Folk healers worldwide have used castor oil to treat a wide variety of health conditions for thousands of years. The use of castor oil goes as far back as the ancient Egyptians, who used it to treat eye irritations and as a powerful natural skin care remedy. In India, it has been prized for its skin-healing, digestive-soothing, antibacterial properties, plus it’s commonly used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine practices.
For centuries, at the first sign of illness, many parents and grandparents would immediately turn to giving their children castor oil either topically or internally to naturally boost immune function and speed up healing. Derived from the seeds of the castor bean plant, records show that many years ago the plant was referred to as the “Palma Christe” because the shape of the plant’s leaves were said to resemble the palm of Christ.
What Is Castor Oil?
Throughout history, castor oil’s most popular use has been for treating skin infections, lowering constipation and boosting the appearance of hair health, but research has shown that it has even more important applications for supporting the immune system.
What is castor oil exactly? It is a nonvolatile fatty oil that comes from the seeds of the castor bean (Ricinus communis) plant which belongs to the flowering spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). Castor oil, also called ricinus oil, is very thick with a color that ranges from clear to amber or somewhat green. It has a mild scent and taste.
Castor is said to be one of the oldest cultivated crops. Many of castor oil’s benefits come down to its chemical composition. It’s classified as a type of triglyceride fatty acid, and almost 90 percent of its fatty acid content is a specific and rare compound called ricinoleic acid. (1)
Castor oil is considered to be pretty unique because ricinoleic acid is not found in many other substances, plus it’s such a dense, concentrated source. It is produced by cold-pressing the castor bean seeds to extract their natural oil content.
According to a report published in the International Journal of Toxicology, castor oil is known to be used in over 700 cosmetic products. Aside from its primary constituent, ricinoleic acid, castor oil also contains certain beneficial salts and esters that mainly act as skin-conditioning agents.
At the same time, they help stabilize the texture and consistency of products, which is why castor oil is used in so many cosmetics, hair and skincare treatments. When taken internally, the oil is hydrolyzed in the small intestine by pancreatic enzymes, leading to the release of glycerol and ricinoleic acid, along with other beneficial metabolites. (2)
Castor oil contains many beneficial components, including fatty acids, flavonoids, phenolic compounds, amino acids, terpenoids and phytosterols. These various compounds give the oil the following properties and potential health benefits: (3)
- Hepatoprotective (ability to prevent damage to the liver)
- Free radical scavenging
The oil and other parts of the castor plant have been used in traditional medicine for the following health conditions: (4)
- Abdominal disorders
- Muscle aches
- Parasitic infections
- Chronic headaches
- Gallbladder pain
- Sleep problems like insomnia
One of the major reasons castor oil has strong immune-enhancing effects is because it supports the body’s lymphatic system. The most significant role of the lymphatic system, which is spread throughout the whole body in small tubular structures, is that it absorbs and removes excess fluids, proteins and waste materials from our cells.
Lymph nodes located within these tubes act like the body’s natural filters for toxins, and they also pump out antibodies when we’re sick to keep foreign proteins or bacteria at bay. If you’ve ever had an enlarged lymph node in your neck or near your genitals, for example, this is a sign that a high level of antibodies are being released in order to fight an infection near that area.
When the lymphatic system isn’t working properly, this can eventually lead to the failure of many healthy cells and possibly degeneration and destruction of organs. For example, poor lymphatic drainage of the heart is linked to tissue damage, which can add to or worsen coronary heart disease conditions. (5)
Benefits and Uses
1. Improves Immune Function
Castor oil may be able to help improve lymphatic drainage, blood flow, thymus gland health and other immune system functions. A small, double-blind study published in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine looked at the effects of castor oil packs on 36 human subjects. The packs covered a 12-inch by 12-inch area of the skin on the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. The subjects had the packs applied while resting at 9 a.m. and then removed at 11 a.m. (so for a total of two hours). The subjects had their blood drawn four times (one time pre-treatment and three times post-treatment) and there was no repetition of treatment.
Overall, the researchers found that the subjects who used abdominal castor oil packs had significant increases in the production of lymphocytes compared with patients using placebo packs. (6) Why is this an awesome finding? Lymphocytes are the immune system’s natural “disease-fighters” that attack outside invaders such as toxins, bacteria and other perceived threats.
So it appears that castor oil helps with the production of proper levels of lymphocytes, which are released and stored within the lymphatic tissue of the thymus gland, spleen, lymph nodes and tissue that lines the small intestine. The lymphatic system also impacts the circulatory and digestive systems, which is why the oil is sometimes used to support heart health and improve digestive issues like constipation, too.
2. Boosts Circulation
A healthy lymphatic system and proper blood flow go hand in hand. When the lymphatic system fails (or edema develops, which is the retention of fluid and toxins), it’s much more likely someone will have circulatory issues. This is due to the fact that the lymphatic circulatory system works directly with the cardiovascular circulatory system to keep blood and lymphatic fluid levels in an optimal balance.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “A growing body of evidence reveals that the lymphatic system influences the health of multiple organs, including the heart, lung, and brain.” (7) So castor’s oil ability to positively affect our lymphatic systems likely means better overall circulation and a health boost to major organs like our hearts.
