Some people swear by castor oil for weight loss, given that it is a laxative. Though it may help you shed a few pounds, it is far from a healthy approach for long-term use. Rather than relying on laxatives, it's better to use a nutritionally balanced diet and exercise.
Castor Oil for Weight Loss
According to an animal study published in May 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, castor oil breaks down in the small intestine which releases ricinoleic acid, the primary fatty acid in the oil. The intestine absorbs the fatty acid and stimulates a strong laxative effect.
A study featured in the February 2011 issue of the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice looked at the effects of castor oil on constipation in the elderly. The study determined that castor oil didn't affect the number of bowel movements or feces amount, but reduced straining during defecation, decreased the feces consistency score and increased feelings of a complete evacuation after a bowel movement.
By decreasing the symptoms of constipation, the study concluded that it's reasonable to use castor oil in controlling constipation symptoms.
Because of the laxative nature of castor oil, it's reasonable to see some weight loss after using it. The Mayo Clinic says to avoid taking castor oil late in the day because results occur within two to six hours. They also say to avoid taking any type of laxative for more than one week unless prescribed by a doctor, even if the laxative has not produced results.
Laxatives for Weight Loss
According to the Mayo Clinic, stimulant laxatives, such as castor oil, are often associated with overuse, intestinal cramping after dosing, skin rashes and potassium loss. It's true that laxative use may increase weight loss, but the results are short lived.
The National Eating Disorders Association says using laxatives as a method of weight control is a myth. The laxatives work on the intestines after the majority of food and calories have been absorbed. As such, the bowel movement contains little food and promotes the loss of water, indigestible fiber, minerals and electrolytes.
If using castor oil regularly reaches the point of laxative abuse, you may cause electrolyte imbalances that lead to improper function of many vital organs, laxative dependence requiring laxative use at higher doses to produce bowel movements, severe dehydration and organ damage.
Because of those risks, it's best to avoid using laxatives if you don't need them. Instead, turn to healthy ways to lose weight fast, such as drinking more water and eating smaller, more frequent meals. To lose weight at a healthy rate, you should lose no more than one to two pounds per week unless you're medically supervised.
Read more: 10 of the Most Common Weight-Loss Mistakes
Using Castor Oil Topically
Some people rub castor oil on their stomach. Castor oil is an effective skin moisturizer because of its ricinoleic acid content. It is a monounsaturated fatty acid that behaves as a humectant and moisturizes the skin. Humectants help the skin retain moisture by protecting the outer layer of skin so it cannot lose water.
Applying warm castor oil to your skin may help keep it moisturized and help it tighten. It is a natural alternative to many products that contain potentially harmful ingredients that may irritate the skin. Though safe for most people, it may cause an allergic reaction in others. Some believe that if you rub castor oil on your stomach you can massage the fat away, but there is no scientific proof to support this claim.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America: "Castor Oil Induces Laxation and Uterus Contraction Via Ricinoleic Acid Activating Prostaglandin EP3 Receptors"
- Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice: "An Examination of the Effect of Castor Oil Packs on Constipation in the Elderly"
- Mayo Clinic: "Laxative (Oral Route)"
- National Eating Disorders Association: "Laxative Abuse"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "How to Moisturize Your Skin"