Castor Oil

Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More

Castor Oil

Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More
Castor Oil

Common Names

  • Palm of Christ
  • Palma Christi
  • Ricinus oil
  • Oleum Ricini
  • Castorbean Oil

For Patients & Caregivers

Tell your healthcare providers about any dietary supplements you’re taking, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, and natural or home remedies. This will help them manage your care and keep you safe.

What is it?

Castor oil is extracted from the beans of the castor plant. It has been historically used to relieve constipation, stomach ache and to induce labor. 

Castor oil supplements come as softgels, capsules, and liquids. It is also added to skin care products.

What are the potential uses and benefits?

Castor oil is used to:

  • Treat constipation (difficult or infrequent bowel movements)
  • Heal wounds
  • Induce labor (childbirth)

Castor oil also has other uses that haven’t been studied by doctors to see if they work.

Talk with your healthcare providers before using castor oil or castor oil supplements. Herbal supplements are stronger than the herbs you would use in cooking.

They can also interact with some medications and affect how they work. For more information, read the “What else do I need to know?” section below.

What are the side effects?
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Vomiting (throwing up)
  • Bloating
  • Dizziness 
  • Allergic reactions
What else do I need to know?
  • Avoid castor oil if you’re pregnant. Castor oil can cause premature contractions.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider if you have gastrointestinal obstruction, appendicitis, inflammatory bowel disease, bulimia (eating disorder) or anorexia nervosa (eating disorder). Castor oil may worsen your condition.

For Healthcare Professionals

Scientific Name
Ricinus communis
Clinical Summary

Castor oil is a thick, odorless oil extracted from the bean of the tropical flowering shrub Ricinus communis. It has been historically used to relieve constipation, stomach aches, colds, fever, as an eye lotion, and to induce labor. Currently it is used as a laxative and as an emollient in cosmetics and personal care products, drug delivery systems and wound dressings (1) (2). Castor oil is approved by the FDA for safe and effective use as a stimulant laxative.

In preclinical studies castor oil demonstrated antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, wound-healing, antinociceptive and cytotoxic effects (1). Limited clinical data suggest benefits for eye diseases (3), knee osteoarthritis (4) and a meta-analysis determined it can potentially improve the completion rate (CR) and polyp detection rate in colon capsule endoscopy (CCE). The authors suggest it should be actively considered as a viable component for bowel preparation alongside other emerging laxative regimens (5). Studies also support use of castor oil for inducing labor  (6) (7) (8).

Castor oil and Cancer

Centuries ago, castor oil was among the treatment options for breast cancer that was attributed to an excess of black bile by the Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen (9). Castor oil packs were also popularized in the 1920s by Edgar Cayce, a self-proclaimed psychic and faith healer, to eradicate tumors near the breast surface (10).

More recently, a castor plant fruit extract showed antiproliferative activity against breast cancer cell lines in vitro (11) and a castor oil extract had a suppressive effect on S180 body tumors and ascites tumors in murine models (12)
According to a case report, a formulation containing Balsam Peru, trypsin and hydrogenated castor oil  accelerated wound healing in a breast cancer patient following radical mastectomy (13). But there are no studies in humans that show castor oil has anti-cancer effects.

Purported Uses and Benefits
  • Constipation 
  • Wound healing
  • Labor
Mechanism of Action

Pharmacological studies revealed the main constituent ricinoleic acid to be responsible for the laxative effects of castor oil by influencing intestinal ion transport, water flux, and intestinal motility – through activation of EP3 and EP4 prostanoid receptors in smooth muscle cells. Research is needed to determine how castor oil induces labor (14).

