The approved FDA condition for which castor oil may be useful as a stimulant laxative, which can be beneficial in constipation and medical procedures. With chronic idiopathic constipation being one of the most common GI complaints, castor oil can be of great benefit. The use, however, has declined over the years as research has produced more effective laxatives with far fewer side effects.
In diagnostic tests such as colonoscopies, it is essential to have a bowel prep before performing the procedure. Castor oil may be used in these types of procedures as it is effective in bowel evacuation. In these procedures, however, patients typically have better results and satisfaction with other laxatives such as sennosides, polyethylene glycol, and bisacodyl. In a study comparing castor oil to senna graph syrup, the senna group had fewer side effects and better bowel preparation overall. Other uses of castor oil exist; however, these indications are not FDA approved. These uses include wound healing, arthritis, headache, menstrual cramps, and labor induction. Although these uses were common in alternative medicine for hundreds of years, in modern medicine, not enough scientific evidence can support these claims.
Although castor oil is not used often in modern medicine, its use is justified when the patient would prefer what they may feel is a more natural approach in terms of their care. With castor oil coming from the plant, Ricinus Communis, many patients may prefer its use due to its growth in nature, which inherently seems non-toxic and safer when compared to traditional medicine.  With more scientific literature of castor oils mechanism of action, side effect profile, and toxicity, it is now completely safe and effective for a physician to offer castor oil for its FDA approved indications.
The main chemical that exerts castor oils laxative property is ricinoleic acid. In the intestine, lipase breaks down castor oil into ricinoleic acid, which activates EP3 and EP4 prostanoid receptors in smooth muscle cells. The activation of these receptors creates a transient calcium surge, which creates propulsion in the intestine. Due to this mechanism of action, castor oil falls in the stimulant laxative category, just like bisacodyl and sennosides. EP3 and EP4 prostanoid receptors are also present in the uterus, which leads to the possibility of castor oil's use for the induction of labor; however, more research is necessary on this subject.
Castor oil is given orally as the oil needs to be broken down by intestinal lipases to have its stimulant laxative effects. The World Health Organization determined that an appropriate daily dose for an adult male is up to 0.7mg/kg.
The adverse effects of castor oil is a common reason why it is not used often in conventional medicine. In a study comparing castor oil to sennosides, castor oil tended to create abdominal cramping, vomiting, bloating, and dizziness. Far less adverse effects were occurring with the use of other laxatives.
Few studies have also proposed that long term use of a stimulant laxative may create a cathartic colon due to anatomic changes. Newer evidence is suggesting that a "cathartic colon" is not a real entity.
With castor oil affecting smooth muscle, recommendations are to avoid use in pregnancy, as this can cause premature contractions. Stimulant laxatives are also contraindicated in various abdominal pathologies such as gastrointestinal obstruction, appendicitis, perforation, and inflammatory bowel disease.
As with any laxative, monitoring for electrolyte disturbances and acid-base disorders is advisable. Imbalances may occur because of the loss of bicarbonate, water, and electrolytes and worsened with diarrhea. The patient's physical exam signs may demonstrate rapid breathing, confusion, sleepiness, vomiting, and weakness, especially in the presence of electrolyte disturbances and acid-base imbalances. These issues can potentially be lethal if not addressed immediately.
The physician should also monitor patients for laxative abuse. Patients with anorexia nervosa or bulimia are especially at risk as they may try to decrease weight through laxative abuse. Laxative abuse can be detrimental due to the loss of minerals, nutrition, and electrolytes.
The castor plant, Ricinus communis, is known to have a toxic chemical called ricin. If an individual eats Ricinus seeds directly, the ricin toxin can take effect in as little as 4 to 12 hours. Signs and symptoms of ricin toxicity include gastrointestinal bleeding, shock, pulmonary edema, and inflammation. These symptoms occur due to the inactivating effect of ricin toxin on ribosomes making the body unable to create proteins. The physician needs to give supportive care of the patient during ricin toxicity as currently, there is no antidote. The extraction process of castor oil due to ricin's water-soluble properties negates these toxic properties. Castor oil gets purified of ricin during the extraction process. Castor oil is completely safe for human consumption with minimal toxic effects in both acute and chronic settings. Castor oil has also demonstrated no genotoxic effects. Due to its well-known safety, castor oil is used widely for nonmedical purposes as well, such as lubrication, cosmetics, and coatings.
It is the responsibility of the health care team to be professional, ethical, and respectful of the patient's decisions in terms of their care. Due to the natural quality of castor oil, it may be the preferred treatment of choice for many patients. With increased scientific research regarding castor oil and the fact that castor oil has been in use for hundreds of years, physicians can comfortably prescribe this medication. The physician is responsible for a thorough exam and appropriate diagnosis before determining if the use of castor oil is appropriate as various contraindications exist. After prescribing the medication, it is important to monitor the patient closely because of the various adverse effects that can occur. As the primary contact for patient care, the nurse can help the physician identify any abnormalities in patient behavior, which may be signs of electrolyte imbalances, acid-base disorders, or dehydration. Lastly, the pharmacist can help the team with appropriate dosing and drug interactions. Due to castor oil being a potent laxative, the absorption of other oral drugs may be severely affected. Overall, the healthcare team needs to work together to ensure positive outcomes for the patient.
|||Final report on the safety assessment of Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Glyceryl Ricinoleate, Glyceryl Ricinoleate SE, Ricinoleic Acid, Potassium Ricinoleate, Sodium Ricinoleate, Zinc Ricinoleate, Cetyl Ricinoleate, Ethyl Ricinoleate, Glycol Ricinoleate, Isopropyl Ricinoleate, Methyl Ricinoleate, and Octyldodecyl Ricinoleate. International journal of toxicology. 2007; [PubMed PMID: 18080873]|
|||Black CJ,Ford AC, Chronic idiopathic constipation in adults: epidemiology, pathophysiology, diagnosis and clinical management. The Medical journal of Australia. 2018 Jul 16; [PubMed PMID: 29996755]|
|||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. Iranian journal of pharmaceutical research : IJPR. 2010 Spring; [PubMed PMID: 24363727]|
|||Marwat SK,Rehman F,Khan EA,Baloch MS,Sadiq M,Ullah I,Javaria S,Shaheen S, Review - Ricinus cmmunis - Ethnomedicinal uses and pharmacological activities. Pakistan journal of pharmaceutical sciences. 2017 Sep; [PubMed PMID: 29084706]|
|||Frass M,Strassl RP,Friehs H,Müllner M,Kundi M,Kaye AD, Use and acceptance of complementary and alternative medicine among the general population and medical personnel: a systematic review. The Ochsner journal. 2012 Spring; [PubMed PMID: 22438782]|
|||Tunaru S,Althoff TF,Nüsing RM,Diener M,Offermanns S, Castor oil induces laxation and uterus contraction via ricinoleic acid activating prostaglandin EP3 receptors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2012 Jun 5; [PubMed PMID: 22615395]|
|||Portalatin M,Winstead N, Medical management of constipation. Clinics in colon and rectal surgery. 2012 Mar; [PubMed PMID: 23449608]|
|||Xing JH,Soffer EE, Adverse effects of laxatives. Diseases of the colon and rectum. 2001 Aug; [PubMed PMID: 11535863]|
|||Roerig JL,Steffen KJ,Mitchell JE,Zunker C, Laxative abuse: epidemiology, diagnosis and management. Drugs. 2010 Aug 20; [PubMed PMID: 20687617]|
|||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. 2011 Oct; [PubMed PMID: 22069699]|