3. Moisturizes Skin and Boosts Wound Healing
As you probably already know, beauty is more than skin deep; the health of your skin is often a reflection of the health of your gut, immune system and hormonal balance. The real price of beauty is steep, and loading your skin with chemical ingredients found in store-bought skin care products usually only makes irritation worse. Castor oil is completely natural and free of synthetic chemicals (as long as you use pure 100 percent pure castor oil, of course), yet it’s rich in skin-boosting ingredients like fatty acids. Applying castor oil to dry or irritated skin can really help to discourage dryness and keep it well moisturized.
Castor oil can also help with wound healing thanks to its moisturizing as well as antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. In vitro research has shown that castor oil is effective against many types of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. (8) Out of all the staphylococcal bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus is considered the most dangerous and can cause mild to serious skin infections and other concerning staph infection symptoms.
4. Induces Labor
Castor oil is a time-honored natural remedy for inducing labor. For centuries, pregnant women at full term have taken it orally to help speed up uterus contractions. In fact, it’s one of the most popular substances taken in a non-medical setting to induce labor. The reason castor oil can work to induce labor is due to the fact that the ricinoleic acid in the oil can activate EP3 prostanoid receptors in the uterus. (9)
According to a retrospective, observational, case control study conducted over five years and published in 2018, “The use of castor oil is related to a higher probability of labor initiation within 24 hours. Castor oil can be considered a safe non-pharmacological method for labor induction.” In addition, the full-term women study subjects (between 40 and 41 weeks) who took castor oil had a lower incidence of caesarean section. (10)
One downside of using castor oil to help with delivery (and the reason it’s not commonly used in hospitals) is that some women feel nauseated after taking it.
5. Helps Dry, Irritated, Sun-Burnt or Acne-Prone Skin
As a natural antibacterial agent, castor oil works similarly to coconut oil for boosting skin health. It also makes a great general skin moisturizer and anti-inflammatory blemish treatment.
If you want to get rid of acne forever, you need to get to the source of the problem. Castor oil is a great natural home remedy for fighting mild acne. As it penetrates deep into the skin, it fights bacteria overgrowth that can clog pores, while softening and hydrating irritated skin at the same time. Plus as I mentioned earlier, castor oil has been shown to fight off Staphylococcus aureus which is huge since acne is commonly caused by this strain of bacteria. (11)
Here are several ways to improve skin health using castor oil:
- For a natural acne treatment that’s beneficial long term, dap castor oil onto the affected area with a clean cotton swab. You can also try to use apple cider vinegar and essential oils like frankincense mixed with a small amount of pure coconut oil. All of these options reduce redness and swelling of acne blemishes along with scarring and pain.
- To prevent future breakouts, wash your face first in warm water to open up the pores and then massage some of the oil into your face and leave it on overnight, rinsing the next morning.
- To hydrate skin without clogging pores: mix 1/4 cup of castor oil and 3/4 cup virgin coconut oil (or 3/4 cup sesame oil), then apply to your body and face.
- To moisturize skin that’s normal or oily, try using 1/4 cup of castor oil with jojoba oil, grape seed oil or olive oil instead of coconut and sesame oils. Gently massage dry areas of your skin with the mixture, then dab off any excess using a clean towel. Allow the treatment to soak in overnight and then rinse well in the morning with warm water.
- Another option is creating a fast-acting face mask using one teaspoon of castor oil along with one egg yolk. Apply the mixture to your face for 10–15 minutes, then clean your face.
- To soothe a sunburn, castors oil’s anti-inflammatory properties reduce pain and redness. Apply castor oil mixed with coconut oil (in a 1:1 proportion) to the affected area, or try the same remedy as a natural lip balm to solve chapped or sun-burnt lips.
- Something else to consider is that castor oil and ricinoleic acid can enhance the transdermal penetration of other chemicals, so it’s a good idea to only use castor oil along with other natural ingredients that you don’t mind fully absorbing into your skin.
6. Relieves Constipation
Castor oil works like a natural mild laxative when taken orally and helps with straining during defecation and the feeling of complete evacuation after a bowel movement. Its active ingredient, ricinoleic acid, gets released into the intestine, where it helps with the process of digestion, nutrient absorption and cleansing the system — helping you poop regularly.
