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Castor oil has been used since ancient times due to its immense health benefits on various systems of the body. In fact, its Sanskrit name erandah, describes its properties to dispel diseases. This pale, light yellow oil is yielded from the seeds of castor beans which are cultivated in tropical regions. The land of Gujarat, being extremely suitable for the crop, produces the maximum bulk. Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan follow. It is a great commercial product for India and is extensively exported to the United States, European Union, and China.

Castor oil was first used as a medicine by ancient Egyptians. Since then, it has been known as Palma Christus and is used as a folklore medicine. Castor oil and its derivatives are used in the manufacture of perfumes, soaps, paints, dyes, lubricants, inks, pharmaceuticals, etc. In India, Nepal and Pakistan, food grains are preserved by coating them with castor oil. This prevents pulses, rice and wheat from rotting. Food grade castor oil is also used as food additives, as flavouring agents and in some chocolates and candies.

From farms to groceries

Castor beans are commercially grown on plantations. The oil is first extracted in a way similar to most oilseeds. Post harvesting and dehulling, the seeds are pressed using an expeller. The extracted oil then goes through a filtration process, and the residue is fed back into the stream. Substance discharged from the press is called castor cake and contains 8-10% oil. It is then crushed to extract the desired oil. Once, this process is completed, the extracted oil goes through a filter press in order to purify. Here, particulates, acids, dissolved gases, and water are removed. The final step is the refining of the oil and its sterilization in an oil refinery.

This oil elixir is widely utilized all over the world not only for its health merits but also for industrial purposes.

Some basic facts of castor oil

  • Scientific name:  Ricinus Communis
  • Family: Euphorbiaceae
  • Common name: Castor bean or castor oil plant, arandi ka tel
  • Sanskrit name: Erandah and the oil is called eranda taila.
  • Parts used: Beans and leaves of the castor oil plant
  • Native and geographical distribution: Cultivation of castor plant is generally in the drier regions of tropical and subtropical countries. Its growth is native to North-Eastern Africa and is widely grown in the Asian and American continents. India is one of the biggest exporters of castor oil with the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh constituting around 90% of the total domestic production.
  • Interesting fact: Owing to its laxative properties, castor oil was used as a measure of torture by Spanish nationalists during the civil war. It was force-fed to the ‘liberals and leftists’ to cause them acute abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
  1. Is castor oil used for cooking?
  2. Health benefits of Castor oil
  3. Other uses of castor oil
  4. Side-effects of Castor oil
  5. How to use Castor Oil for your Hair

Castor oil is widely used for its benefits but is not used as a culinary oil. Although it is safe for consumption and is extensively used as a laxative, its use for cooking is not recommended. This is because FDA has approved the use of this oil as a potential laxative (agents that increase bowel movement) for the treatment of constipation. When used for this purpose, a safe dose of 0.7mg/kg body weight has been described.

But, in healthy consumers, this can cause diarrhoea and abdominal troubles.

So, you must refrain from using this as a cooking oil. Other than a laxative agent, castor oil finds its use in the cosmetic industry and is used at a high concentration in lipsticks.

Castor oil, as we discussed, is inedible, but a recent FDA report has approved its use as a food additive and a flavouring agent. The WHO expert committee reported that castor oil is safe for use in food as a carrier solvent and a release agent in a limited dosage.

Following are a few reasons why you must consider using this oil:

  1. Castor oil for constipation relief
  2. Castor oil for skin
  3. Castor oil for hair
  4. Castor oil for boosting immunity
  5. Castor oil for joint pain
  6. Castor oil for bone regeneration
  7. Castor oil for inducing labour
  8. Castor oil for cancer prevention

Castor oil for constipation relief

The most recognised function of castor oil is a laxative and purgative agent. It functions by loosening the stools and improving bowel movement, allowing you to defecate easily. It is successfully used as a natural treatment of constipation by aiding the cleansing of the intestinal tract. This use has been known to humans since ancient times and castor oil has formed a part of the traditional medicinal system in India.

