Are you tired of your constipated gut that won’t get cured irrespective of the massive amount of fluids you take? Do you want to get rid of those pimples and acne that cover your face? In winters, does your skin get dry and flaky? Well, you no longer need to worry as all your problems can be solved by this wonderful natural oil known as castor oil.
Right from treating constipation, fungal infections, and dandruff to keeping your skin healthy and moisturized, castor oil has made its place in all areas of healthcare.
If you want to get beautiful, shiny hair or if your arthritis has been harassing you since time immemorial then, you have come to the right destination.
Other than strengthening your immune system, castor oil was also used to induce labor before the advent of present-day medications.
However, you must strictly follow some specific rules and regulations while using castor oil and also beware of its side effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.
What is castor oil?
Castor oil is vegetable oil produced by cold-pressing the seeds of the castor plant (Ricinus communis) grown mainly in South America, India, and Africa due to favorable climatic conditions.
However, 93% of the world’s castor oil comes from only three countries – Brazil, India, and China. Over the past 25 years, the consumption of castor oil has seen a steep rise by more than 50% due to its widespread benefits in the healthcare industry. (1)
Castor oil is a thick, clear to amber oil with a mild scent and taste containing a particular type of fatty acid called ricinoleic acid in high amounts.
Castor oil owes most of its benefits and uses to its unique chemical composition which consists primarily of ricinoleic acid along with some beneficial salts and esters.
A 2007 report assessing castor oil published in the International Journal of Toxicology revealed that this wonder oil is used in over 700 cosmetic products as well as hair and skincare treatment regimens.
Aside from soothing your skin, castor oil stabilizes the texture of cosmetic products. (2) When taken orally, pancreatic juices in your gut hydrolyze the castor oil and release glycerol, ricinoleic acid, and other useful metabolites present in it.
Hence, castor oil acts as a powerful laxative, and after getting absorbed from the small intestine, it exerts its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity elsewhere in the body.
Mechanism of action of castor oil
Castor oil’s prowess in healthcare and beauty products is attributed to the presence of a variety of compounds like fatty acids, phenolic compounds, flavonoids, amino acids, terpenoids, and phytosterols.
Along with altering the biochemical processes in our body, these compounds also speed up lymph flow. Lymphatic system in our body is responsible for fighting off infections, removing excess fluids, and getting rid of waste products from the circulation.
By improving the functioning of our lymphatic system, castor oil not only helps in keeping diseases at bay but also promotes our overall health.
Following are the potential health benefits of castor oil – (3)
- Booster of our immune system
- Protector of our liver
- Wound healing
Uses and health benefits of castor oil
1. Keeps your skin healthy and moisturized
Due to a high amount of fatty acids present in it, castor oil is an effective humectant. Humectants are substances which retain moisture and prevent loss of water from the outer layers of skin.
A vast array of body products like lotions, creams, make-up, and cleansers contain castor oil to promote hydration and protect your skin from the other chemicals present in them.
Instead of pure castor oil, adding skin-friendly oils like almond oil, coconut oil, and olive oil to it will boost its soothing effect and hydrating property.
You must keep in mind that body oils only prevent the loss of water already present in our skin. So, instead of applying castor oil to dry skin, apply it on a moist skin for better effect.
2. Strengthens your immune system
Our immune system is made of many organs like thymus gland, spleen, lymph nodes, and the wall of our small intestine (known as mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue) which contain certain immune cells called lymphocytes.
Castor oil not only increases the production and function of lymphocytes, but it also enhances the health of the thymus gland and improves lymphatic and blood flow.
A clinical study on 36 human subjects was published in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine which showed that application of 12 inches by 12-inch castor oil packs for two hours (9-11 am) significantly increased the lymphocyte count as compared to the placebo group. (4) Hence, castor oil upholds the integrity of our immune system and protects us from infections.
3. Induces labor
Ricinoleic acid present in castor oil acts via prostaglandin EP3 receptors in the uterus which stimulates its contraction to induce labor. (5) This action of castor oil has led to its use in non-medical delivery of babies since time immemorial.
