The research group at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative medicine at the University of Pittsburgh found that a mucilage from the leaves of the aloe vera plant could help trauma victims, such as wounded soldiers, even in cases of substantial blood loss.
In this study, led by Dr Marina Kameneva, 10 rats were injected with a small amount of normal saline solution and another 10 were given the saline solution plus a drag-reducing polymer (DRP) derived from aloe vera.
Five out of 10 rats injected with only the saline solution survived for four hours after hemorrhagic shock, compared to eight out of ten given saline plus the DRP derived from aloe.
In a follow up experiment involving more significant blood loss, five out of 15 rats from the DRP-treated group survived a two-hour observation period, compared to one out of 14 treated with just the saline solution. Seven animals in the placebo group that received no treatment died within 35 minutes.
Kameneva and her team explained that because aloe mucilage is rich in specific polysaccharides, it has a high molecular mass and visco-elastic properties that allow it to reduce resistance to turbulent flow when added to a fluid in minute concentrations.
As a drag-reducing polymer (DRP), aloe may provide better diffusion of oxygen molecules from red blood cells to tissues because of its ability to mix better with the plasma surrounding red blood cells. An inadequate supply of oxygen to the organs quickly leads to a cascade of life threatening events.
A small amount of this DRP-mucilage injected into a victim of trauma with significant blood loss could help prolong the victim's chance of surviving until a medical facility was reached. This could be particularly useful, for example, for soldiers in the field who have suffered substantial blood loss.
One of the researchers, Dr Mitchell Fink, said that only a very small injection of mucilage would need to be administered to increase survival chances.
This study will be published in the August 2004 edition of the medical journal Shock (2004, 22 (2):151-156).
This is not the first time aloe vera has been suggested as a necessary part of a soldier's kit. NutraIngredients reported how the Indian army used aloe vera to help combat the harsh conditions on the Siachen glacier, the cold battlefield caught between troops fighting over Kashmir.
The Army's Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Science (DIPAS) used extracts from the aloe vera plant to treat injuries caused by the extreme cold conditions - where temperatures can drop to minus 50 degress Celsius.
The aloe vera extract was used to treat soldiers affected by frostbite and injuries caused by the cold to reduce pain and increase blood flow and - supplemented with other herbal medicines - to speed up the healing process.
The aloe vera is native to North Africa but now can be found almost worldwide, and while there are more than 100 species of aloe, aloe vera is the one that has drawn the most scientific interest.
Aloe vera has long, pointed leaves consisting of green rind and clear pulp. The pulp is the part of the plant that has the healing agents in it, but scientists believe almost all of the plant has some use.
The rind has been used as a laxative while the pulp has been put on burns and wounds for thousands of years. Besides being used in lotions and medicines, in recent years cosmetic companies have used Aloe vera in a variety of products, especially moisturisers.