CASTOR OIL FOR WOMB WELLNESS
Castor oil has been used by healers throughout history who understood its benefits in supporting wellness. In this piece, featured on the Birth Institute blog, I explore some of the new scientific research that verifies what healers have known for centuries, shares the impact castor oil has on PMS, fibroids, fertility, and postpartum recovery, and provides us with basic instructions for the use of the sticky oil.
The castor bean plant is a remedy with a remarkable history and wide variety of uses known around the world today and dating as far back as ancient Egypt. Though it has shown up in the medicine bags of countless folk healers throughout time, its observable results have often been dismissed and disregarded as unproven, or having cathartic effects due to aggravation and toxicity. There are now scientific studies verifying that castor oil works, and through very a targeted, non-toxic pathway.
One major community that has consistently valued the properties of castor oil and never abandoned its use, are midwives, doulas, and fertility specialists. As I discovered this relatively new research on the mechanism of castor oil, I found it exciting, though not surprising, to see that the intuition and experience in the lineage of birth workers was so perfectly aligned with the findings of what castor oil does biochemically.
Midwives and doulas have been fond of castor oil, taken orally, for its ability to start labor. Postpartum doulas suggest castor oil packs to help a woman’s body and abdominal organs return to normal function. Fertility specialists have used it to work on liver health and support hormonal balance.
In addition to birth workers, along the 4,000 year timeline of castor plant use, players have included healers from India, China, Persia, Greece, Rome, Aztec, Maya, Europe and the Americas. Many people age 50 and up still recall, but wish to forget, the dreaded spoon fulls of oily elixir they were force fed as a child by their Grandmother. We often find that Grandmothers are right on target with their “unproven” wisdoms, and it appears that castor oil has become yet another example.
How It Works Internally
The unique fatty acid compound that makes castor oil do what it does is called ricinoleic acid. Though other vegetable oils have some of this acid in their profile, castor bean oil is composed of 85-95% ricinoleic acid. According to a study published in October of 2014, it was shown that when castor oil is swallowed (by mice) the ricinoleic acid binds to prostaglandin receptor EP3. In the uterus, when EP3 binds to ricinoleic acid, it causes contractions and induces labor. Similarly, in the smooth muscle tissue of the small intestines, the ricinoleic acid binds to EP3 and stimulates a laxative response. (1)
This specific, and more sophisticated than expected, pathway of castor oil’s effect was demonstrated by a team of biologists from the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Germany.
Are topical treatments effective?
What do we know about the effectiveness of warm oil massages and castor oil packs? Do they work, and does the oil truly penetrate below the superficial layers of the skin?
Doulas have a myriad of experiences using the castor bean plant with their clients. Some mothers have difficult experiences when the dose they swallow produces more rapid results than is comfortable. Many Doulas have shared with me that they prefer to offer a belly massage with the oil as an alternative, and that they have seen this to have a more mild and gradual effect.
There are several studies showing significant positive results for castor pack therapy as:
- A successful means of reducing constipation in the elderly (2)
- An activator of the lymphocyte T-11 cells (3)(7)
The studies mentioned above show that topical castor pack therapy does have a positive result on healthy bowel function and relief of constipation symptoms. For 80% of the participants the condition was present for 10 years. The evidence of increased lymphocyte production from the use of packs also adds to the science behind the benefit of topical treatments. This small but growing body of research lends to the confidence in topical treatments. Furthermore, I find it interesting that pharmacological formulas of transdermal medicines incorporate castor oil as a vehicle for delivering drugs to localized areas.
The effect castor oil has on the lymph system is a major part of the castor pack magic! It has been said that a castor pack therapy can “activate lymph” or “increase circulation.” What this means is that it floats into the stream of lymph and increases the number of T-cell lymphocytes, thus empowering the body to produce more antibodies for killing viruses, fungi, and bacteria. (3)(7) The study observed a peak in results at 7 hours following use of a pack and then normalizing at 24 hours. This information affirms the value of keeping up with the therapy for a few days in a row.
The value of the lymph, and lymph-loving practices, is getting the spotlight in many popular natural health blogs these days. Not only does increased lymph flow activate a healthy immune response, it can pull up more toxins from the intestinal tract and from the extracellular spaces better. Lymph activity also aids the body in the absorption of nutritional fats. (4) Poor fat absorption can be an underlying issue with mood dips and disorders.
The main concentration of the lymph vessels are in the pelvic area and the ones inside the intestinal tract are known as the gut associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT. Sluggish lymph is a common aspect of modern living and current environmental realities. However, if one wants to access fuller vitality, maximize fertility, and longevity, then sluggish or clogged lymph cannot be ignored!
