In the never-ending quest to ease pain and promote healing, nonconventional medical treatments arise, some more effective than others. The use of castor oil packs, like other holistic treatments, has some staunch supporters as well as a few skeptics. Introduced in the early 1900s by Edgar Cayce, a reported sleeping prophet and medical psychic, the treatment’s popularity spread, and today, even a few medical doctors recommend the packs to their patients. Clinical studies confirming the benefits of castor oil packs are lacking, but their popularity continues.
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Before his death in 1945, Cayce gave thousands of medical readings while in a self-induced trance state. During these readings, Cayce recommended the use of castor oil packs 575 times for menstrual cramps, lymphatic disorders and other medical conditions. Cayce did not track the patients who sought his help in any organized manner, so whether they used the packs and got better is unknown. The Association of Research and Enlightenment, an organization formed to carry on Cayce’s work, now shares his recommendations for using castor oil packs with the public.
A castor oil pack consists of a large piece of white wool flannel folded into a 10-inch square and saturated with cold-pressed castor oil. After wringing out the excess oil, the cloth is placed on the body. Cayce frequently suggested that patients position the pack on the lower right side of the abdomen. A layer of plastic wrap covers the cloth and a heating pad goes on top, turned up as high as the patient can comfortably tolerate for about an hour.
Cayce recommended castor oil packs for debilitating menstrual cramps, constipation, diverticulitis, liver disorders and circulatory problems. Today, patients also use the packs for joint pain, bruising, torn muscles and even migraines; although no medical evidence exists to confirm the effectiveness of the packs.
Dr. William McGarey, physician and author of “The Oil That Heals: A Physician’s Successes With Castor Oil Treatments,” notes that his patients who used castor oil packs experienced enhanced lymphatic circulation, which McGarey believes might stimulate the immune system.
The Meridian Institute conducted a 2005 study to determine whether castor oil was absorbed through the skin and into the body. Test subjects submitted urine samples before, during and after using castor oil, both orally and through the application of a castor oil pack. The results indicate that castor oil probably does not absorb into the body or it metabolizes before it passes out through the urine.
If castor oil packs are effective in regulating the lymphatic system or in relieving pain, the method by which they work is unknown.
Using castor oil packs frequently might result in slight skin irritation, although Dr. Andrew Weil, author of several holistic health books, says that "castor oil packs can’t hurt you,” although he adds that he’s seen no evidence that the packs are more beneficial than a plain hot pack.
Those hypersensitive to the castor plant should not use castor oil packs.