Castor Oil’s Topical Applications

One of my favourite remedies is castor oil.  Many of you may remember this very thick sometimes sticky oil from your youth and being recommended to take for constipation or maybe even for getting childbirth labour started.  In naturopathic school we were trained in the topical use of castor oil and were discouraged from recommending the oral use of it. When taken internally the oil is considered a purgative; it can cause rapid evacuation of the bowels and it is not pleasant.  We have many other smoother and less intense ways of restoring bowel function and improving constipation! 

One of the ways we can improve bowel function is to apply castor oil topically to the skin of the abdomen.  There are 2 ways of applying the oil, either directly on the skin rubbing it in,  or by first soaking a flannel in the oil and then applying that to the abdomen.  In both cases adding moist heat for about 30 minutes will strongly increase the effectiveness of the application.  Many people who suffer from sluggish bowels have some degree of inflammation present.  This could be caused from food sensitivities, eating processed foods, history of multiple uses of antibiotics disrupting the normal intestinal flora, or stress which can negatively impact any function in the body.  Castor oil has an anti-inflammatory action in addition to its ability to stimulate circulation which could be another reason it relaxes the bowel and promotes heathy bowel movements.   

There’s not a lot of research on exactly how topical castor oil works, but we know it’s a very old medicine with use dating back 1000s of years.  The main active ingredient appears to be ricinoleic acid and it seems to deplete a substance involved in pain signalling called substance P, in addition to decreasing swelling.  It is also well known for use over the liver to improve detoxification.  Through its detox effects it is often used in this way to improve hormonal health in women.  With regular use of the packs many women find their periods to be less painful with smoother flow and some even report an emotional release through the use of the packs. It should also help with premenstrual syndrome symptoms.   

I think one of castor oil’s main mechanisms is that it improves lymphatic flow, a system in our bodies that can easily get clogged up.  The lymphatic system is the garbage highway and the route our immune cells take to travel about the body keeping us clear of infection and debris.  This may be be the primary way castor oil detoxifies us and through detoxification, reduced swelling, and reduction in substance P, it decreases pain.  That castor oil can help relieve pain and is very cost effective, safe and non invasive could be welcomed news to many arthritis or chronic pain suffers.  Regular application of the oil can reduce pain and swelling of an affected area.  Please always consult your health team if you have sensory problems, bleeding disorders, skin problems; don’t use during menstruation or pregnancy.  Caution should also be exercised if there are wounds or ulcerations.  NOTE only the oil of castor is safe, the raw beans are very toxic.