These effects are achievable due to the unique constitution of castor oil possessing a number of fatty acids. These components alter the functioning of the intestinal lumen and increase colonic motility.

As less as 4 ml of the oil is enough to induce laxative effects. But, a dosage of 15 to 60 ml has been prescribed for adults. The effects will be seen within 1 to 6 hours of ingestion and castor oil is a beneficial inclusion for the management of constipation or indigestion. You must, however, consult with your doctor regarding a safe dosage for your condition.

Castor oil for skin

Castor oil has long been used as a folk remedy and traditional medicine. Its direct use on the skin may be mildly irritating as demonstrated by animal studies. However, human clinical studies do not qualify castor oil as a significant irritant or sensitiser. It is recommended to be used along with a cream base for dilution. When used in this form, it has numerous skin benefits.

Castor oil can help to get rid of skin outbreaks, irritations and even infections. Ricinoleic acid which is the component of castor oil has inhibitory actions against the growth of bacteria, viruses and fungi. This may help to avoid associated infections. Concerning this, castor oil is used for the treatment of genital warts, cysts, bunions and corns.

In addition to this, castor oil has wound healing properties and is also used in antibacterial ointments. Due to its moisturizing and hydrating qualities, castor oil is used as a component in numerous dermatological products.

Its inflammatory and antibacterial properties may suggest it as a treatment for acne but this lacks sufficient research.

Castor oil for hair

Castor oil possesses several fatty acids. Ricinoleic acid, one of these fatty acids, possesses strong antimicrobial properties, which may be effective in protecting the scalp against various infections. Fungal infections are a common scalp condition and may be manageable with the help of castor oil. So, you can make the use of hair care products containing this oil.

Some earlier studies have also demonstrated the use of castor oil as a hair regrowth agent and it has long been used as a remedy for hair loss. Though this lacks sufficient research evidence, it can be said that the use of castor oil may be helpful due to its rich constitution.

One thing to be kept in mind is that you must only make the use of hair products containing castor oil. Direct use of castor oil on the hair can be harmful. Dermatologists have reported the case of hair felting or bird’s nest hair with the use of castor oil. This is a rare condition in which the hair becomes completely dry, lacks lustre and forms an uncombable mass.

So, you must schedule an appointment with a dermatologist before beginning the use of castor oil.

Castor oil for boosting immunity

As discussed above, castor oil has immense antimicrobial properties, which protects you from diseases and infections, but has it any specific effect on your immunity? The answer is yes. 

A study conducted on 36 healthy subjects found that castor oil helps in increasing the number of T-cells in your body, which warrants a stronger immunity. This leads to the destruction of pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms) preventing you from diseases. So, castor oil can be used as an immunomodulatory therapy in the form of packs given on the spleen or thymus (major organs for immune function).

Castor oil for joint pain

As castor oil has natural anti-inflammatory properties, it is effective in providing relief from arthritis pain. Researchers suggest that topical application of castor oil can provide immense relief from joint pain, muscle pain and muscle soreness.

To utilise this benefit, it is recommended to apply a cloth soaked in castor oil over the painful area. A hot water bottle is placed over this. This will allow the oil to penetrate deeper into the inflamed tissues.

It can also be also used as a massaging oil for affected joints and muscles. These remedies are best done overnight.

Castor oil for bone regeneration

Castor oil has several health benefits and it is even good for your bones. Several studies have demonstrated convincing bone regenerating potential of castor oil. It has been suggested that the phytochemicals present in castor oil are responsible for these actions.

Animal studies have proved that castor oil can be used as an alternate for bony filling material as it was regarded to be completely safe and biocompatible. Another study suggested that it significantly aided in the process of bone regeneration. However, sufficient human researchers are needed to prove these claims.

Castor oil for inducing labour

Childbirth or labour refers to the process of delivering a baby. It usually occurs through a natural process at the end of the pregnancy term between 37 to 42 weeks. This is initiated by membrane rupture. When pregnancy extends beyond the term and there is a risk with the continuation of pregnancy, labour needs to be initiated medically. This can be done either medically or by mechanical rupturing of membranes.

