What Exactly is Castor Oil

What Exactly is Castor Oil

If you’ve been searching for an affordable, multi-purpose carrier oil to keep in your medicine cabinet, castor oil is a strong contender.

What Exactly is Castor Oil?

It’s an unsaturated, triglyceride fatty oil (Omega-9) derived from the seeds of the castor bean plant (Ricinus Communis), where 90% of its own fatty acid content comes from a rare compound called ricinoleic acid. With a strong taste and translucent yellow in colour, it was used commonly in our parents and grandparents’ days as a natural remedy to relieve constipation.

Properties include:

  • Fatty acids
  • Flavonoids
  • Phenolic compounds
  • Amino acids
  • Terpenoids
  • Pytosterols 

Aside from the strong taste, it’s unique compound of ricinoleic acid has led to its use in over 700 cosmetic products. This, combined with its beneficial salts and esters help stabilise the texture and consistency of external skin products and act as a skin-conditioning agent. Taken orally, the oil is broken down in the small intestine by the pancreatic enzymes, which in turn releases its beneficial compounds and metabolites.

Castor Oil as a Laxative

When you’re constipated, you don’t have bowel movements as often as you should, or your stool is hard to pass. The standard definition of constipation is having fewer than three bowel movements per week.

Everyone goes to the bathroom on a different schedule, though. Some people have several bowel movements per day, and other people have just one bowel movement per day or go every other day.

Any decrease in bowel movements that’s out of the norm for you may be a sign of constipation.

Hard stools can force you to strain while trying to go to the bathroom. Chronic constipation also causes symptoms like abdominal pain and bloating.

Castor oil can be helpful as an occasional treatment for constipation

When someone swallows castor oil, ricinoleic acid latches onto EP3 molecules in smooth muscle cells on the walls of the small intestine and causes contractions, explaining castor oil's effectiveness as a laxative. Similarly, the researchers showed that ricinoleic acid binds to EP3 in the uterus and causes contractions.

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Using castor oil

Castor oil is a liquid that you take by mouth. It’s typically taken during the day because it works quickly.

The dose of castor oil used to treat constipation in adults is 15 mls. To mask the taste, try putting the castor oil in the fridge for at least an hour to cool it. Then, mix it into a full glass of fruit juice. You can also buy flavoured castor oil preparations.

Castor oil works very quickly. You should see results within two to six hours after taking it. Because castor oil works so fast, it’s not a good idea to take it before bedtime, as you might do with other laxatives.

Like any stimulant laxative, castor oil shouldn’t be taken in the long term. Over time, it can reduce the muscle tone in your intestines and lead to chronic constipation. If you continue to have constipation, see your doctor.

Health Benefits include:

Benefits used in traditional medicine to treat health conditions:

  • Abdominal disorders
  • Arthritis
  • Backache
  • Constipation
  • Muscle aches
  • Parasitic infections
  • Chronic headaches
  • Gallbladder pain
  • PMS
  • Rheumatism
  • Insomnia
  • Styes

Can Castor Oil Stimulate Labour? 

Yes, but extreme caution is advised. A research article was published in PubMed where mice who were given castor oil while pregnant caused their intestines and uterus to contract and in turn, stimulated labour. A study was then completed on 100 pregnant women and more than half of those given castor oil went into labour within 24 hours. However, some experienced nausea afterwards.

The study authors summary states:

"Most side effects caused by taking castor oil are fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Also, castor oil affected newborn's APGOR score at the first minute … It is very important that women get the appropriate dosage from midwife or obstetrician before trying any castor oil induction."

Recommended Dosage

It is often recommended to take around 15mls (3 teaspoons) per day. As mentioned previously it has a strong taste, so it may be a good idea to mix it in with another flavoured liquid or water. For constipation relief, bowel movements may occur within two to three hours, but can take up to six hours to have an effect. A common warning is to not use castor oil for more than a week, as  you may incur serious side effects with overuse. 

Castor oil is available in both liquid and capsule forms for internal use. Best practice is to always read the product labels and talk to your doctor if to confirm any queries you may have.

Safety concerns

Castor oil isn’t right for everyone. It’s not recommended for pregnant women and people with certain health conditions.

Because castor oil can cause the uterus to contract, it’s not recommended during pregnancy.

It’s also not advised for regular use in children under age 12. If you’d like to give castor oil to your child, ask their pediatrician first.

In adults over 60, castor oil may make bowel problems worse if it’s used over a long period. It can also lower the amount of potassium in your body.

You may need to avoid castor oil if you take certain medicines, including:

  • diuretics, which can also lower the amount of potassium in your body
  • antibiotics, including tetracycline
  • bone medicines
  • blood thinners
  • heart medicines

In addition to having what many consider to be an unpleasant taste, castor oil has a few side effects. Like other stimulant laxatives, it can cause cramping and diarrhea. It can also reduce the absorption of nutrients in your intestines.

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