Folk healers worldwide have used castor oil to treat a wide variety of health conditions for thousands of years. The use of castor oil goes as far back as the ancient Egyptians, who used it to treat eye irritations and as a powerful natural skin care remedy. In India, castor oil has been prized for its skin-healing, digestive-soothing, antibacterial properties and is commonly used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine practices.
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For centuries, at the first sign of illness, many mothers and grandparents would immediately turn to giving their children castor oil either topically or internally to naturally boost immune function and speed up healing. Derived from the seeds of the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis), records show that many years ago the plant was referred to as the “Palma Christe” because the shape of the plant’s leaves were said to resemble the palm of Christ.
What Is Castor Oil?
Throughout history, castor oil’s most popular use has been for treating skin infections, lowering constipation and boosting the appearance of hair health, but research has shown that castor oil has even more important applications for supporting the immune system. Castor oil is capable of increasing white blood cells and the count of T-11 cells (a type of special white blood cells that act like antibodies) produced within the body’s lymphocytes that help kill viruses, fungi, bacteria and cancer cells.
Many of castor oil’s benefits come down to its chemical composition. It’s classified as a type of triglyceride fatty acid, and almost 90 percent of its fatty acid content is a specific and rare compound called ricinoleic acid. Castor oil is considered to be pretty unique because ricinoleic acid is not found in many other substances, and it’s such a dense, concentrated source. It is produced by cold-pressing the seeds and subsequent clarification of the oil by heat.
Aside from its primary constituent, ricinoleic acid, castor oil also contains certain beneficial salts and esters that function primarily as skin-conditioning agents. At the same time, they help stabilize the texture and consistency of products, which is why castor oil is used in so many cosmetics, hair and skin-care treatments.
According to the International Journal of Toxicology, castor oil and hydrogenated castor oil reportedly were used in 769 and 202 cosmetic products, respectively, during the time of an analysis in 2002! Ricinus communis (castor) seed oil is the name given to the type of castor oil used in cosmetics, which you might find listed on the ingredient label, especially in lipsticks.
Castor Oil Benefits
As an unsaturated fatty acid, ricinoleic acid found in castor oil has many healing abilities, including:
- supporting the lymphatic system
- increasing circulation
- preventing the growth of viruses, bacteria, yeasts and molds
- fighting skin disorders and infections
- helping to kill ringworm, keratoses, skin inflammation, abrasions and fungal infections
- healing acne
- helping hair grow
- reducing itching and swelling on the skin
- fighting toenail fungus
- easing constipation
- hydrating chapped lips
- reducing painful sunburns
- helping with pregnancy and inducing labor
- and many more
One of the major reasons castor oil has strong immune-enhancing effects is because it supports the body’s lymphatic system. The most significant role of the lymphatic system, which is spread throughout the whole body in small tubular structures, is that it absorbs and removes excess fluids, proteins and waste materials from our cells.
Lymph nodes located within these tubes act like the body’s natural filters for toxins, and they also pump out antibodies when we’re sick to keep foreign proteins or bacteria at bay. If you’ve ever had an enlarged lymph node in your neck or near your genitals, for example, this is a sign that a high level of antibodies are being released in order to fight an infection near that area.
When the lymphatic system isn’t working properly, this can eventually lead to the failure of many healthy cells and possibly degeneration and destruction of organs. For example, poor lymphatic drainage of the heart is linked to tissue damage, which can add to or worsen coronary heart diseaseconditions.
Aside from capturing leaking fluid from our tissues that contain waste, increasing function of the circulation system and helping create defensive antibodies for the immune system, the lymphatic system also helps absorb lingering fat molecules within the small intestine. In fact, a large percentage of all the fat absorbed from the gut requires the help of the lymphatic system. Some fat molecules remain unabsorbed because they’re essentially too large to move from the small to large intestine. This means they can be released into the lymphatic system and then into the bloodstream, where they can be carried throughout the body to be used for fuel.
10 Castor Oil Uses
1. Improves Immune Function
Castor oil is believed to improve lymphatic drainage, blood flow, thymus gland health and other immune system functions. Research has shown that patients who use abdominal castor oil packs have significant increases in the production of lymphocytes compared with patients using placebo packs. Lymphocytes are the immune system’s natural “disease-fighters” that attack outside invaders such as toxins, bacteria and other perceived threats.
Castor oil helps with the production of proper levels of lymphocytes, which are released and stored within the lymphatic tissue from the thymus gland, spleen, lymph nodes and tissue that lines the small intestine. The lymphatic system also impacts the circulatory and digestive systems, which is why castor oil has benefits for helping you detox, supporting heart health and healing digestive issues like constipation, too.
Castor oil is hydrolyzed in the small intestine by pancreatic enzymes, leading to the release of glycerol and ricinoleic acid, along with other beneficial metabolites.