimes, a little alum (shabba), or myrrh (murrah in Arabic) is added to stop profuse bleeding and to promote healing. It is also used to cool burns and enhance healing and recovery. Most sunburn gels contain aloe today.
Externally, the gel-like sap is applied to the hair to enhance growth and texture; increase shine; and minimize hair loss. Traditionally, it is mixed with henna (a natural hair coloring plant), garlic, and coconut and a little castor oil. The mixture should be left for some time on the hair. Warning: if your hair is white or blond, henna may give it a ginger red tinge. The mixture can be used without the henna. Most modern beauty products contain aloe; either to improve skin or hair conditions.
It is said that ancient Egyptians may have used aloe to embalm their mummies, which have lasted thousands of years. To protect her skin from the sun, the famous Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, applied the gel as sunscreen (coconut and sesame oils give the same effect). It was also applied to soothe and heal severe sunburns and burns. The ancient Egyptians used aloe to cleanse the digestive tract and detoxify the body. The Persians used it for its laxative effect, too.
The well-known Arab philosopher and physician Al-Kindi wrote about aloe’s anti-inflammatory properties in his medical encyclopedia. He recommended it for eye infections and orally for inflammatory and depressive conditions as well as for detoxification.
Modern science has revealed aloe’s secret of active, healing, and effective ingredients, supporting Al-Kindi’s theory. The plant contains polysaccharides and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that are healing and detoxifying. They are found in abundance in the water-soluble transparent resin of the thick thorny green leaf.
The aloe gel offers complex carbohydrate molecules (polysaccharides), which act as natural skin moisturizers. Its astringent and emollient effects help maintain a healthy skin. They also heal wounds, sunburns, bedsores, and burns; stimulate cell regeneration; and reduce inflammation and repair damaged tissues caused by radiation therapy. The components also eradicate warts without leaving scars.
Aloe’s antifungal effect makes it ideal for treating yeast infections when taken orally or applied directly on the skin or nails. It also has anti-viral properties. When taken internally as juice, it lowers cholesterol; promotes blood circulation in the lower parts of the body; relieves and coats stomach ulcers; aids in the process of elimination; and soothes hemorrhoids.
Dentists recommend aloe mouth rinse for dental, gum and oral surgeries and diseases. Aloe is also effective on insect bites and skin irritation or allergies.
In health stores, aloe is found in the forms of juice and supplement. Due to its healing virtues, aloe is found in the composition of many cosmetics, skin lotions, hair treatment products, toothpastes, gargles, and creams for sunburns, rashes and skin irritations.
Aloe may sometimes produce skin allergic reactions in certain people. If you are one of them, apply a small amount behind the ears or under the arm. Stop using it, should a rash appear or stinging sensation is felt. Pregnant women should not take aloe orally, due to its purgative effect that could trigger miscarriage or induce labor.

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Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

Updated 21 April 2018

Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

JEDDAH: There is a growing need for dietary supplements in Saudi Arabia, given the increasing popularity of junk food and the effective role supplements can play in treating diseases caused by mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

A recent study found that 22 percent of Saudi people take nutritional supplements. It is no surprise, then, that many Saudi businesses have forged partnerships with international dietary-supplement companies.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss, a Saudi dietitian with a Ph.D. in nutrition, said dietary supplements can be defined as substances that provide the human body with a nutrient missing from a person’s regular diet. However, she stressed that they are not intended to replace healthy eating.

She also warned against taking them without first talking to a doctor or dietitian, as some products can have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. 

“They can also cause problems if someone has a history of certain health issues,” she added.

A blood test can determine which nutrients we are not getting enough of in our diet, and therefore which supplements might be beneficial. Nutritional supplements are also used to help treat certain health conditions. 

“Vitamin C, for example, is often used to reduce cold symptoms,” said Idriss. “Fish oil is taken to lower elevated blood triglycerides.”

She suggested four daily essentials that can bridge nutritional gaps in our diet: a multivitamin, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. 

“I routinely recommend a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to my clients after consulting with their doctors,” she said. 

“For menstruating women, who require 18 milligrams of iron each day, a daily supplement helps boost iron intake.”

She said people over the age of 50 are advised to take a multivitamin to ensure they are getting enough B12, which plays a key role in the functioning of the nervous system and the development of red blood cells. 

“Older adults are more vulnerable to B12 deficiency because they are more likely to have decreased production of stomach acid, which is needed to release B12 from the proteins in food.” said Idriss. 

“It is also a good idea to take a daily multivitamin if one is following a low-calorie diet.”

She also pointed out that a high intake of DHA and EPA, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, are linked with a lower risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A deficiency of DHA might also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. 

“A daily intake of 1,000 milligrams of both DHA and EPA is equivalent to eating 12 ounces of salmon a week,” said Idriss.

The dietitian believes that the Saudis who take food supplements often do so more to benefit their appearance than their health. 

“Saudi women consume more dietary supplements than other people in Saudi Arabia,” she said. 

“They do so either to lose weight or to care for their hair and nails. Bodybuilders also take large amounts of supplements.”

However, both groups, according to Idriss, tend to take supplements on the recommendation of friends and trainers, not doctors. 

She warned that commercials and social-media rumors can persuade people to buy supplements online that may not be approved as safe by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, and advised people to get as much of their daily nutrient needs as possible from healthy eating.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss

“Along with vitamins and minerals, a healthy diet provides fiber and hundreds of protective phytochemicals, something a supplement cannot do,” she said, adding that the body absorbs natural food more effectively than supplements.

In addition, combining supplements with medications can have dangerous, even life-threatening, effects. 

“Drugs for heart disease and depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth-control pills are less effective when taken with herbal supplements,” she said.

“Taking an anticoagulant, aspirin, and a vitamin E supplement together may increase the potential for internal bleeding or even stroke.”


Natural sources

With the spread of fast-food restaurants and their alluring ads, the long-term health of the Saudi people is in danger, as children and young people snub natural sources of nutrients, such as fruit and vegetables. 

“This can lead to many deficiency diseases. Moreover, vegetarians can develop similar illnesses due to the absence of meat in their diet,” she said.
Dr. Ashraf Ameer, a family-medicine consultant, said the importance of nutritional supplements lies in treating mineral and vitamin deficiency, especially for pregnant women, growing children, diabetics, people with chronic diseases, and the elderly. 

“However, these products should come from reliable companies and meet Saudi food and drug requirements,”he added.

Mohammed Yaseen, who has a food supplements business, said his company works with a leading British health-care company to provide the Saudi market with high quality products.

“With this we hope we can contribute to the national transformation program by raising private-sector spending in health care from 25 percent to 35 percent, which in turn would lead to the sector’s financial sustainability and boost economic and social development in the Kingdom,” Yaseen said.


Vitamin Terms

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid.  Phytochemical is a biologically active compound found in plants.