Even today, in some under-developed areas, midwives and helpers use castor oil before labor for early induction. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine conducted over five years revealed that administration of castor oil (60ml) in 40-41 weeks pregnant females induced labor within 24 hours and drastically reduced the need for caesarian section. (6)
4. Improves blood and lymphatic circulation
The lymphatic system is a part of the circulatory system of our body which is responsible for collecting extracellular fluid (leaked from the capillaries) and giving it back to our blood.
Any obstruction or dysfunction in this system will lead to a collection of fluid (edema), toxins, and waste products, and at the same time, negatively affecting our blood circulation.
Castor oil improves lymphatic drainage, and hence, induces a positive cascade of events which ultimately boosts our blood circulation.
Dr. Jay Davidson suggests putting a castor oil pack over your abdomen to improve blood circulation to your liver thus, getting rid of all toxins. You can set these packs anywhere you like – neck, chest, legs, to improve the functioning of that part. (7)
5. Promotes wound healing
The proliferative action of castor oil on skin tissue helps to create a barrier between the environment and injured tissue, therefore preventing infections.
It also minimizes the buildup of dead cells hence, reducing dryness and cornification which in turn slow down scar formation. Venelex is a popular ointment containing castor oil and Peru balsam (a balm produced from Myroxylon tree). (8)
A study of 861 nursing home residents with pressure ulcers published in the Journal of Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing revealed the protective effect of castor oil in ulcer treatment.
Topical castor oil application significantly improved the healing rates and also, shortened the duration of healing. (9)
1:1 mixture of castor oil and coconut oil is extremely useful in alleviating the redness and pain of sunburn. It also acts as a natural lip balm for chapped or sun-burnt lips.
About 80% of adolescents and young adults have to pass through a rite of passage of acquiring acne which ranges from blackheads to huge, pus-filled pimples.
Since acne is aesthetically unacceptable and it considerably affects the self-esteem of these vulnerable teenagers, continuous efforts are made to prevent pimples or at least remove their scars.
Inflammation and bacterial infection (most commonly Propionibacterium acnes) are frontrunners when we look at all the various causes of pimples. (10)
Castor oil contains certain chemicals which slow down inflammatory reactions and also exert anti-bacterial activity against Staph. aureus ( one of the causes of acne).
Hence, the daily application of castor oil in the affected regions not only clears your face of those annoying pustules but also prevents the genesis of acne. (11)
This wonder oil also soothes our skin by moisturizing it thus, reduces any underlying irritation and inflammation. In order to get a perfect home treatment of acne, follow these steps-
- Rinse your face with warm water to open up the pores
- Massage your face with a concoction of various oils like castor oil, coconut oil, frankincense oil, and apple cider vinegar
- Leave it overnight and rinse your face the next morning
7. Relieves constipation
In the United States of America, constipation is one of the most common digestive complaints prevalent in 20% of the population, more commonly affecting the elderly. (12)
There is a wide range of laxatives available in the market to relieve a jammed gut with a few effective natural remedies like castor oil, high fiber diet, probiotics, and hydration.
A 2011 study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice showed that oral castor oil administration reduced the symptoms of constipation in eighty percent of the subjects. Improved stool consistency, lesser straining during defecation, and lower incidence of incomplete bowel movements are some advantages experienced by the subjects. (13)
However, doctors don’t recommend long-term use of castor oil as it may lead to many adverse effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.
8. Alleviates symptoms of arthritis
The anti-inflammatory activity of castor oil and its congeners are put to use by healthcare practitioners to ease joint pain and swelling in rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions.
A hot oil massage on aching joints, muscles, and tissues relieves the pain and promotes mobility owing to the suppressive action of ricinoleic acid (a major constituent of castor oil) on inflammatory cells, cytokines, and other intermediates. (14)
A four week long comparative clinical trial to measure the efficacy of castor oil and diclofenac sodium (NSAID) in osteoarthritis showed that patients who took castor oil capsules enjoyed similar alleviation of symptoms as the group that took diclofenac sodium without any added side effects.
