The Oil that May Help Relieve Arthritis, Sciatica and Back PainBy Dr. Mercola
Folk healers around the world have used castor oil to treat a wide variety of ailments.You are probably aware that castor oil is regarded by some as a remedy for constipation.But you may not be aware of its reported use as an antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal, or that it has been used topically to treat a variety of skin conditions, reduce pain, and stimulate your immune system.Read on, because I'm about to explore the myth and mystery of this unusual oil, and of course, investigate what modern science has to say about it.
However, regardless of what some of the research has suggested, you should be verycautious when experimenting with castor oil since the science is sparse at best, and there are several known reports of unpleasant side effects experienced by some users.
History of the Castor Seed: Ricinus Communis
Castor oil comes from the castor seedi, Ricinus communis, which has a very unusual chemical composition.Castor oil is a triglyceride, comprised of fatty acids, 90 percent of which is ricinoleic acid.This unique fatty acid is found in lower concentrations in a few other seeds and oils (0.27 percent in cottonseed oil and 0.03 percent in soybean oilii) and is thought to be responsible for castor oil's unique healing properties.The castor seed plant is native to India.Centuries ago, the plant was referred to as "Palma Christe" because the leaves were said to resemble the hand of Christ.This association likely arose out of people's reverence for the plant's healing abilities.It was later adopted for medicinal use in Ancient Egypt, China, Persia, Africa, Greece, Rome, and eventually in 17th Century Europe and the Americas. Castor oil is now widely used in industry. The stem of the plant is used in the textile industry, particularly in Russia, where castor oil is known as "Kastorka." The oil has a very consistent viscosity and won't freeze, which makes it ideal for lubricating equipment in severely cold climates.Modern non-medicinal uses for castor oil include:
- Food additive and flavoring agent
- Mold inhibitor
- Ingredient in skin care products and cosmetics (lipstick, shampoo, soap, and others)
- Used in the manufacturing of plastics, rubbers, synthetic resins, fibers, paints, varnishes, lubricants, sealants, dyes, and leather treatments; the lubricants company Castrol took its name from castor oilCastor oil was first used as an aircraft lubricant in World War I. So, castor oil has a number of handy industrial uses. But did you know that the castor seeds from which castor oil is made can be DEADLY?
Part of the Castor Seed Heals—But Another Part Kills!
The potent toxin riciniii is made from a protein in the castor seeds that, if ingested (orally, nasally, or injected), gets into the ribosomes of your cells where it prevents protein synthesis, which kills the cells. Ricin is made from the "mash" that is left over after processing castor seeds into oil. Just 1 milligram of ricin is fatal if inhaled or ingested, and much less than that if injected. Eating just 5 to 10 castor seeds would be fatal.Once poisoned, there's no antidote, which is why ricin has been used as a chemical warfare agent. Even though such a toxic component is also derived from this seed, castor oil isn't considered dangerous.According to the International Journal of Toxicology's Final Report on Castor Oiliv , you don't have to worry about castor oil being contaminated by ricin, because ricin does not "partition" into the castor oil. Castor oil has been added to cosmetic products for many years, without incident. For example, castor oil and hydrogenated castor oil were reportedly used in 769 and 202 cosmetic products, respectively, in 2002.The U.S. FDA gives castor oil a "thumbs up," deeming it "generally regarded as safe and effective" for use as a stimulant laxative. The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives has established an acceptable daily castor oil intake of up to 0.7 mg/kg body weight. This amounts to, roughly, one tablespoon for adults and one teaspoon for children. Taking castor oil orally usually results in a "purging" of the digestive tract in about four to six hours.According to the International Castor Oil Association v, castor oil studies in which people were dosed with castor oil at dietary concentrations as high as 10 percent for 90 days did not produce any ill effects.In spite of the fact that U.S. FDA and the International Castor Oil Association have pronounced castor oil to be safe, if you are going to try it, as I've mentioned previously, proceed with extreme caution because a number of negative side effects have been reported.
Castor Oil is NOT without Side Effects
Castor Seed Plant
Castor oil's main side effects fall into the categories of skin reactions and gastrointestinal upset, which isn't terribly surprising given the agent's actions on your intestinal wall.viCastor oil is broken down by your small intestine into ricinoleic acid, which acts as an irritant to your intestinal lining. This effect is what gives castor oil the ability to reverse constipation—but it's also the reason that some people report digestive discomfort, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal side effects. If you suffer from cramps, irritable bowel, ulcers, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, colitis, prolapses, or have recently undergone surgery, you should probably avoid castor oil due to these possible adverse reactions.Although castor oil has been traditionally used to help stimulate labor in healthy pregnant women, there are widespread reports of nausea, including one study in 2001vii that found nausea to be almost universally experienced by these women.
A Home Remedy that's Survived for Millennia
Adverse effects notwithstanding, Indians would traditionally boil seed kernels or hulls in milk and water, and then consume the brew to relieve arthritis, lower back pain, and sciatica. According to Williams' articleviii, castor seed plants are widely used in India for all sorts of medical problems, including the following:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Bladder and vaginal infections
- AsthmaCanary Islanders made poultices from the leaves of the castor plant to treat gynecological problems. Nursing mothers applied these poultices to their breasts to increase milk secretion and relieve inflammation of their mammary glands, and applied the poultice to their abdomens to promote normal menstruation. The topical absorption of castor oil is the basis for more modern "castor oil packs," which I'll be discussing later in detail.
Modern Medicinal Uses for Castor Oil
In general, the reported medicinal uses of castor oil fall into the following five general categories:
- Gastrointestinal remedy
- Antimicrobial (antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal)
- Labor stimulantix
- Anti-inflammatory and analgesic
- Immune system and lymphatic stimulantThe oil's benefits can be derived by topical application, and it appears to be useful for a variety of skin conditions like keratosis, dermatosis, wound healing, acne, ringworm, warts and other skin infections, sebaceous cysts, itching, and even hair loss. Castor oil and ricinoleic acid also enhance the absorption of other agents across your skin.