Tension and toxicity are often the culprits of so many pelvic health concerns. And although the GALT is in the gut and not the reproductive organs, it lives and operates right next door! It works in a different room of the same house. When you support the gut and the lymph in the gut, you support your reproductive health at the same time.
Once the river of lymph gets turned on and begins to flow more abundantly, the vessels widen. This awakens the parasympathetic nerves because they are what enervate the lymph vessels. It is believed that this relationship could be part of why castor oil packs bring people a sense of calm and help them sleep deeper when used before bed. This is great because more and more people are looking for routines to support a sense of calm in the evening in order to get a good night’s rest! Especially women who want to protect fertility or become pregnant soon need a nourishing evening routine to create a hormonally restorative lifestyle.
PMS, Fibroids, Fertility, and Postpartum Recovery
Premenstrual pain and cramping may be associated with the physical stress and emotional tension of stagnant lymph and the toxicity that builds up from the lymph river being too slow. Warm castor oil used as a massage or hot compress has been known to soften the pain and tension of PMS and offer a way for a woman to slow down and choose self care.
Fibroids typically have a connection with the body’s hampered ability to detoxify. (5) Hormonal imbalance and pelvic congestion are the result, if not a major part of the cause. Among other measures, women with fibroids often choose topical castor oil to relieve pain as well as to open up the intestinal and lymphatic drainage pathways.
For a woman preparing to conceive, castor oil packs can support the healthy flow of lymph, thereby helping to reduce pelvic and liver congestion. Pelvic congestion, or stagnation is the term you might hear from a Chinese Medicine doctor and it refers to reduced blood circulation and hormonal flow in the pelvic bowl and liver. This is seen as a common fertility challenge for many women, particularly those that spend a lot of the work day sitting at a desk. In this scenario, it is so important to take steps to clean the home, taking out the trash and wiping away the cobwebs of the pelvic bowl and set the stage for better function of the organs that live there.
Castor oil packs have been a useful strategy for womb wellness in the postpartum period by encouraging the uterus and intestines to return to normal function, supporting genitourinary recovery, and the release of organ adhesions. For a mother who has given birth by cesarean, adhesions and scars can slow the process of returning to normal. Castor oil packs are commonly a favorite strategy suggested by postpartum doulas and massage therapists to help with scars and adhesions.
After 4,000 years of use, the castor plant has established its value and potential for healing in folk medicine. Though it is not necessary, it is indeed interesting, to see how scientific research is identifying why it works. There have indeed been shadows and doubt around this plant, even among natural practitioners, and as with any powerful herb, it is warranted to be judicious and careful until you have developed a trust and relationship with it.
Perhaps the awareness of the studies mentioned in this article can help to clear some of the shadows and negative stigma around the castor plant. Certainly it is helpful to have greater confidence in what one recommends or invests time and resources in for themselves! And let this herbal story also help us to remember, not only the vast power of plants like castor to help us heal so many things, but the vast power of the human intuition and plant-human relationships which gave us an understanding of the castor plants actions with quite a reliable accuracy, well before the formal evidence of lab science.
How to use this remedy at home
Choose a high quality, organic, cold-pressed castor oil. Pour 1-2 tablespoons onto a 12X12 inch soft, natural fiber cloth. Apply the oiled cloth to abdominal area and seal area with a layer of plastic. Cover with by a hot water bottle and then a layer of insulating towels. Rest for 1-2 hours. To aid in the clean up, wipe area with a warm water solution of 16 oz water : 1 T. baking soda.
MENSTRUAL CARE: 2-3 days leading up to the beginning of your cycle. If you bleed heavily, do not let the treatment overlap with the first day of menstrual flow.
PRECONCEPTION: 3 days per week every week except week of menstruation. If attempting to conceive that cycle, stop after ovulation.
FIBROIDS & CYSTS : 3-4 days/week 2x day every week except week of menstruation.
POSTPARTUM : 3 days in a row as needed.
- Tunaru, Sorin, et al. Castor oil induces laxation and uterus contraction via ricinoleic acid activating prostaglandin EP 3 receptors. 2012.
- Arslan GG, Eser I. An examination of the effect of castor oil packs on constipation in the elderly. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2011;17(1):58-62.
- Grady, Harvey. Immunomodulation Through Castor Packs. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. Vol 7, Number 1: p 84-88. 1999.
- Douillard, John. Remove Toxins From Your Fat Cells. Life Spa Blog. 2015.
- Silva, Katherine. Fire Heart: The Life and Teachings of Maya Medicine Woman Miss Beatrice Torres Waight. p 218. 2011.
- Kennedy DA, Keaton D. Evidence for the Topical Application of Castor Oil. Int J Nat Med. 2012;5(1).
