If you have looked at social media recently you will see many videos all touting all the amazing benefits of castor oil rubbed in your belly button.  Any time I see things like this, you know me, I go REALLY?  I’ve seen claims that is connected to tons of blood vessels in your body carrying it everywhere, how the belly button has 72,000 nerves, how castor oil can cure everything from your endometriosis, cramps, gut issues, wrinkles, cause weight loss and on and on and on….

I haven’t looked at castor oil in a really long time.  Seems like it was something my grandmother believed in and gave it freely to her kids which saved me because my mom hated it and refused to torture my brother and I.  READ ON to learn about what benefits castor oil really has and which ones are just social media hype…. (FYI – I learned a lot researching this)

Before I address the whole castor oil in the belly button thing, I want to address castor oil in general.  Castor oil has been around since 1550 BC with some reports dating it back to 5000 BC where it was found in some Egyptian tombs.  In ancient times it was used medicinally as a laxative as well as topically to soothe joint/muscle pain and treat skin issues.  In addition, it has been used historically in many different applications from preserving food, a lubricant for airplanes, as an emulsion in some cement formulas, pain, soaps, brake fluids, perfumes, makeup and tried in many medicinal capacities.

Castor oil is a vegetable oil made from castor beans.  Castor oil plants and the beans they produce are highly toxic to humans and animals and have been shown to be lethal – so much so it has even been used as a biological weapon.  Ingesting even only as little as 1-10 seeds has resulted in circulatory failure.  It is not only dangerous when ingested but even with contact with the skin and can cause significant irritation.  While the plants and the seeds are highly toxic, castor oil itself is prepared in ways that the ricin portion which causes the toxicity is left out.  There are many, many studies looking at the toxicity of castor oil which is why the FDA has determined it is safe for use.  That being said, it doesn’t mean there cannot be some irritation from castor oil so always test yourself before jumping in with a high dose orally or topically.

When I did a pub-med search I was amazed at how many articles were published on the uses of castor oil.  Turns out a constituent in castor oil, ricinoleic acid, is highly absorbable so it has been used as a foundation for many transdermal applications including medicine and makeup and is actively being used for these purposes now.  The cosmetic industry uses castor oil in many products and an example is lipstick which reportedly has some of the highest concentrations.  There were many, many reports of adding things to castor oil to help with absorption thru the skin for a variety of reasons due to its’ excellent absorptive capabilities.

When taken orally it can be quite irritating to the gut lining which creates the laxative effect not only by coating the lining of the gut wall making it smoother for passage of stool therefore decreasing straining but also stimulates the contraction itself leading to more complete elimination.  There have been studies on using it as preparations for eye drops although don’t go try this yourself as there was toxicity reported to the cornea when applied by itself.  Studies are also indicate a possible use for stimulating contractions during labor as a method of induction of labor are promising.  Drug applications include it as a base of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel which is indicated for breast cancer and a new form of injectable testosterone that is a depot type of injection with only 4 injections a year is hoping to hit the market soon.

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The only links to weight loss with castor oil I could find seemed to be related to the diarrheal effect although one study in rats indicated there might be another link but didn’t comment on whether or not the rats had diarrhea as the cause of the weight loss.

Castor oil packs are an interesting delivery method and can be made at home using large pieces of cloth soaked in castor oil, layered together and placed on the part of your body that has the problem.  I have heard of them being used post-radiation, gut issues like constipation, joint pain and menstrual issues primarily.

Do NOT use castor oil of any kind with the following:

  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding (it can stimulate contractions and other issues)
  • Open skin lesions, irritated skin
  • Any sensitivity to castor oil – it can cause skin sensitivity so always test it first

So, while castor oil is a legitimate oil with many different reported uses would rubbing a small dab in your belly button really help with your entire medical ailments?  Doubt it.  Pooling oil in the belly button has been around for centuries though and is thought to have some medicinal qualities.  This is a practice known as Pechoti and literally involved pouring oil into the belly button and allowing it to sit there.  This is a looser version of a castor oil pack but involves the use of many different types of oil, not just castor oil.

The belly button is the shriveled up remnant of the umbilical cord that had the blood supply from mom’s placenta to the baby.  It consisted of two arteries and one vein that shriveled up and become a ligament that divides the liver.  Some might also have a ligament leading to the bladder or reproductive organs.  While there are many sensory nerves in the surrounding belly button area there are no direct nerves that originated in the belly button itself (at least that I could find using real sources as opposed to facebook sources).  However, when stimulated these ligaments can create sensations in your bladder area as well as reproductive organs and spine.  There have been some reports that massaging the belly button can help with menstrual cramps and provide some relief from constipation even without any type of oil at all.  Ayurvedic and Indian medicine report many techniques using different kinds of oils in the belly button for a variety of conditions so clearly this has been a method of use for centuries.

Take home point

  1. Castor oil is good for constipation.
  2. Castor oil topically may be useful for joint pain, menstrual cramps and endometriosis. The amount to use is determined by the user.
  3. It is a great method to increase absorption of many products.
  4. I see no harm in trying castor oil in your belly button. I’m just not sure it will truly address the plethora of ailments they are claiming.  Try it and let me know!

To your health,