Castor oil is synonymous with great health. That’s what we have been told all the while.
I am not saying that’s false. I am just saying there is another side to it, lurking in the darkness. A side unknown to most of us.
And in this post, we venture into that dark side. The untold side of this amazing oil. Yes, I am talking about castor oil side effects.
Castor Oil – A Brief
Simply put, castor oil is the pale yellow liquid that is extracted from castor seeds (Ricinus communis). The Egyptians must be credited for recognizing its benefits and putting them to use – Cleopatra used it to brighten the pearly whites of her eyes.
It is used in cosmetics, medicines, massage oils, and medicines – given its powerful therapeutic benefits. Around 90% of the oil is comprised of ricinoleic acid, which is its primary healing agent (1).
All good. Until we come to the one question.
Does Castor Oil Have Any Side Effects?
Yes. Most of these are related to the skin and gastrointestinal health. The science (at least a major part of it) behind this being – when the oil reaches your small intestine, it is broken down into ricinoleic acid (2). This acid can irritate your intestinal lining.
Another factor to be considered is the source of the castor seeds out of which the castor oil is extracted. Most seeds are heavily sprayed with pesticides and chemically processed. This also can damage the quality of the oil, leading to side effects.
Castor Oil Considerations – Both Topical And Internal Use
The dangers of the topical use of castor oil include itchiness and inflamed or mildly red skin. A severe irritation might cause an uncomfortable rash.
It is with the internal use the side effects tend to get serious. Some of these include nausea, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal issues (3). Sometimes, these can get severe and, in rare cases, might lead to death.
Well, that’s the brief. But just the brief isn’t going to help. It is all about the details.
Which is what we will get into now.
Castor Oil Side Effects
Let’s take a look at what are the side effects of castor oil.
Castor oil overdose can cause nausea. Though recovery is likely, not controlling the nauseating symptoms can lead to serious dehydration and electrolyte imbalance (4). This can also lead to disturbances in the heart rhythm.
As per an Iranian study, castor oil can cause nausea (5). Talking about stimulant laxatives, as per a study, castor oil is less frequently used, given its side effect profile and poor palatability (6).
Castor beans contain ricin, one of the most toxic substances known. As per one study, though the exact symptoms are nonspecific, they are more likely to include diarrhea (9).
[ Read: Home Remedies To Get Rid Of Diarrhea ]
3. Skin Rashes
According to one study, castor oil was found to be mildly irritating to the skin of the test subjects (10). Other allergic reactions on using castor oil are itching and hives (11). These can occur on the site where the oil is applied.
There are certain (although rare) instances where leaving castor oil on the skin triggered skin rashes (12). One good solution for this is thoroughly cleansing the affected area with mild soap and water. You can also use a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water for this purpose.
4. Muscle Cramps
We know castor oil is a wonderful laxative. As per a report, muscle weakness and cramps could result from laxative overdose (13). In fact, muscle cramps that are a side effect of castor oil are so serious that they need immediate medical attention (14).
The presence of ricin in castor beans could be a reason for this. In fact, ricin is so potent that even inhaling dust that contains it can cause muscle aches (15). Also, if you happen to intake castor beans, there is something to be kept in mind – swallowing castor beans as a whole causes less severe ricin poisoning than when you chew the beans.
Dizziness is one of the symptoms of castor oil overdose. Other castor oil side effects include fainting and shortness of breath.
As per a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a case where a person was subcutaneously injected with castor bean extract, he experienced side effects like dizziness and nausea (16).
6. Ricin Toxicity
Shockingly enough, a dose of ricin as small as a few grains of salt is lethal enough to kill an adult human being. And the worst part – there is no antidote for it (17). Ricin is the toxic protein in castor oil seeds that deters beetles, birds, and other pests from eating them.
As per a report, chewing and swallowing castor beans releases ricin, which can cause injury (18). And according to another report published by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, swallowing a significant amount of ricin might result in vomiting or diarrhea that can eventually turn bloody (19). This can then lead to severe dehydration and low blood pressure. If this continues, within several days, the kidneys and the liver might also stop working – leading to death.
7. Might Be Harmful To Kids
Castor oil is notorious for causing disturbing effects in children. Hence, we advise parents against giving castor oil to their children – unless there is guidance from a qualified health expert.
Castor oil is a big NO for a 2-year-old – as (s)he would be too young for the harsh laxative. Coming to children below 6 years of age, they may not be able to discuss their symptoms accurately – which is why giving castor oil could be a bad idea. Young children might also be sensitive to the potential effects of castor oil. Doctor advice is a must.
