If you are considering using castor oil, you should be aware of the risks involved with this alternative folk remedy. Castor oil derived from the castor bean has been declared safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as a laxative. In addition, castor oil is used in a wide variety of skin care products on the market. However, castor oil is not suitable for everyone and in some circumstances should be avoided.
Castor oil is broken down in the small intestine into ricinoleic acid, which acts as an irritant on the walls of the intestines. This irritating action causes muscle spasms, contractions and diarrhea soon after ingestion of the castor oil. As a short-term remedy for constipation, castor oil is effective and safe; however, it should not be used for long periods of time. If castor oil is ingested regularly, the intestinal tract may depend upon higher and higher doses of castor oil to induce a bowel movement. Only use castor oil in acute circumstances to avoid dependence.
Castor oil is a cathartic remedy used for treating constipation, but should not be used in some individuals who are experiencing other digestive problems. If you suffer from cramps, irritable bowel, colitis, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, ulcers, prolapses or have recently undergone surgery, you should refrain from ingesting castor oil. Using castor oil alongside any of these conditions may irritate and exacerbate symptoms and cause distress.
Castor oil is traditionally used to help stimulate labor in women if they have a healthy pregnancy, are past their due date and are already dilated. Pregnant women who take castor oil for the purpose of inducing labor and contractions may experience cramps, diarrhea, dehydration and discomfort. In one study published in the “Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews” in 2001, researcher Anthony J. Kelly and colleagues noted every woman who took castor oil to induce labor experienced nausea. Pregnant women are urged to talk with their doctor and midwife before attempting to induce contractions with castor oil.
Some members of the population may experience allergies to castor oil products when taken internally or externally. Castor oil can be found as an ingredient in creams, lotions, cosmetics and cleansers. Check labels of skin products and test very small amounts of castor oil on a patch of skin before use. Symptoms of allergies may include inflammation, itchiness, pain and difficulty breathing. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention straight away.
"International Journal of Toxicology": Final report on the safety assessment of Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Glyceryl Ricinoleate, Glyceryl Ricinoleate SE, Ricinoleic Acid, Potassium Ricinoleate, Sodium Ricinoleate, Zinc Ricinoleate, Cetyl Ricinoleate, Ethyl Ricinoleate, Glycol Ricinoleate, Isopropyl Ricinoleate, Methyl Ricinoleate, and Octyldodecyl Ricinoleate.
Wiley Online Library: The Cochrane Library: Castor oil, bath and/or enema for cervical priming and induction of labour
Natural Sourcing: Material Safety Data Sheet: Castor Oil