Castor oil’s use for natural constipation relief is also backed up by research. For example, a study conducted in Turkey looked at the effects of castor oil packs on elderly people experiencing constipation. The study participants were monitored for a week before, three days during, and four days after the oil pack administration. A whopping 80 percent of the individuals studied had been experiencing constipation for 10 years or longer. The researchers found that the oil packs were able to decrease constipation symptoms, most specifically straining during defecation. (12)
7. Lowers Symptoms of Arthritis
Castor oil is often used as a natural treatment for arthritis pain, joint swelling and inflammation. It has natural anti-inflammatory properties that make it an ideal massage oil that can be applied to aching joints, muscles or tissue. Observational studies have even shown that topical application of ricinoleic acid (the main component of castor oil), “exerts remarkable analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.” (13)
A randomized, double-blind, comparative clinical study looked at the effects of castor oil capsules on symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. Subjects were either given a castor oil capsule (0.9 milliliters) three times daily for four weeks or a capsule of diclofenac sodium (50 milligrams) for the same amount of time. Overall, they found that castor oil worked as well as conventional treatment and can be used as “an effective therapy in primary knee osteoarthritis.” (14)
Try massaging painful areas with castor oil followed by a hot water pack to increase absorption and drainage. Practicing this process twice weekly can give you the best pain-reducing results.
8. Helps to Encourage Strong, Shiny Hair
Just like coconut oil benefits your hair, using castor oil may help your hair grow faster, thicker, stronger and shinier. Massage the slightly warmed-up oil into your hair and scalp, and it can improve the blood circulation to your follicles to hopefully speed up hair growth. You can try making a homemade hair mask by massaging the oil into your roots and spreading it all over your hair, tying up your hair and covering it with a cap, then leaving the oil on overnight before washing it out.
Types of Castor Oil to Use
Castor oil can be used in several ways: orally, applying topically on the skin, applying oil packs or by massage. As with essential oil uses or other skin treatments, any oil you ingest or consume (and even the kinds you apply directly to your skin) should really be of the highest quality to ensure safety and effectiveness.
Look for a reputable brand of cold-pressed, pure, organic castor oil at your local health food store or online if you can’t find it in stores.
Some people believe that the most effective use of castor oil is castor oil packs or poultices. These might be able to help increase topical absorption through the skin’s pores. It’s not hard to find wool flannels at health stores and online to use to create an oil pack. There are also kits available for purchase.
The dosage of castor oil taken internally depends on what you’re using it for along with your age, existing medical conditions and response to laxative-type treatments. Read the package directions carefully before using castor oil or a castor oil pack kit. Be careful not to increase your dose above the recommended amount, start slowly and don’t take it for more than seven days consecutively unless you’re told to do so by your doctor.
Dosages can vary by age, health status and your individual response to taking the oil. This amount is typically useful for regulating bowel movements. However, before giving it to children or taking it longer than a week check with your doctor. A common warning is to not use castor oil for more than a week since side effects can be serious with overuse. (15)
One commonly recommended dose is three teaspoons or one tablespoon once a day. Many people mix it with water or another beverage. Beware that castor oil can work for constipation relief quite fast so it’s not recommended to take it before bed. For many people, taking it causes a bowel movement to occur within two to three hours, but it can take up to six hours. (16)
For internal use, castor oil is available in both liquid and capsule forms. Always read product labels carefully and talk to your doctor if you’re not sure about the best dosage.
Side Effects and Precautions
Taking too much castor oil internally is definitely a risk and can cause digestive issues like diarrhea or cramping, along other problems. Some people experience nausea and signs of mild irritation in their gut lining when taking castor oil. Castor oil falls into category X for pregnant women, so if you’re pregnant you should not take it to induce labor without speaking to your doctor first.
Allergic reactions to castor oil (used topically or internally) are possible, so seek emergency medical care if you believe you are having a serious allergic reaction. When using castor oil topically, it’s still best to start slowly and perform a skin patch test on a small area of your skin before applying larger amounts, and also keep it away from your eyes, inside of your nose, children, and pets.
While Egyptian doctors are said to have employed castor oil in order to protect the eyes from irritation, not all experts today encourage this use. (19) On the American Academy of Ophthalmology website, Richard G. Shugarman, MD, a comprehensive ophthalmologist, responds to a question about the safety of putting it in the eyes by saying: (20)
I currently do not recommend the use of any non-sterile materials in the eye. Many years ago, when sterile products were not commercially available, I used room temperature castor oil to treat exposure keratopathy, severe dry eyes and recurrent erosions. See an ophthalmologist, as I suspect that safer products made specifically for your condition are readily available.
If you’re currently taking medication or have any medical condition, always speak with your doctor before using castor oil.
Tell your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following unlikely, yet very serious, side effects after ingesting castor oil: persistent nausea/vomiting/diarrhea, muscle cramps/weakness, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, decreased urination, mental/mood changes (such as confusion), or rectal bleeding. (15)
- Castor oil is a natural substance rich in many beneficial ingredients, especially ricinoleic acid.
- It can be used both topically or internally. A castor oil pack is a very popular way to use the oil externally for various health concerns, including constipation and arthritis.
- Castor oil is a natural stimulant laxative that has also been shown to boost lymphatic, circulatory and immune health.
- It is very moisturizing with inherent antibacterial properties that can help acne and boost wound healing.
- This supplement is not recommended for internal use for more than a week and you should always follow dosage instructions.
From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.
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