A study demonstrated that aqueous extract of Aloe ferox has laxative activity, comparable to Senokot, a standard laxative drug. It confirmed the efficacy of aqueous leaf extract of Aloe ferox when studied against loperamide-induced constipation in Wistar rats. It revealed that oral administration of aqueous extract of Aloe ferox exhibited laxative activity in loperamide induced constipated rats.

The extract improved intestinal motility, increased fecal volume and normalized body weight in the constipated rats, which are indications of laxative property of the herb with the 200 mg/kg body weight of the extract showing the best efficacy. The effect of the extract compared favourably with Senokot. These findings have lent scientific support to the folkloric use of Aloe ferox as a laxative agent.

The study involved induced constipation in rats by oral administration of loperamide (3 mg/kg body weight) while the control rats received normal saline. The constipated rats were treated with 50, 100 and 200 mg/kg body weight/day of the extract for 7 days during which the feeding characteristics, body weight, fecal properties and gastrointestinal transit ratio were monitored.

Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint all over the world and it is a risk factor of colorectal cancer. Constipation is a highly prevalent functional gastrointestinal disorder affecting 3-15% of the general population. In South Africa, 29% of the population, consisting of both black and white suffer from constipation especially in the elderly. The menace has a substantial impact on morbidity and quality of life, which may be characterized by unexplained abdominal pain, discomfort and bloating in association with altered bowel habits.

The use of chemical drugs such as senna, correctol, exlax, senokot and gaviscon is very common as a means of treating constipation. Statistics have shown that 43% of whites and 76.6% of blacks in South Africa indulge in the use of laxatives, out of which 14.3% and 21.5% respectively use more than one laxative at a time for the treatment of constipation.
The use of these orthodox drugs is however, limited due to their high cost and undesirable side affects. Some plant extracts are known to exhibit antispasmodic effects by stimulating water absorption in the intestine.

Aloe ferox Mill belongs to the family Asphodelaceae. The plant is widely distributed in the Southern Cape, Eastern Cape, Southern parts of KwaZulu Natal, the Free State and Lesotho. It is an arborescent perennial shrub with a single stem of 2-3 m in height. The plant is crowned by a large rosette of numerous leaves which are glaucous and oval-lanceolate. It is one of the widely used medicinal plants in traditional medicine because of its healing properties against many ailments.

For example, extract from the plant has been reported to be effective in the treatment of tooth abscesses, sexually transmitted infections, wound healing, arthritis and rheumatism, conjunctivitis and eye ailment and as insect repellant. The herb is also used traditionally as laxative; however, there is little or no scientific report to substantiate this claim. The present study was therefore, designed to evaluate the laxative activity of the aqueous leaf extract of Aloe ferox on loperamide-induced constipated rats and the effect was compared with senokot, a standard laxative drug.

The study was carried out following the approval from the Ethical Committee of the University of Fort Hare on the use and care of animals. Loperamide significantly reduced the water intake, the number, water content and the weight of the fecal pellets. This was an indication of the induction of constipation in the rats. However, there was no significant difference in feed intake between the control and the constipated animals.

While water consumption decreased in the untreated constipated rats, the administration of aqueous extract of Aloe ferox significantly increased the water intake in constipated rats. Similarly, the extract significantly increased the number, water content and weight of fecal pellets in the constipated rats in a dosage-dependent manner. The body weights of the constipated animals were also normalized following the treatment with the extract.
Loperamide administration significantly reduced gastrointestinal motility in the untreated constipated rats. The treatment with the extract, however, increased the gastrointestinal movement in a dose dependent manner which compared favourably well with senokot, a standard constipation drug.

The use of loperamide as constipation inducer is well documented. The drug inhibits intestinal water secretion and colonic peristalsis. This inhibition extends fecal evacuation time and delays intestinal luminal transit. Loperamide-induced constipation is therefore considered to be a model of spastic constipation.
The observed reduction in the number, weight and water content of fecal pellets following the treatment with the drug indicated induction of constipation in the rats. Similar observation was reported by Shimotoyodome et al.

The reduction in the water consumed by the constipated animals may also be due to the effect of the drug which probably accounted for the reduction in water content of the fecal pellets. However, the drug did not prevent the animals from feeding adequately.
The administration of aqueous extract of Aloe ferox to the constipated rats was effective in influencing increased defecation frequency, fecal volume and motility of the colon. These are indications of the laxative property of the plant extract due to the presence of anthranoid glycosides derivatives of which aloin is the main compound.

