Many of our grandparents and great-grandparents grew up on doses of castor oil. The oil was respected for its antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal qualities. We now know it is 90 percent comprised of the fatty acid ricinoleic acid, which offers many health benefits. But what role, if any, should castor oil play in a modern health regimen?
Castor oil is derived from the castor seed Ricinus communis, which is also the source of the toxin ricin, often used in chemical warfare. The seeds, therefore, are dangerous, but the toxin is not present in the oil. Because of its high viscosity, castor oil does not freeze, making it an ideal industrial lubricant in cold climates. It is also used in food processing as a flavoring agent and mold retardant; in skin care products and cosmetics, and in the production of plastics, rubbers, synthetic resins, fibers and paints.
In terms of health, castor oil has been used as:
Remedy for gastrointestinal problems
Analgesic and anti-inflammatory
Immune system and lymphatic stimulant
In topical application, castor oil can treat skin conditions like keratosis, dermatosis, wounds, acne, and warts, along with sebaceous cysts, itching, and hair loss. The ricinoleic acid in castor oil supports the absorption of other agents on your skin.
It has also been used to treat:
Migraine and other types of headaches
Intestinal problems like appendicitis and colitis
Applying castor oil directly to the skin can improve immune function by raising the lymphocyte count. Lymphocytes are cells stored in the lymphatic tissues in the thymus gland, spleen, and lymph nodes, that fight disease. They remove more toxins from the tissues, promoting faster healing.
However, castor oil does have potential negative effects, including skin reactions and gastrointestinal irritations. In some people, the ricinoleic acid irritates the lining of the intestines, causing digestive pain and diarrhea. While it does stimulate labor in pregnant women, it can also cause nausea.
Today, many health experts recommend castor oil be used externally. It can be rubbed directly on the skin, particularly along the spinal column, massaged in the areas of the lymphatic drainage pathways. Castor oil packs can also be used. However, because of the oil itself as well as the potential for contamination during production of the oil, it is wise to have a patch test done before using to avoid possible reactions.