More importantly, if you plan to have a castor plant in your home, be watchful of the children at home (20). And if you are in doubt, it’s better not to have the plant at all.
Castor oil is not recommended for chronic use for children under 10 years of age.
[ Read: Is Castor Oil Safe For Babies? ]
8. Abdominal Cramps
In one case of attempted suicide by a 58-year-old by castor bean ingestion, the patient had experienced severe bouts of vomiting and continuous abdominal cramping (21).
In fact, ricin is so potent that consuming ricin-contaminated material can cause abdominal cramps (22).
One report completely discourages the use of castor oil as a laxative, given its potential to cause abdominal cramps (23).
9. Gastrointestinal Irritation
Gastrointestinal irritation is one of the initial symptoms of ricin ingestion. This can occur within 6-12 hours of ingestion (24). Other gastrointestinal issues ricin ingestion can cause include nausea and vascular collapse (25).
These are the castor oil side effects. But there is nothing to worry – as you can always take precautions.
You must be thinking after reading all this that is castor oil safe for future use. Before you intake castor oil, you must first let your doctor know that you are allergic to it. This, when you have had it in the past with unpleasant effects. You must also inform them if you have any other allergies.
Also, let your doctor know your medical history. Certain conditions that must not be hidden include appendicitis (or its symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, or unexplained stomach pain, bleeding from the rectum, intestinal blockage) (26).
And supplements? What about them?
Side Effects Of Castor Oil Supplements
Castor oil supplements are usually in the form of gelatinous capsules. And yes, they too have side effects if taken in excess. This is because the supplements carry the risk of higher levels of contamination. Also, it is highly likely that castor oil supplements contain castor beans, which are highly toxic.
Other side effects of excessive consumption of the supplements are similar to that of castor oil – abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea, etc.
The supplements must specifically be avoided by pregnant or lactating women. Also, castor supplements containing other natural herbs can increase the risk of allergies.
The castor oil bad effects that we have discussed so far have largely got to do with the dosing. So, what could be the ideal dosing?
If you are taking castor oil for its laxative effects, don’t go beyond 5 ml. And for inducing labor, the upper limit is 120 ml. But yes, doctor advice is necessary in both the cases.
Expert’s Answers for Readers Questions
What does castor oil look, taste, and smell like?
The oil has a greenish appearance. It has a characteristic odor and a nauseating taste.
What is castor oil made of?
The oil largely comprises of triglycerides. The major acid is ricinoleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains other acids like oleic and linoleic acids.
Where is castor oil produced?
India, Brazil, and China are the major producers of castor oil. The three countries account for over 90% of the world’s castor oil production.
What is the best castor oil brand?
Though there are numerous good castor oil brands on the internet, one that stands out is Organic Castor Oil by Cammile.
Do castor oil packs also have side effects? If yes, what are they?
Actually, no. At least not as severe as oral ingestion of castor oil would cause. Castor oil packs are known to decrease inflammation, liver detoxification, and stimulation of the thyroid gland (beneficial for hypothyroidism).
Making the pack is simple. Simply soak a flannel cloth in castor oil. Place a heating pad over it, and directly apply it to the infected area for an hour.
Is castor oil safe for eyes?
Though it is not harmful, castor oil side effects on your eyes may not be desirable. This is because castor oil might dry out the skin way too much. This is okay for the skin on other areas of the body, but the skin around the eyes is delicate. This might cause unpleasant effects.
Castor oil can probably be good for the growth of the eyebrows and eyelashes.
Does castor oil expire?
Yes. And there is a simple way to check that. Good castor oil will be clear and not cloudy. It can be anywhere between light straw color to the color of gold. But definitely not dark brown. Also, good castor oil is odorless.
What are the side effects of zinc and castor oil cream?
This is a popular drug that has an antiseptic action and is usually used for relieving nappy rashes in babies and other minor skin irritations.
But it should not be applied to patients who are allergic to peanuts. Same goes for patients allergic to soya.
What is hydrogenated castor oil and what are its uses?
Hydrogenated castor oil, also known as castor wax, is produced by bubbling hydrogen gas into castor oil. As a result, it turns into a wax-like substance.
This oil is used in cosmetics, petrochemical products, polishes, coatings, and greases.
How does castor oil work for an itchy scalp?
The oil’s antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiviral properties help treat an itchy scalp. Mix a tablespoon of castor oil with olive oil and the juice of half a lemon. Apply to your hair and rinse after half an hour. This helps cure dandruff as well.
Use castor oil in limits, and it will serve you well. Exceed the limits, we have a problem.
That’s about castor oil and it’s dark side.
Tell us how this post on disadvantages of castor oil has helped you. We are looking forward to reading your comments.
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