A lot of people believe that they can use castor oil for constipation on a regular basis because it is natural.
It is a natural product indeed, no doubt about that. And most of the time, when used properly, natural products work in a gentle, strengthening and nourishing way.
But not always.
In this article, I explain how castor oil is made, and how it works on the muscles of the gut. I then explain how and when to use it.
It is a specific for hard cases of constipation, for those who are completely backed-up and looking for a more "explosive" solution.
Castor oil is the oil expressed from the fruit of the Ricinus communis plant. That plant has a very characteristic look as shown on the picture above. You may have seen the plant in California or in other states.
Let us be very clear. Do not attempt to make your own oil, or to eat the fruit.
The fruit contains a very potent toxin called ricin. If ingested, ricin will simply kill your cells. Just 1 milligram of ricin is fatal to a human being if ingested. Eating a few castor seeds can kill you. In the past, ricin became famous as a warfare agent. There is no antidote to ricin, making it the perfect weapon.
OK, now enough of the scare. Ricin does not get transferred into the oil. The purified castor oil you find in stores does not contain any ricin. Castor oil has been approved by the American FDA as "generally safe and effective" as a stimulant laxative.
I am a big proponent of making herbal medicine at home. But in the case of castor oil for constipation, do not even think about it. Buy the oil.
Castor oil has been used since ancient times, with medicinal use being traced back to the Roman and Egyptian empires.
Usually, when a plant has been used for so long, I feel more comfortable recommending it to my clients, because we stand on solid grounds in terms of documented experience. We all love grandma’s remedies.
With a few exceptions.
Ancient civilizations often used purging as a way to cleanse the body. Powerful expulsion of the content of the gut (vomiting, diarrhea) was often seen as beneficial to treat the sick person. As I explain in my article on colon cleansing teas, I am not a proponent of those purges, unless you are completely backed-up and your only option is to use laxatives.
80% of castor oil is ricinoleic acid, a fatty acid that binds to receptors located on the smooth muscle cells of the intestines(1). Once locked onto those receptors, ricinoleic acid causes powerful contractions, explaining castor oil’s reputation as a stimulant laxative.
It was once thought that castor oil was acting through irritation, triggering inflammation and thus a change in the balance of water and electrolytes in the gut. But the latest research seems to suggest that it acts differently, not through irritation or toxicity, but via a very targeted mechanism triggering a strong peristalsis movement. This is good news.
Do not use castor oil if you are pregnant. Castor oil not only latches onto the intestine smooth muscles, but also onto the muscles of the uterus to trigger contractions and stimulate labor.
I am against the use of castor oil on a regular basis. If you need castor oil to regulate your daily transit, you are not looking at the problem the right way. Chronic use may lead to fluid and electrolytes imbalance, and other complications.
I support the use of castor oil in a very punctual manner, for constipation that is not being relieved by any of the natural remedies listed on this website.
If you haven’t gone to the toilets for days and you feel you may be getting close to a fecal impaction for example, you need to act fast. You cannot afford to wait another day. Castor oil can help.
I already explained what are the different types of laxatives and how they work. Castor oil belongs to the “stimulant laxatives”. As I explained, for intractable cases, you may need to associate stimulant laxatives with an osmotic laxative.
Recommended dose :
During a constipation crisis, the acceptable daily intake is :
Castor oil works best if you take it upon an empty stomach, first thing in the morning when you wake up.
Once you have taken your dose, allows 4 to 6 hours before the first urge to go to the toilet. Castor oil may induce explosive diarrhea. You will likely need to go to the toilets more than once, so don't go too far. Make sure you have fast access to toilets in the hours following ingestion.
The taste is very unpleasant. You may want to mix it with a small amount of orange or prune juice and pinch your nose as you swallow. Kids may have a hard time taking the suggested amount.
Do not use castor oil for constipation if you are pregnant
Clinical research(2) shows that castor oil packs can help relieve constipation in the elderly.
In this study, participants were monitored for 7 days before, 3 days during, and 4 days after administration of castor oil packs. 80% of those participants had been constipated for 10 years or longer. Castor oil packs decreased feces consistency, straining during defecation and feeling of complete evacuation after a bowel movement.
This is interesting, as the application of castor oil packs on the lower belly (particularly toward the descending and sigmoid colon) could provide a gentler way to stimulate peristalsis without the explosive bouts of diarrhea.
Have you ever used castor oil packs to relieve constipation ?
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(1) Tunaru S, Althoff TF, Nüsing RM, Diener M, Offermanns S. Castor oil induces laxation and uterus contraction via ricinoleic acid activating prostaglandin EP3 receptors. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jun 5;109(23):9179-84. doi:10.1073/pnas.1201627109.
(2) Rinella ME, Elias MS, Smolak RR, Fu T, Borensztajn J, Green RM. Mechanisms of hepatic steatosis in mice fed a lipogenic methionine choline-deficient diet. J Lipid Res. 2008 May;49(5):1068-76. doi: 10.1194/jlr.M800042-JLR200.