Hence, castor oil is useful in the therapy of osteoarthritis, in-line with the conventional drugs available in the market. (15)
9. Keeps your hair strong and shiny
A hot oil massage using castor oil instead of the commonly used coconut oil has similar effects on hair growth and shine as it increases blood supply to the scalp, consequently enhancing nutrient and oxygen supply to the hair roots.
Hence, you’ll experience reduced hair loss and improved hair shine and flexibility. (16) The dry and cold winter months bring with them a common menace i.e. dandruff.
Your scalp becomes flaky, dry and irritated which may be linked to an inflammatory condition of the scalp skin called seborrheic dermatitis.
By moisturizing the dry and scaly scalp skin, castor oil protects us from dandruff and soothes our skin so that irritation is minimal.
10. Wards off fungal infections
A vast range of auxiliary chemical substances like castor oil, glycolic ginger extract, chlorhexidine, and sodium hypochlorite contains anti-microbial activity against organisms (Candida albicans and Enterococcus feacalis) which cause tooth and oral cavity infections. (17)
Oral hygiene is slowly taking center stage in overall health checkups because many systemic illnesses arise from an existing infection in the oral cavity.
Castor oil alleviates the symptoms of denture-related stomatitis which is a chronic, painful inflammation of gums and palate caused by a long-standing candida infection. (18)
A clinical trial published in the Journal of Applied Oral Science showed that thrice daily brushing of dentures followed by their immersion in a solution of castor oil (10%) and sodium hypochlorite (0.25%) lowered the growth of candida colonies on the dentures and promoted remission of oral candidiasis. (19)
How to use castor oil and what precautions to take?
Castor oil is available as oral capsules, ingestible liquids, topical oil packs, and hot oil massage. As is common to all essential oils, you must look for the best quality and purest form of castor oil as contaminants cause a lot of unwanted problems.
Most people find oil packs and poultices as the most easily absorbed forms of castor oil, but you can experiment with other ways as per your wish.
- As a laxative, take oral castor oil formulations as written in the instructions booklet. Dosage depends on age, health status, and individual response to the oil. Start by taking low mounts and then gradually increase the dose.
- Usually, its daily dose equals three teaspoons or one tablespoon. If castor oil alone is not palatable, you can add some water or other beverages to it. If you want to take higher doses or if you want to give it to your child, consult your doctor first.
- Do not take castor oil consecutively for more than seven days because it can cause severe side effects due to overuse. (20)
- It’s better if you avoid taking castor oil at night because it stimulates bowel movements within two to three hours, and hence, your precious sleep will be disturbed.
- The safety of using castor oil as eye drops is still controversial. However, Dr. Richard Shugarman, on the American Academy of Ophthalmology website, said that he used castor oil to treat exposure keratopathy, recurrent erosions, and severe dry eyes when better sterile alternatives were not available. (21)
Side effects of castor oil use
However, you must be aware of some adverse effects which may accompany the use of castor oil.
- Taking too much castor oil or consuming normal amounts for a long time is associated with a mild to intense gut irritation which results in nausea. Diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.
- Castor oil is a schedule X drug. Therefore, pregnant and lactating women must stay as far away from it as possible.
- You must test for allergy before consuming or applying castor oil formulations. Before external application, perform a skin patch test with a minute quantity of the oil. Keep it away from your eyes and nose at all times and don’t let it near children and pets.
- Whenever you feel as if the adverse effects of castor oil outweigh its benefits, stop it without hesitation. Also talk to your doctor immediately if you suffer from muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, decreased urine output, dizziness, rectal bleeding, mental confusion, and mood changes.
Points to remember on castor oil
Castor oil contains many beneficial ingredients out of which ricinoleic acid stands out due to its widespread uses. It keeps your skin moist and healthy, promotes wound healing, prevents acne, wards off fungal infections, and helps to keep your hair healthy and shiny.
Castor oil’s laxative action makes it an ideal treatment for constipation while its anti-inflammatory property is used to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis (joint pain).
Castor oil is available as oral pills, and as oil packs, so you can take your pick according to your needs. However, you must keep in mind that this natural oil has some drawbacks as well.
You must talk to your natural healthcare provider if you experience any side effects like nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.