Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Castor Oil for Internal & External Use

Once a folk medicine, castor oil is now a common treatment for constipation, both internally and in topical castor oil packs …

The oil extracted from the castor bean (Ricinus communis) has long been used both by the food industry, and as medicine.  In traditional folk medicine castor oil was most commonly used to help ease constipation, and even to induce vomiting in cases of poisoning.  It has also been used for skin disorders, such as: burns, sunburns, cuts, and abrasions.  Another common use for castor oil is as a rub or pack for a wide variety of complaints, such as: headaches, muscle pain, inflammatory conditions, and abdominal complaints.

Castor Oil Pack One of the most common uses of castor oil is in a topical castor oil pack.  This is achieved by soaking a piece of flannel with castor oil, and laying it over the abdomen or the affected area.  This is covered with plastic and then a heat source such as a hot water bottle or heating pad is applied to warm the area and allow the castor oil to soak in.  This treatment is commonly used for stagnation conditions in the abdomen, such as liver toxicity, and constipation.  If going through all the preparations of a full castor oil pack is more work than you are willing to do at the moment, many people will opt instead for a castor oil rub.  This involves simply rubbing castor oil into the abdomen using gentle clockwise circles to promote proper digestive motion.  Your hands and the gentle friction will slightly heat the oil naturally, and the motion promotes GI motility.  Either of these topical treatments are often the first way castor oil is used to treat constipation as it is a more gentle treatment than ingesting the oil directly.  For more information, please see our Constipation article.  When using castor oil topically, be sure to wear old clothing to cover those areas afterwards, as castor oil easily oil stains fabrics.

Laxative One of the original uses of castor oil was ingestion in order to ease constipation and promote healthy bowel function.  This should be used with caution as castor oil can quickly cause diarrhea, which can result in dehydration and nutrient loss.  For more information, please see our Diarrhea article. 

Inducing Labour Because castor oil is an effective stimulant to the bowels, it has been theorized to also stimulate the uterus and cause contractions that can help speed labour.  The research into this has been inconclusive, and further research is required.  One study found that a single dose of 60ml of castor oil initiated labour in at least half of full-term women in a 24hr period.  It can also stimulate the initiation of labour in women whose water has broken, but whose labour has not yet progressed.  This showed a reduction in women requiring Cesarean section.  This is a treatment that is commonly used by midwives around the world to promote healthy labour in stalled situations.

Skin Conditions Castor oil can be used topically on the abdomen in a castor oil pack to help with skin conditions such as eczema and acne.  It can also be directly applied to skin conditions to help with burns, cuts, abrasions, dermatitis, and acne.  Derivatives of castor oil are also commonly used in skincare products like lotions, creams, and lip balm.  For more information, please see our Skin Health article.

How can I use castor oil? The dose of castor oil depends on the size and weight of the person taking it.  Full-term pregnant women can take 60ml to induce labour.  As a laxative, it is best to start with a smaller dose, and repeat every few hours until desired results are achieved in order to avoid diarrhea.  Castor oil packs (or rubs) are another popular way to use castor oil and can treat a variety of abdominal conditions, and can help with detoxification.

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