Castor Oil: An Essential for Health
by Jeoff Drobot, NMD and Dickson Thom, DDS, ND
The American Center for Biological Medicine
Castor bean seeds (Ricinus communis) are thought to date back to 4,000 years ago and they have surfaced in historical documents for millenniums. They were even discovered in Egyptian tombs (1).
The plant has been called various names by different cultures. For example, the ancient Greeks called it Kiki and the Romans referred to it as the Palma Christi (due to its resemblance to the palm of a hand).
The first medicinal prescription of castor oil may have been in pre-Christian times. The Egyptian physicians instructed to chew the seeds of the plant with beer to relieve constipation (2) while the Aztecs used the oil externally to treat skin lesions and hemorrhoids (3). The Chinese used it to induce childbirth and expel the placenta (1).
Considering these specific historical uses, how did using this ancient oil topically in the form of a “castor oil pack” become part of the BTG’s? In fact, it never would have without the work of Edgar Cayce - an ordinary man with an extraordinary gift.
Edgar Cayce, a native of Kentucky with a ninth grade education, had the ability to enter into a hypnotic state and accurately diagnose a wide range of diseases for his clients. These hypnotic “readings” were very detailed and used precise medical terminology. Even more interesting was that Cayce had no medical ability when not in the trance.
Cayce is considered the most talented 20th century psychic as well as the "Father of Holistic Medicine" by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Out of the 9,000 health related readings, Cayce suggested using castor oil 545 times as the treatment for a variety of ailments (4).
Cayce listed over 30 physiologic functions of castor oil, including:
- Increasing eliminations, lymphatic circulation, relaxation
- Stimulating the liver, gall bladder, lacteal duct circulation, and cecum
- Dissolving and removing adhesions, lesions, and gallstones
- Relieving pain
- Reducing flatulence, inflammation, nausea, swelling
- Improving intestinal assimilation
- Coordinating liver-kidney function
How castor oil works is still a mystery.
Scientifically, castor oil has demonstrated immune stimulating properties. The oil may also have antiviral properties. The ricin, a substance in the bean, has been shown to kill the HIV virus in test-tube trials. Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that the ricin attacks and destroys both the virus as well as the cells in which it resides (3).
Interestingly, in 1913 Douglas W. Montgomery, MD reported his belief that castor oil acts on the ascending colon (3) and he also found the oil indispensable when treating diseases of the skin. Montgomery felt that toxins generated in the haustra of the colon caused many of these skin conditions. (He regarded this area as a favorable location for anaerobic proteolytic bacteria) (3). Naturopathically, this makes sense considering the important relation the digestive tract has with the skin.
Through its influence on the parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” system, castor oil may produce a sedative state in the body. Individuals have reported that the castor oil pack relaxes them and helps them sleep when used before bed. One author suggests that this may be the result of placing the packs over the solar plexus, the largest accumulation of autonomic nerve cells in the lower body (3). Considering the stress of modern living, this could prove to be incredibly beneficial.
Increasing the flow of lymph is definitely beneficial to detoxifying the body (see Lymphatic Massage). The lymph is the only fluid that maintains contact with every cell in the human body. It is the vehicle that allows the wastes accumulating around the cells to be removed. The oil is thought to act on the lymphatic system and increase the quantity of lymph, as well as contracting the lymphatic vessels. This increase in lymphatic flow is likely the result of the oil stimulating the parasympathetic nerves that innervate the lymphatic vessels. The increase in the quantity of lymph may result from hepatic stimulation, as the liver produces one-third to one-half of the lymph in the human body (3).
Castor oil packs have been scientifically proven to increase lymphocyte production and activity of T-cell lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells (1). Increasing lymphocyte 'traffic' throughout the body initiates and perpetuates the immune response (1). This equates to the body producing more antibodies as well as killing viruses, fungi, bacteria and cancer cells. This increase in T-cells peaks at seven hours after the treatment and declines to normal within 24 hours (exemplifying the importance of daily use).
The skin, being the primary barrier in the body, has an active role in immune functioning. T-lymphocytes reside in the skin's epidermis and dermis (1). Castor oil may trigger the T-cells in the skin to activate a general immune system reaction throughout the lymphatics. The messengers for this systemic reaction may be prostaglandins. The body's production of prostaglandins may be stimulated by the chemical similarity of the castor oil to immune stimulating prostaglandins.
If indeed castor oil did replicate prostaglandins, many of the oil's effects, controlling inflammation, stimulating smooth muscle, contracting vasculature, and stimulating the B and T lymphocytes, may be explained. Castor oil has been shown to produce prostanoids, which are precursors to prostaglandins (1). A further discussion of prostaglandins can be found in the flax/evening primrose section of this guide.
Another possible explanation for the increased lymphocyte count may involve a series of aggregated lymphatic nodules known as Peyer's patches, which vary in length from two to ten centimeters (3). Twenty to thirty of these patches exist with the largest and greatest concentration residing in the ileum. Each patch is a group of aggregated lymphatic nodules encapsulated in mucous membrane. They are most easily observed in younger individuals and may disappear with age (3).
They are considered to be important to the development of the immune system in children (see probiotics discussion).
According to Edgar Cayce, the Peyer's patches produce a substance that facilitates electrical contact between the autonomic and the cerebrospinal nervous system when it reaches those areas via the bloodstream. His readings suggested that the patches secrete substances that balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Cayce further believed that the health of the entire nervous system is, to an extent, maintained through the substances produced by the Peyer's patches when they are in good health. Although the Peyer's patches were discovered in 1677, it is only recently that medical science has begun to recognize them as constituents of the body's immune system.
In his last reading in 1944, Cayce stated, "when there is over exercise physically, or especially the mental forces as of worry or anxiety, to be sure it calls on the necessity of castor oil treatment”.
In 63% of Cayce’s readings the liver was the target organ for a castor oil pack and in 90% of his readings he suggested the pack be positioned to include the liver. The prescription of treatment was most commonly one hour three times a week over a cycle of three weeks with a one week break.
This was thought to evoke the body into developing its own functioning while adding additional tonification. However, with the considerable toxicity of today's world, daily use is necessary and the most efficacious method is to cover the entire abdomen with cotton flannel. This will maximize the oil’s positive healing influence on all the digestive organs.
A double-blind study, described by Harvey Grady in a report entitled “Immunomodulation through Castor Oil Packs” published in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, examined lymphocyte values of 36 healthy subjects before and after topical castor oil application. This study identified castor oil as an anti-toxin, and as having impact on the lymphatic system, enhancing immunological function.
The study found that castor oil pack therapy, of minimal two-hour duration, produced an increase in the number of T-11 cells within a 24-hour period following treatment, with a concomitant increase in the number of total lymphocytes. This T-11 cell increase represents a general boost in the body's specific defense status, since lymphocytes actively defend the health of the body by forming antibodies against pathogens and their toxins. T-cells identify and kill viruses, fungi, bacteria, and cancer cells.
Jeoff Drobot, NMD and Dickson Thom, DDS, ND
The American Center for Biological Medicine
1. Grady, H. Immunomodulation through castor oil packs. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. 1999;7(l): 84-88.
2. Gaginella, T. S., Capasso, F., Mascolo, N., Perilli, S. Castor oil: new lessons from an ancient oil. Phytotherapy Research. 1998;12:128-130.
3. McGarey, W. A. The Oil That Heals. A.R.E. Press, Virginia Beach, Virginia. 1993.
4. Grady, H. Castor Oil Packs: scientific tests verify therapeutic value. Ventrue Inward. 1988; July/Aug.: 12-15.