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The succulent aloe plant is famous as a treatment for burns and minor wounds. Two studies suggest that aloe vera has potential value in the treatment of herpes infections, including cold sores. Aloe-based products might help shorten the duration of a cold sore outbreak.
Effect of Aloe on Cold Sores (Herpes Simplex Type 1)
The exact effect of aloe vera on cold sores is not clear. There are a couple of possible explanations. First, aloe is generally regarded as a soothing balm that can enhance the healing of wounds, though research evidence for this is not strong. Second, aloe might aid in cold sore treatment based on antiviral properties--one of the constituents of aloe gel, acemannan, has shown some promise in test tube and animal studies for stimulating immunity and inhibiting the growth of viruses.11,12
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Research Evidence on Aloe
Both of the following studies were done on aloe vera and genital herpes. Although cold sores (oral herpes) are not caused by the same virus as genital herpes, the viruses are similar, so these research findings may be applicable to cold sore treatment.
A 2-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial enrolled 60 men with active genital herpes.7 Participants applied aloe cream (0.5% aloe) or placebo cream 3 times daily for 5 days. Use of aloe cream reduced the time necessary for lesions to heal and also increased the percentage of individuals who were fully healed by the end of 2 weeks.
A previous double-blind, placebo-controlled study by the same author enrolling 120 men with genital herpes found that aloe cream was more effective than pure aloe gel or placebo.8 The author theorized that the oily constituents in the cream improved aloe absorption.
How to Use Aloe
The findings of one study suggest that aloe-based creams are more effective than gels.8 Topical aloe vera cream typically contains 0.5% aloe and is applied three times daily.
Other than occasional allergic reactions, no serious problems have been reported with aloe gel, whether used internally or externally. However, comprehensive safety studies are lacking. Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
Keep in mind that if aloe is used as a treatment for diabetes, and it proves effective, blood sugar levels could fall toolow, necessitating a reduction in medication dosage. Close monitoring of blood sugar levels is, therefore, advised.
In addition, there is one report of an herb-drug interaction between aloe and the anesthesia drug sevoflurane, in which it appeared that aloe may have increased sevoflurane's "blood thinning" effect. 1 Another isolated report appears to connect aloe to liver inflammation in one person. 2 (Since aloe does not appear to possess any liver toxicity in general, this report would seem to suggest an “idiosyncratic,” in other words, a highly personal reaction to the herb.)
Interactions You Should Know About
If you are using:
- Hydrocortisone cream : Aloe gel might help it work better. 3
- Medications for diabetes : Oral use of aloe vera might cause your blood sugar levels to fall too low.
- Lee A, Po Chui PT, Aun ST, et al. Possible interaction between sevoflurane and Aloe vera. Ann Pharmacother. 2004;38:1651-1654.
- Bottenberg MM, Wall GC, Harvey RL, Habib S. Oral aloe vera-induced hepatitis. Ann Pharmacother. 41(10):1740-3.
- Davis RH, Parker WL, Murdoch DP. Aloe vera as a biologically active vehicle for hydrocortisone acetate. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 1991;81:1-9.
- Syed TA, Afzal M, Ashfaq Ahmad S, et al. Management of genital herpes in men with 0.5% Aloe vera extract in a hydrophilic cream: a placebo-controlled double-blind study. J Dermatol Treat. 1997;8:99-102.
- Syed TA, Cheema KM, Ashfaq A, et al. Aloe vera estract 0.5% in ahydrophilic cream versus Aloe vera gel for the management of genital herpes in males. A placebo-controlled, double-blind, comparative study [letter]. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 1996;7:294-295.
- Hart LA, Nibbering PH, van den Barselaar MT, et al. Effects of low molecular weight constituents from Aloe vera gel on oxidative metabolism and cytotoxic and bactericidal activities of human neutrophils. Int J Immunopharmacol. 1990;12:427-434.
- Sheets MA, Unger BA, Giggleman GF Jr, Tizard IR. Studies of the effect of acemannan on retrovirus infections: clinical stabilization of feline leukemia virus-infected cats. Mol Biother. 3(1):41-5.
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