  • Pregnant women should avoid castor oil as it can lead to premature contractions (20).
  • Patients with gastrointestinal obstruction, appendicitis, perforation, inflammatory bowel disease (20) and those with anorexia nervosa or bulimia (21) should also avoid castor oil.
Adverse Reactions
  • If castor seeds are ingested, its toxic compound ricin takes effect in as little as 4 to 12 hours causing gastrointestinal bleeding, shock, pulmonary edema, and inflammation (15). However, ricin is removed when extracting castor oil making it safe for medicinal and non-medicinal uses.
  • In a trial comparing castor oil to sennosides, more patients in the castor oil group reported abdominal cramping, vomiting, bloating, and dizziness (16).
  • Respiratory symptoms with rhinitis or asthma with castor bean dust, and anaphylactic shock with accidental ingestion of castor bean have also been reported (17).
  • Allergic contact cheilitis: In an adolescent after using a lip balm with castor oil as an ingredient (18).
  • Fatal sepsis in newborns: Associated with ingesting teas that included castor oil (19).
Dosage (OneMSK Only)
  1. Elkousy RH, Said ZNA, Abd El-Baseer MA, Abu El Wafa SA. Antiviral activity of castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) leaf extracts.  J Ethnopharmacol. 2021 May 10;271:113878.
  2. Kelly AJ, Kavanagh J, Thomas J. Castor oil, bath and/or enema for cervical priming and induction of labour.  Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jul 24;2013(7):CD003099.
  3. Sandford EC, Muntz A, Craig JP. Therapeutic potential of castor oil in managing blepharitis, meibomian gland dysfunction and dry eye.  Clin Exp Optom. 2021 Apr;104(3):315-322.
  4. Medhi B, Kishore K, Singh U, Seth SD. Comparative clinical trial of castor oil and diclofenac sodium in patients with osteoarthritis.  Phytother Res. 2009 Oct;23(10):1469-73.
  5. Deding U, Jensen SS, Schelde-Olesen B, Kaalby L, Bjørsum-Meyer T, Koulaouzidis A. Castor Oil in Bowel Preparation Regimens for Colon Capsule Endoscopy: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. Diagnostics (Basel). 2022 Nov 15;12(11):2795.
  6. Amerizadeh A, Farajzadegan Z, Asgary S. Effect and safety of castor oil on labor induction and prevalence of vaginal delivery: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2022;27:251-259.
  7. Bayoumi YA, Alalfy M, Sharkawy M, Ali AS, Gouda HM, Hatem DL. Castor oil for labor initiation in women with a previous cesarean section: A double-blind randomized study. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2022;35:8945-8951.
  8. Gilad R, Hochner H, Savitsky B, Porat S, Hochner-Celnikier D. Castor oil for induction of labor in post-date pregnancies: A randomized controlled trial. Women Birth. 2018;31:e26-e31.
  9. Lukong KE. Understanding breast cancer - The long and winding road.  BBA Clin. 2017 Jan 27;7:64-77.
  10. Levitsky DO, Dembitsky VM. Anti-breast Cancer Agents Derived from Plants. Nat Prod Bioprospect. 2014 Dec 3;5(1):1-16.
  11. Majumder M, Debnath S, Gajbhiye RL, et al. Ricinus communis L. fruit extract inhibits migration/invasion, induces apoptosis in breast cancer cells and arrests tumor progression in vivo.  Sci Rep. 2019 Oct 10;9(1):14493.
  12. Xiu S, Lu D, Li B, Wang Z, Tao J. [Antitumor effect of castor oil extract]. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 1992 Sep;17(9):560-1, inside backcover.
  13. McDougall CJ, Franklin LE, Gresle SO. Management of radiation dermatitis in a patient after mastectomy.  J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs. 2005 Sep-Oct;32(5):337-9; discussion 339-40. doi: 10.1097/00152192-200509000-00013.
  14. Tunaru S, Althoff TF, Nüsing RM, Diener M, Offermanns S. Castor oil induces laxation and uterus contraction via ricinoleic acid activating prostaglandin EP3 receptors.  Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jun 5;109(23):9179-84.
  15. Worbs S, Köhler K, Pauly D, Avondet MA, Schaer M, Dorner MB, Dorner BG. Ricinus communis intoxications in human and veterinary medicine-a summary of real cases. Toxins (Basel). 2011 Oct;3(10):1332-72.
  16. Ghazikhanlou Sani K, Jafari MR, Shams S. A comparison of the efficacy, adverse effects, and patient compliance of the sena-graph®syrup and castor oil regimens for bowel preparation. Iran J Pharm Res. 2010 Spring;9(2):193-8.
  17. Coattrenec Y, Jaques D, Jandus P, Harr T, Spoerl D. Anaphylactic shock following castor bean contact: a case report. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2017 Nov 24;13:50.
  18. Sánchez-Herrero A, Mateos-Mayo A, Rodríguez-Lomba E, Molina-López I, Campos-Domínguez M, Suárez Fernández R. Allergic contact cheilitis in an adolescent to ricinus communis seed oil (castor oil) in a lip balm. Contact Dermatitis. 2018;79:176-178.   
  19. Jean Baptiste W, Casseus M, Dev A, Joseph P, Wright PF. The dangers of castor oil tea in neonates in rural haiti: A case report. Front Pediatr. 2023;11:877550.
  20. Xing JH, Soffer EE. Adverse effects of laxatives. Dis Colon Rectum. 2001;44:1201-1209.
  21. Roerig JL, Steffen KJ, Mitchell JE, Zunker C. Laxative abuse: Epidemiology, diagnosis and management. Drugs. 2010;70:1487-1503.
  22. Alookaran J, Tripp J. Castor Oil. [Updated 2022 Nov 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan.
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