The 5 Science-Backed Castor Oil Benefits You Need To Know About
Renowned in cultures worldwide for its therapeutic properties, castor oil has gained attention in our modern world for its vast internal and external health benefits. As a functional medicine expert, its my job to educate you on all of your options when it comes to natural wellness tools so that you can determine what is the best choice for you. So instead of hoping on the bandwagon, read on for a deep dive on what the science is saying about castor oil and why I personally think its worth adding into your wellness routine.
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What is castor oil?
Castor oil is derived from the seeds of the Ricinus communis plant and has been used for centuries as a staple in Ayurvedic medicine. This odorless oil is a lot thicker than your everyday cooking oil and is commonly found in many over-the-counter health and beauty products since it is high in antioxidants, antimicrobial compounds, and fatty acids like omega-6, omega-9, and castor oil’s most active compound - ricinoleic acid. In fact, just one tablespoon of castor oil contains 14 grams of fat.
Health benefits of castor oil
Even with castor oil’s long-standing history, the scientific studies surrounding this oil are unfortunately limited. But with that said, the anecdotal evidence is sky high. As a functional medicine practitioner, it’s my job to take both research and personal experience into account when recommending something to my patients. These are some of the most-well researched benefits of castor oil that also boast a lot of firsthand evidence.
1. Relieves constipation
Castor oil is most widely known for its laxative properties, making it a go-to tool for alleviating constipation. The ricinoleic acid in castor oil interacts with the receptors in your intestines to stimulate your bowel muscles to contract and move your poop through your colon.
Although castor oil is considered very safe by the FDA for constipation relief, it should be noted that it isn’t necessarily meant for long-term use as it can lead to stomach aches and bloating. If you find yourself struggling with chronic constipation, I recommend looking for more sustainable ways to improve your digestive health including eating a more fiber-rich diet.
2. Enhances liver function + detoxification
As our body’s main detox organ, if our liver isn’t functioning like it should it can lead to a cascade of chronic inflammation and a slew of other health problems. Instead of taking multiple supplements, topical castor oil can be a game-changer for improving liver function and your overall health.
A study published in the International Journal for Naturopathic Medicine, (2) found that after just two weeks of using castor oil packs, participants had improved immunity markers, liver enzymes, and cholesterol levels - even among the those whose liver and cholesterol enzymes were elevated outside of normal range at the beginning of the study. However, more studies need to be done on its long-term effectiveness with consistent use as these results weren’t maintained when the castor oil packs were stopped.
3. Stimulates hair growth
Research is continuing to grow in this area of castor oil’s many benefits, with most of the studies focusing on castor oil as a complimentary ingredient in hair growth serums. But with that said, early animal studies have given us a lot of reasons to continue looking at castor oil as a treatment for hair loss and thinning. One study found that when infused with lotion and applied topically, castor oil was able to significantly boost (3) hair growth.
4. Induces labor
Another powerful benefit of castor oil is its ability to induce labor with many women advised to ingest specific amounts once they reach the 40+ week mark. Researchers believe it has to do with its ability to stimulate your intestines, which, in turn, stimulates your uterus to start contractions due to proximity and shared nerves between the bowels and the uterus. It is such an effective method that one study published in Women and Birth, (4) found that 91% of women who consumed castor oil to induce labor, gave birth vaginally quickly after with very few (if any) complications for both mom and baby!
5. Alleviates chronic pain
Ricinoleic acid - the main component of castor oil - has demonstrated (5) powerful anti-inflammatory properties when consumed and applied topically with studies showing castor oil to be just as effective at relieving pain in cases of knee osteoarthritis (6) and chronic rheumatoid arthritis (7) as medication but without the negative side effects.
How to use castor oil in your routine
As we’ve discussed you can consume castor oil itself or apply it topically. The most common way to apply castor oil is with castor oil packs which are designed to provide targeted support and enhanced absorption to the specific area of your body that you want to address.
To use a castor oil pack at home, all you have to do is soak a piece of cloth with castor oil and place it over the designated area of your body for 30 minutes to 1 hour. You can also place a heating pad or warm towel over the cloth since this can further enhance the oil’s absorption.
While this is an easy DIY to do at home, if you decide to do castor oil packs on a regular basis, I recommend purchasing a pre-made castor oil pack from Queen of Thrones. Not only are they specifically designed with adjustable straps and comfort in mind, they also have built-in pockets for heating pads and warm towels.
You can also take castor oil in supplement form which can be great if you are looking to relieve minor constipation. You can find castor oil in capsule form from companies like NOW Foods - much easier than swallowing pure castor oil.
Things to consider
If you are pregnant, talk with your doctor before using castor oil topically and internally. Because of its labor-inducing benefits you’ll want to make sure you are far enough along and not risking any complications by adding this to your routine.
And as with most things, you’ll want to pay attention to quality. Although you can find castor oil pretty much anywhere you’ll ideally want to opt for cold-pressed, organic castor oil to ensure both purity and potency for maximum results.
From its ability to induce labor and alleviate pain to its potential in promoting hair growth, castor oil is a promising natural and cost-effective tool to keep in your toolbox. While research will continue to dive into these benefits (and possibly many others), consider trying castor oil for yourself and consider scheduling a telehealth consultation today to learn more about how we can help you find the right healing tools for your specific health case.
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- Deborah A. Kennedy, MBA, ND, Dana Keaton, NMD, LAC "Evidence for the Topical Application of Castor Oil" International Journal of Naturopathic Medicine March 2012. https://intjnm.com/evidence-for-the-topical-application-of-castor-oil/
- Kesika, Periyanaina et al. “Role and Mechanisms of Phytochemicals in Hair Growth and Health.” Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 16,2 206. 30 Jan. 2023, doi:10.3390/ph16020206
- Andrea L. DeMaria, Beth Sundstrom, Grace E. Moxley, Kendall Banks, Ashlan Bishop, Lesley Rathbun, Castor oil as a natural alternative to labor induction: A retrospective descriptive study, Women and Birth, Volume 31, Issue 2, 2018, Pages e99-e104, ISSN 1871-5192, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2017.08.001 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1871519216302268)
- Vieira, C et al. “Effect of ricinoleic acid in acute and subchronic experimental models of inflammation.” Mediators of inflammation vol. 9,5 (2000): 223-8. doi:10.1080/09629350020025737
- Medhi, B et al. “Comparative clinical trial of castor oil and diclofenac sodium in patients with osteoarthritis.” Phytotherapy research : PTR vol. 23,10 (2009): 1469-73. doi:10.1002/ptr.2804
- Londhe, Vaishali Y et al. “Improved anti-arthritic activity of ginger extract, a traditional medicine, using novel drug delivery approach.” Journal of complementary & integrative medicine vol. 18,2 439-443. 19 May. 2020, doi:10.1515/jcim-2019-0340
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
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