Castor oil is a remedy that has been used by traditional healers for a long time. Originating in India, this oil is great for numerous things including antibacterial applications, treating skin conditions, reducing pain, and stimulating the immune system (1).
Castor oil comes from the castor seed, Ricinus communis, and is a triglyceride composed of fatty acids most of which is ricinoleic acid. This fatty acid is thought to be the main source of castor oil’s healing properties. Other non-medical uses of the oil include:
- food additive
- mold inhibitor
- an ingredient in skin care products
- plastics (1)
Although castor oil has several amazing health benefits, this plant can also be deadly. The extremely potent toxin ricin is made from a protein in the castor seeds that if ingested orally, gets into the ribosomes of your cells where it prevents protein synthesis, which results in cell death.
Symptoms of caster oil poisoning include (7):
- Abdominal cramps
- Chest pain
- Hallucinations (rare)
- Shortness of breath
- Skin rash
- Throat tightness
If nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are not controlled, serious dehydration and electrolyte (body chemical and mineral) imbalances may occur which may result in heart rhythm disturbances. Based on the above, you can understand why it’s always important to use castor oil internally with a healthcare professional and to monitor the amount of castor oil you are ingesting.
Most recently castor oil has been used as a gastrointestinal remedy, an antimicrobial, a labor stimulant, an anti-inflammatory, and an immune system stimulant. It should also be mentioned that the topical application of castor oil also heals many skin conditions including, keratosis, dermatosis, acne, and ringworm (1).
Castor oil for inflammation
However, the anti-inflammatory properties of this oil are the most interesting to those with arthritis, back pain, and sciatica. In a double-blind study, subjects with symptoms of knee osteoarthritis were given castor oil capsules (0.8 ml) three times daily for four weeks. Subjects were evaluated at two and four weeks during completion of treatment. At the four week mark, it was seen that there was a noticeable improvement in disease conditions with no adverse side effects (2). In another study of ricinoleic acid ( the main component of castor oil) in animals, it was found that it had remarkable pain reducing and anti-inflammatory effects. They found that induced inflammation with carrageenan was significantly improved with 0.9 milligrams of ricinoleic acid (3).
It should be noted, however, that castor oil is not without its side effects. Some people have adverse skin reactions to it being applied topically, and it’s known to cause gastrointestinal upset (1). Because castor oil is broken down by your small intestine into ricinoleic acid, it acts as an irritant on your intestinal lining, and this is why castor oil has traditionally been used to treat constipation. If you suffer from cramps, irritable bowel, ulcers, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, colitis or prolapses, you should either be very careful when taking castor oil, or avoid it all together (4). Just know that consuming castor oil can result in a purging of the system and overdose is possible. Additionally, it has been known to cause nausea is some (4).
How to use castor oil for muscle pain, inflammation, or joint problems
To use castor oil for treating muscle pain, inflammation, or joint problems, apply castor oil directly to your affected joints or swollen body parts. The ricinoleic acid performs its duty by penetrating the tissues and effectively combats inflammation. But it’s been found that for knee pain in particular taking castor oil orally works best.
Castor oil pack
What you need:
- castor oil
- heating pad or hot water bottle
- plastc wrap
- large bath towel
- a couple of one-foot square pieces of cotton flannel
What to do:
- fold the flannel so it is thick enough to fit over your liver and upper abdomen.
- soak the flannel with oil at room temperature.
- Place the flannel pack onto your abdomen after lying on your back with your feet elevated. Place a sheet of plastic over the oil flannel, then put a hot water bottle on top.
- Cover everything with the towel for insulation, apply for 45 to 60 minutes. It’s difficult to wash off, so you’ll need two tablespoons of baking soda and a quart of water.
Castor oil can do so much for your body. Apart from fighting inflammation, it can also be used to promote hair growth, enhance color, and deeply moisturize the skin. It can be taken orally, topically, or in a castor oil pack. But remember it’s not without its side effects, so if you have a particularly sensitive stomach or respond to it with skin irritation, castor oil might not be for you. But if it is, applying it to your joints is a great way to fight arthritis and inflammation.