If you are on my email list, then you know that I am currently undergoing a very strict detox protocol for SIBO. To help my body detox even further, I have taking additional steps like doing oil pulling, dry brushing, and taking clay baths. One other thing I have tried is castor oil packs for detox.
What is a Castor Oil Pack?
Castor oil is the oil made from pressed seeds from the Ricinus communis plant. Castor oil is a common anti-constipation remedy and recently has become very popular as a way to clean your skin with the oil cleansing method (note: some find it too astringent for oil cleansing). Castor oil has been used for at least 4000 years and was even found in tombs of Ancient Egyptians.
Castor oil packs were first popularized in the 1900s by a man named Edgar Cayce. The process involves soaking layers of flannel with castor oil, then applying the flannel to your body (for detox, above the liver). You put a sheet of plastic over the flannel and top it off with a hot water bottle. I’m assuming the heat is supposed to help the castor oil get into your skin. You leave the castor oil pack on for about 2 hours.
Some of the purported benefits of castor oil packs are for treating:
- Menstrual cramps
- Circulatory problems
- Joint pain
- Liver disorders
- Improving lymph flow
Studies about Castor Oil Packs
There is a lot of research supporting the benefits of castor oil for reducing inflammation and also as an antibacterial. These two properties is what makes castor oil a great natural treatment for skin problems like acne, rashes, and fungal infections. Since it is an oil, it works wonders for drawing oil out of your face (the principle of like dissolves like), which is why some recommend it for oil cleansing. I like this brand of castor oil for oil cleansing.
When it comes to castor oil packs though, there isn’t much evidence showing that putting warmed castor oil on your body will have any benefits. Edgar Cayce claimed that castor oil helped to heal the lymphatic tissue in the small intestines, thus increasing absorption of fatty acids and allowing for tissue growth and repair – but he never gave any proof to back this up other than his own experience. (Source)
If you read through the interwebs about how castor oil packs work, you will find that pretty much all of them which mention “proof” or “scientific study” are referencing a study performed by Harvey Grady in 1999. You can see the PDF of the study here.
In the study, Grady took 36 human subjects and measured their T-11 cells before and after a 2-hour application of a castor oil pack. His results?
“Initial comparisons of group means showed no significant differences between group responses, due to the use of healthy subjects who blood values were generally within normal ranges. More sensitive analysis was done…where the experimental group (castor oil) showed increases in the number of total lymphocytes and T-11 cells at a significant level of P=0.01, which did not occur in the control group.”
To summarize his results, Grady found that castor oil packs did increase T-11 cells very slightly for 7 hours after the 2-hour treatment, but levels returned to normal 24 hours later.
T-cells come from bone marrow and the thymus gland, and they kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and cancer cells. So, Grady’s theory is that T-11 cell increase means that the body’s natural immune system is boosted. He theorizes that the castor oil packs might influence immune system because:
- T-cells (which exist throughout the skin) may communicate and influence the activity of the general immune system
- Castor oil may stimulate prostaglandins activity, which play an important role in regulating cell division in the body and are involved in immune response.
The problem with Grady’s study is that it only had 36 subjects – which is hardly a large sample group. His theories on why castor oil packs increase T-11 cells, while definitely interesting, are not backed up by research or proven in any way.
The only other studies about castor oil packs that I could find were performed by the Meridian Institute. One study (read here) of 3 subjects found that castor oil was probably not absorbed through the skin. Another study (read here) of 10 subjects found that castor oil packs had no affect on the metabolization of caffeine, aspirin, or acetaminophen.
Note about Castor Oil and Toxicity
A spoonful of castor oil used to be a go-to cure for constipation. Today, the advice is that castor oil is safe topically, but should never be ingested because it is toxic.
What! Why would I want to put something toxic on my skin???
Castor seeds contain a protein called ricin which is very toxic. If ricin gets into your body, it can get into the ribosomes of your cells and prevents protein synthesis, thus killing the cells. So, you don’t want to eat a handful of castor seeds – and you definitely don’t want to be working in the castor oil factories in India because ricin can be inhaled and harm you. But, according to the International Journal of Toxicology’s Final Report on Castor Oil, you don’t have to worry about ricin in castor oil.
The ricin from the seeds does NOT get into the castor oil. That explains why so many people took castor oil throughout history without experiencing bad effects. It is definitely safe when used topically and the FDA (not that they are the most reliable source on what is safe!) says that castor oil is safe to ingest up to 0.7mg per kg of body weight.
Here is an interesting note about castor oil and toxicity. Because ricin is so effective at killing cells, it is being researched as a cancer cure. When an antibody is used to deliver it directly to a tumor, it kills cancer cells! (Source)
Should You Try a Castor Oil Pack?
There isn’t much evidence supporting castor oil for detox. Still, I figured it couldn’t hurt so I gave it a try. Honestly, I haven’t noticed any benefits other than what lying down with a hot pack on you would do. But, if you are interested, try it for yourself! At the very least, it will make your skin super soft. You can also use the castor oil for cleaning your skin and removing makeup, so it is worth buying.
UPDATE: Good news! If you want to find out whether you have heavy metals in your body, there is now a test you can order directly without a doctor’s order. While I’m a HUGE fan of having a doctor’s guidance, I understand the need to know whether you have heavy metals or not before you invest in a practitioner. You can order the test here.
Castor Oil Pack Instructions
You will need:
- Castor oil (I use this brand because it is a good quality and cheap)
- Flannel (I used this pack which is natural and unbleached)
- A piece of plastic (a plastic garbage bag will work)
- A hot water bottle (any drugstore should have these or you can buy one online here)
- Choose a space where you can lay down comfortably. Cover it with an old towel in case any castor oil drips. For extra protection, put a garbage bag down and then put the towel on top of this.
- Get your hot water bottle ready
- Fold the sheet of flannel so it has 3 or 4 layers. It should be big enough to cover the affected area (in my case, my abdomen).
- Thoroughly saturate the flannel with the castor oil. It should be wet everywhere, but not so soaked that it is dripping.
- Lay down and put the flannel over the affected area
- Cover the flannel with the piece of plastic
- Put the hot water pad on top of the plastic.
- Keep the pack on for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
Where to Apply the Castor Oil Pack:
- For liver detox: apply to the right side of the abdomen
- For menstrual problems and uterine or ovarian cysts: apply to the lower abdomen
- For constipation: apply to the abdomen
- You can reuse castor oil packs up to 40 times. Just put it in a big plastic bag (I use a gallon size ziploc) and store it in the refrigerator. If it starts to smell bad, then it has gone bad. It should last at least 2 weeks in the fridge.
- Some sources say to heat the castor oil pack before you apply it. I haven’t tried it but you can do this by putting the flannel on top of an electric heating pad. Remember to cover the heating pad with plastic first so it doesn’t get all oily! Don’t put castor oil packs in the microwave to heat them!
- Clean your skin before putting your clothes back on! (I find a warm washcloth with castile soap works well). Otherwise your clothes can get stained by the castor oil. Or hop into a relaxing Epsom salt bath, which is also a good way to detox.
Have you tried castor oil packs for detox? What was your experience?