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Why Castor Oil Should Come Out of the Closet

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By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD

An image of raw Castor oilCastor oil is derived from the castor bean plant and is typically a thick, pale, yellow fluid. It has a long history of use in traditional medicine. It was used by the Romans as a means of constipation relief, while the ancient Egyptians used it as a component of an ointment to help with wound healing. These days, it is a common ingredient found in the cosmetic, medical, biodiesel, and even soap industries.

Castor oil extraction is considered a relatively risky enterprise due to the presence of ricin, which is a lectin and considered a natural toxin. In the U.S., for example, strict controls are in place for the production of castor oil and other plant derivatives.

The castor oil you purchase at the store consists of approximately 90% ricinoleic acid, and smaller quantities of linoleic, oleic, stearic, and linolenic fatty acids. Besides the typically seen yellow castor oil, Jamaican black castor oil is also a popular type, and it is believed to have many beneficial properties for stimulating hair growth, promoting hair health, and preventing dandruff. This type is less refined and contains the ash that is the byproduct when castor beans are roasted.

Uses for Castor Oil

Like many ancient remedies, castor oil has been used for a wide variety of conditions. Some of the more promising uses of castor oil for your health are discussed below.


Castor oil has long been used as a means to alleviate constipation. While we may think of taking it in oral form, aromatherapy in constipated, elderly women, according to studies, seems to improve their bowel movement. Castor oil, once in the small intestine, breaks down into ricinoleic acid that speeds up the digestive process, thereby encouraging the passing of feces.


A study conducted on arthritis in the knees found that participants given castor oil supplements in capsule experienced significant relief from their condition. There were no side effects caused by the supplement. Please note that, when considering a castor oil supplement for arthritis, you should consult a qualified healthcare practitioner for use and dosage.

Hair Health

Although there is no scientific evidence that supports the idea that castor oil helps with hair regrowth, many people stand by it. The ricinoleic acid found in the oil, however, has anti-inflammatory properties that might help with scalp health. Castor oil, besides hair growth, is also used to condition the hair, moisturize the scalp, and combat dandruff.

Antibacterial and Anti-inflammatory

Studies indicate that castor oil, when applied topically, may have inflammation-reducing and antibacterial properties, as was indicated by a study evaluating its use in the reduction of bacterial species on dentures.

Skin Care

Castor oil may have a number of benefits for your skin:

  • The fatty acids in castor oil may enhance your skin’s smoothness when applied topically, and it is unlikely to clog pores due to its low cosmogenic level.
  • The fatty acids may also promote the growth of healthy skin tissue.
  • Because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, castor oil may inhibit bacterial growth resulting in acne.
  • The triglycerides in castor oil may help your skin maintain moisture while its humectant properties may help keep your skin moisturized by drawing water from the air into your skin.
  • It may be a great skin cleanser as the triglycerides in castor oil may help remove any dirt present on your skin.

Please note, however, that most of these comments are still speculation as dermatological studies conducted on castor oil have, thus far, been fairly limited.

Other Uses

Other uses of castor oil, is as a flavoring agent, mold inhibitor, cosmetics ingredient, and as a component in the manufacture of lubricants, fibers, rubbers, dyes, and plastics, amongst many others. It’s also used as an equipment lubricant in very cold climates because it does not freeze. Some claim that castor oil strengthens the immune system, while a castor oil pack could be used to strengthen the lymphatic system.

Adrenal Issues

An image of a human body inflamed and needing Castor oil Your body usually starts suffering from adrenal (and related issues) when experiencing continuous, prolonged stress. Because higher levels of cortisol are demanded as your body’s NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress reaction kicks into gear to put you into a state of fight or flight, all body systems may become compromised as their functionality is either decreased or put on hold – sometimes indefinitely. When this happens for a long enough time, you may develop a few of the symptoms commonly related to adrenal fatigue. Because these symptoms are so varied and may seem totally unrelated, identifying this condition may take quite some time, often as symptoms worsen and your body steadily progresses into a state of slow decline.

As the condition progresses, your immune system, digestive system, detoxification system, thyroid, and even heart, amongst many others, may be negatively affected. The latter stages of the condition may even see you becoming bedridden and utterly debilitated. Practitioners of Western medicine may try to help you by addressing each of your various symptoms, and although this may work for a time, the symptoms may return, and you may even develop new symptoms.

The latter stages of the condition also see a decline in your adrenal gland’s ability to produce enough cortisol to meet the demand. While you may think that a decline in cortisol may be the answer to the previous state of oversupply, the truth is that too little cortisol is just as detrimental to your general health as too much. It also has its own set of serious complications.

Common symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue, not taking the stage of the condition into account, include, amongst many others:

  • Various skin conditions like dry skin and scalp, acne, dermatitis, and psoriasis
  • Hormone-related conditions
  • Digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and constipation
  • Immune-related conditions
  • Inflammation-related conditions like arthritis
  • The buildup of toxins

Considerations Before Trying Castor Oil for Adrenal Fatigue

An assortment of natural healing items including Castor oilWhile one may think that using castor oil may be a great way to address these issues, one needs to be careful. Depending on the stage of adrenal fatigue, your body may not be able to cope with the action of it, whether used topically as a pack or taken orally as a supplement. Depending on your general health, the use of castor oil, instead of doing good, could, in fact, trigger an adrenal crash. The weaker the body, the greater the risk. Many have reported crashes after application.

If you have adrenal issues and want to consider using castor oil, it is advised that you seek the assistance of a qualified healthcare practitioner versed in adrenal fatigue and its nuances. The road to good health is different for each person, and a qualified professional may be your best ally during this time.

General Concerns

While castor oil may have many health benefits, it’s not best for everything. In some cases, it can have a number of harmful adverse effects. Amongst these are included:

  • Adrenal crashes
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Tightness in your throat
  • Skin Rashes
  • Dizziness and/or fainting
  • Stomach cramps

Those using castor oil as a hair treatment may also need to be careful as hair felting may occur. Although rare in occurrence, hair felting sees your hair becoming tangled into one, large, hard, mass. When this happens, there is nothing to be done about the matter except for cutting off your hair.

In Closing

While there is evidence to suggest that the correct use of castor oil in most healthy people has no, or very few, side effects, one still needs to be careful when using it as a supplement. At the end of the day, consultation with your doctor about dosage and use may be the best option. Those with pre-existing conditions should first consult with a healthcare professional as to suitability, dosage, and use, before trying.

© Copyright 2019 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

While castor oil may show indications of being beneficial for some symptoms of adrenal fatigue, but you should think twice before using it either topically or orally. Depending on your stage of adrenal fatigue, it could trigger an adrenal crash.

Castor oil

© Copyright 2001-2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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