One effective and safe way to do this is with the help of castor oil. The mechanism of action can be explained on the basis of the initiation of uterine contractions, which will eventually lead to labour. It may also stimulate the release of hormones required for the initiation of labour.

A retrospective study was done on 18 pregnant women to determine the efficacy of castor oil in the onset of labour. Labour was induced for by two methods, one, using castor oil and the other by the traditional doctor-led procedure. It was seen that the incidence of caesarean section was lower in the castor oil group. There were more normal deliveries and labour was initiated within 24 hours in the castor oil group. This study concluded that castor oil is a safe and efficacious method of labour induction for vaginal deliveries.

Castor oil for cancer prevention

Cancer refers to the uncontrolled and abnormal growth of body cells, which has the potential to metastasise at distant sites. Certain environmental and other factors trigger this uncontrolled growth, while there are some factors which may be preventive. Castor oil is one such protective agent. Animal studies have demonstrated that the use of castor oil has strong suppressive effects on the growth of tumours and certain types of cancers. This lacks sufficient human research evidence.

Castor oil is rich in alpha-12-hydroxy-9-octadecenoic acid and contains minor phenolic components. Although these compounds do not show any direct anticancerous activity, these increase the penetration of other chemicals. So, it can be used as an additional topical therapy in breast cancer patients to improve the efficacy of applied chemotherapeutic drugs.

Another study on castor oil put forward similar results and suggested its use as a drug delivery vehicle of several anticancer agents. The most significant drugs to be delivered by this route are docetaxel and paclitaxel.

However, direct application of castor oil on the cancerous site or any other area of the skin is not recommended.

  • Castor oil and its derivatives are used in the preparation of a range of cosmetics including shampoos, hair oils, body soaps, lip gels, perfumes, deodorants, sunscreens, and other personal hygiene products.
  • The usage of castor also proves effective in curing bacterial infections of the throat.
  • Castor oil has also been suggested to aid relief from headaches, period pain and cramps with limited evidence.

Excessive intake of castor oil can adversely affect the health in the following ways:

  • Unmonitored use of castor oil as a laxative can cause diarrhoea, abdominal cramping and nausea.
  • Since the oil induces labour, it is not advisable for pregnant women to consume it without consulting a doctor as it may lead to premature labour.
  • Castor oil can cause allergic reactions and irritation when applied on the skin. A skin patch test is recommended before applying to a larger area. This should be done under expert supervision in the required quantity.
  • There are chances of dizziness and mood changes following the intake of this oil as it possesses sedative properties.
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References

  1. V Ramya Maduri, Ahalya Vedachalam, S Kiruthika. “Castor Oil” – The Culprit of Acute Hair Felting . Int J Trichology. 2017 Jul-Sep; 9(3): 116–118. PMID: 28932063
  2. Dmitri O. Levitsky, Valery M. Dembitsky. Anti-breast Cancer Agents Derived from Plants . Nat Prod Bioprospect. 2015 Feb; 5(1): 1–16. PMID: 25466288
  3. Neri I et al. Castor oil for induction of labour: a retrospective study. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2018 Aug;31(16):2105-2108. PMID: 28618920
  4. Harvey Grady. IMMUNOMODULATION THROUGH CASTOR OIL PACKS. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine
  5. Saran WR et al. Castor oil polymer induces bone formation with high matrix metalloproteinase-2 expression. J Biomed Mater Res A. 2014 Feb;102(2):324-31. PMID: 23670892
  6. Frazilio Fde O et al. Use of castor oil polyurethane in an alternative technique for medial patella surgical correction in dogs. Acta Cir Bras. 2006;21 Suppl 4:74-9. PMID: 17293971
  7. Faisal A AL-Tamimi, Ahmad E M Hegazi. A Case of Castor Bean Poisoning Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2008 Mar; 8(1): 83–87. PMID: 21654963