Herbal Therapies Used by People Living With HIV: Aloe Vera

Part of A Practical Guide to Herbal Therapies for People Living With HIV

Aloe vera is a tropical plant grown in many homes. The jelly-like substance found in the leaves is used to treat minor burns and cuts. It may also be used to treat skin problems associated with HIV and anti-HIV drugs. As with burns or cuts, the juice of a fresh plant can be applied directly to the affected skin. You can buy oils and creams that contain aloe vera to treat dry skin and other skin blemishes. The plant is also used internally as a laxative and to strengthen the digestive tract. Aloe vera may also be helpful against ulcers.

The bitter substance found in the leaves of the aloe vera plant, often called bitter aloe, has been approved as a laxative in several European countries.

Acemannan is a complex sugar extracted from the aloe vera plant. It is approved for veterinary use in the United States, particularly for feline leukemia, which is caused by a retrovirus, as is HIV. Some people with HIV have tried using acemannan and other concentrated aloe products to manage HIV infection. In the test tube, some studies have shown that acemannan inhibits the HIV virus and makes some immune cells function more effectively. But a small British Columbia study of people with HIV showed no benefit to acemannan treatment. Some herbalists feel using the whole plant may be a more useful approach, but there are no studies using the whole herb to treat HIV.

Aloe vera is available in capsules and in liquid and powdered forms. More than 30 grams (one ounce) per day will likely cause diarrhea, especially if the product contains anthroquinone glucosides. To reduce the risk of diarrhea, avoid products sold as laxatives or liver stimulants.