According to Izzo et al., aloin is metabolized by the colonic flora to reactive aloe-emodin which is responsible for the purgative activity exerting its action by disturbing the equilibrium between the absorption of water from the intestinal lumen via an active sodium transport and the secretion of water into the lumen by prostaglandin-dependent mechanism.

Although the feed intake did not differ among the groups, the gain in body weight was higher in the untreated constipated rats compared to the extract treated groups. This may be due to the accumulation of fecal pellets in their bodies, thus accounting for the extra weight. This clearly indicates that the plant extract increased intestinal secretion and motility in the constipated rats.

Similar observation was reported by Niwa et al. where dietary fiber was used for the treatment of morphine-induced constipation in rats. Of particular interest is the fact that the effect of the extract of Aloe ferox was dose dependent in this study. The effect of the highest dosage actually compared favourably well with Senokot.

The transit process of the entire gastrointestinal tract reflected the overall gastrointestinal motor activity. Measuring colonic transit time is useful in constipation, abdominal bloating and refractory irritable bowel syndrome. It also provides quantitative information about colonic transit, enables the identification and characterization of transit abnormalities and allows assessment of the severity of the problem as well as the response to therapy. In this study, carmine was used as the marker used to measure the colonic movement.

The extract increased intestinal motility which, in turn, enhanced colonic peristalsis in the rats and enhanced release of fluid causing increased intestinal secretion. The laxative effect of the extract could also be attributed to changes in the intestinal motility, which produced an increase in intestinal transit and colonic movement. Generally, the effect of the treatment with the extract compared favourably well to that of Senokot. This is an indication that the herb was effective in ameliorating bowel obstruction, thereby enhancing easy movement in the intestine.

Reference: Olubunmi A Wintola, Taofik O Sunmonu and Anthony J Afolayan. The effect of Aloe ferox Mill in the treatment of Loperamide-induced constipation in Wistar rats. August 2010. BMC Gastroenterology 2010, 10:95

Differences between Aloe Vera and Aloe Ferox
1. The freshly cut leaf of Aloe ferox produced approximately 20 times more bitter sap,
weight by weight, than the Aloe vera.
2. Aloe vera has a much softer and more translucent inner gel. It is also notably more
3. After extraction, the juice of the Aloe vera leaves decolourizes and loses its viscosity
much more rapidly than does the juice of Aloe ferox.
4. The solids content of the juice in Aloe ferox were constantly greater in volume than
those obtained from Aloe vera.
5. The amino acid content of Aloe ferox is almost double that of Aloe vera (see table).

Contents: Aloe vera vs Aloe ferox (Whole Leaf)Amino Acids:
Glutamic acid 4.7 vs 2.8
Asparagine 3.29 vs 14.47
Aspartic acid 1.75 vs 1.41
Serine 1.27 vs 1.69
Glycine 0.95 vs 1.25
Alanine 0.91 vs 1.04
Glutamine 0.83 vs 3.82
Valine ** 0.36 0.56 Threonine ** 0.33 0.9 Proline 0.25 0.46 Lysine ** 0.18 0.08 Arginine 0.12 0.05 Leucine ** 0.09 0.12 Phenylalanine ** 0.08 0.07 Isoleucine ** 0.07 0.12 Tyrosine 0.06 0.05 Cystine 0.04 0.01 Histidine 0.03 0.02 Methionine ** 0.02 0.07
Total Concentration (nMol/mg dry mass) 15.33 vs 28.99

Aloe ferox and Aloe vera contain 7 of the 8 essential (** in table) amino acids and all the
other 12 non-essential amino acids.
Similarly the mineral concentrations of Aloe vera (Femenia 1999) were compared to typical
concentration measured in Aloe ferox (expressed as % of dry matter).

Minerals Aloe vera vs Aloe ferox (Whole Leaf)
Calcium (Ca) 3.58 vs 8.82
Magnesium (Mg) 1.22 vs 1.68
Sodium (Na) 3.66 vs 3.08
Potassium (K) 4.06 vs 6.3
Phosphorus (P) 0.02 Iron (Fe) 0.1 0.54 Copper (Cu) 0.06 0.04 Zinc (Zn) 0.02 0.8
It is evident that Aloe Ferox contains a higher concentration of these minerals, which can potentially ascribed to its harvesting in its natural habitat and not in domesticated fields. As can be seen the chemical composition of Aloe Vera is comparable to that of Aloe Ferox.

Connie Dello Buono

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