The central gelatinous portion of the aloe leaf is a translucent structure consisting entirely of mesophyll cells. These cells contain few organelles, primarily leucoplasts, and are completely filled with a very large vacuole containing a concentrated aqueous solution of a mixture of complex carbohydrates, especially acetylated mannans, and some low molecular weight solutes, especially calcium malate. The cell walls have a typical structure containing both celluloses and pectins. When aloe leaves are harvested and processed, the mesophyll cells rupture and the acetylated mannan solution is released. Soluble pectins and cell wall hemicelluloses are also present in this carbohydrate solution. Leaf extracts containing this carbohydrate mixture influence both innate immune mechanisms such as inflammation and macrophage function, as well as specific acquired immunity. These carbohydrate solutions may also contain small but significant amounts of protein.
The precise carbohydrate content of the aloe leaf gel varies according to the time of day. Aloes, as desert plants, take up carbon dioxide during the night and store it temporarily as malic acid. During the following day they convert the malic acid to carbohydrates. Thus the leaf is high in malic acid at dawn but this level drops steadily and carbohydrates rise during the day. As a result, the time at which the leaves are harvested will significantly influence the composition of the gel.
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