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The Hidden Health Benefits of Castor Oil

castor oil packs

One of the most effective health recommendations made by naturopaths is the daily use of castor oil packs. It’s also one of the most mysterious and least well known.

As with many beneficial remedies in naturopathic medicine, there’s not a ton of scientific research surrounding this practice. Its effectiveness is mostly anecdotal and passed down due to repeated clinical success. I would venture to say that the reason for this is that not much money would be made on using castor oil…and that using it takes a little half hour out of your day, which most people insist they don’t have.  But all joking aside, castor oil has been used for thousands of years for a variety of different conditions. It can be taken internally (as a laxative) but here, I will be discussing a much less disagreeable and much more gentle use of the oil.

First, a little tidbit on castor oil…(it’s important to know what you put on and in your body!)

Castor oil comes from the castor seed, Ricinus communis, (a plant native to India) and is composed mostly of the fatty acid, ricinoleic acid. Archaeological findings show that this oil was regularly used medically in India, Egypt, China, Persia, Africa and Greece for over 4000 years. In fact, its properties were so effective that it was once referred to as “Palma Christe” because the leaves were said to resemble the hand of Christ.

Ricinoleic acid is what is thought to be responsible for castor oil’s unique healing properties. It diffuses through the skin and into the organs and vessels where it acts as a mild irritant. Mild irritation can be good for the body—it can stimulate movement of fluids, recruit immune cells, and encourage peristalsis (the intestinal contractions that aid in removing waste), among other physiological processes.

A study published in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine in 1997 found that daily use of castor oil packs can increase the production of T-lymphocytes, an important player in your immune system.castor oil packs

As with anything so miraculously amazing, there is another side to the seed, which is in the form of a potent toxin called ricin. If inhaled or ingested, ricin can immediately kill—in fact, it was used as a compound in chemical warfare. However, according to the International Journal of Toxicology, you won’t have to worry about finding any trace of ricin in the castor oil that is sold to the general public and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives deem it safe.

Naturopathically, castor oil is used to decrease inflammation and to help the liver to function optimally. It increases circulation of blood and lymph, enhances the immune system, improves elimination of toxic substances, and promotes the healing of tissues. Due to these effects, it can be used to decrease pain, improve digestion, and help in the treatment of many conditions including uterine fibroids, non-malignant ovarian cysts, headaches, migraines, constipation, intestinal disorders, and gallbladder and liver conditions.

If you’re ready to start feeling some of its benefits, pick up some castor oil packs in any drug or grocery store and follow these simple steps:

  1. Take a clean flannel cloth folded into 2-3 layers and large enough to cover your entire abdomen.
  2. Drizzle 2-3 TBSP of castor oil onto one face of the cloth.
  3.  Place the oily side down on your stomach, add a little heat (via a heating pad, a hot water bottle, your own arms, a warm blanket) and lie still for 30-45 minutes.  You can incorporate this into your evening routine.  If you regularly check email every night, do your castor oil pack while you sit at your computer.  Or do it while you read or talk to your spouse or watch a movie.
  4. After the allotted time, place your pack into a plastic bag and set it aside until tomorrow.
The following days:
  1. Add a TBSP or so of additional castor oil to the same side of the same cloth you used the previous day.  Do this for the next 4-5 days.  Until the cloth is “saturated” enough that it leaves a SLIGHT film of oil on your belly when you remove it.
  2. Once this level of saturation is reached, you only need to add oil once every 5-7 days.

And visit my site to read up on the most common Castor Oil pack mistakes as well as more suggestions for using them!

Photo credit: Chris Evans, Shutterstock

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