WARM UP YOUR WINTER CLEANSE
I have seen cleansing practices open the door to untapped physical energy and mental optimism and even relieve people, including myself, from difficult chronic health issues. A well-designed, well supported cleanse can be a very powerful way to promote vitality. There are also stories of cleanses gone awry. For some, going too extreme, too soon, without guidance, causes increased troubles instead of increased health. So if you are inspired to kick off 2016 with a cleanse, cheers to you, and read this first.
HEAL YOUR GUT WITH HERBAL TEA
There are a lot of fancy ways to repair your gut these days. And while I am all for many of them, and have been employing several of the current fashionable strategies myself lately (bone broth, glutamine, cleansing) I am also getting back to my hands down, favorite method to boost digestive wellness.
Herbal tea. I love it because it is simple, old-fashioned, and freaking delicious. When medicine makes your whole body go, “mmmm…” then you know you have struck gold!
The simplest of plants that we have all heard of before are potent indeed. Drink them as a tea daily and discover for yourself what happens to your digestion. It is bound to shift in a positive direction.
The herbs in my favorite gut healing formula are also very pleasing to the eyes! Flowers, green leaves and roots add visual and tactile enjoyment to the whole process even before you’ve got them steeped! Just pulling them out of the jar is pleasurable.
Let’s look at how these humble little plants prepared as an infusion can refuel your health by fostering gut healing.
C A L E N D U L A
Calendula flowers secret superpower is that they encourage lymphatic activity, particularly in the digestive tract. We have gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) throughout the intestinal lining. This is a major reason why it is said that 70% of the immune system is housed in the gut. The lymph system greatly benefits from extra support as it can be prone to slow flows if it gets over-loaded. Calendula is also an herbal source of glutamine. Yes, the stuff that gets isolated as a supplement and was originally called Intestinal Permeability Factor due to it’s ability to heal the permeations in the gut – it is present in calendula.
C H A M O M I L E
An herb of the highest order for inflamed tissues and nervous system agitation. When you have chronic or temporary digestive upset, stress and intestinal spasms are typically present as well, making chamomile’s sedative and antispasmodic properties welcome bonuses that produce a broad spectrum healing effect. Chamomile is often chosen by herbalists for skin irritations. It contains powerful essential oils that are useful in fighting off bacteria and fungus and aiding in cellular mitosis.
D A N D E L I O N R O O T
This herb is the best herbal remedy for improving gallbladder function. Our gallbladder helps to emulsify bile, and stores and releases it when needed for digestion of fats in our food. Dandelion also contains a constituent called inulin. Dandelion roots can contain as much as 25% inulin by weight. The presence is highest in fall harvested roots. Inulin is a special type of fiber that feeds the good bacteria in our body thus helping them to thrive and proliferate. It’s what we call a prebiotic in the nutrition world and it is essential to cultivating and rebuilding healthy gut ecology. If probiotics are being introduced with food and supplements, you want to be sure they have something to feed on to survive.
P E P P E R M I N T
Peppermint is the most reliable herb I know for addressing gastric bloating and dyspepsia – quickly! Peppermint works in a hurry on spasms of the digestive system by regulating and relaxing the hyperactive muscles. If you are currently experiencing GERD, you’ll want to avoid peppermint until the issue gets resolved because will likely relax your pyloric sphincter and exacerbate symptoms. Like chamomile, peppermint is loaded with essential oils that have been shown to cool inflammation and ward off fungal and bacterial growth. This herb is also valuable for its high mineral content, a key aspect of digestive repair.
R E D R O S E P E T A L S
A lesser known digestive herb, rose is in this blend for its cooling astringency making it ideal for peptic ulcers and acid reflux and can even keeps harmful bacteria in check. Rose petals are rich in vitamin C and vitamin K. Additional effects offered by rose are calming nervous exhaustion and uplifting the spirit.
L I C O R I C E
Licorice contains a variety of properties that aid in the repair of gastric ulcers, gastritis, mouth sores and herpetic sores. It has been found that it’s constituent glycyrrhizin has a profoundly anti viral effect. Licorice is also a demulcent, which means it soothes inflamed or irritated mucus membranes. This makes it a superb ally for many skin, immune and digestive troubles. In chinese medicine licorice is used to treat spleen and stomach insufficiency. Its pleasant flavor brings a sweet harmony that balances all the other herbs in the tea.
Christina’s favorite Gut Healing Tea:
2 parts Calendula
2 parts Chamomile
1 part Dandelion
1 part Peppermint
1 part Rose
½ part Licorice
Use this formula as a guide for ratios but it need not be exact. Pour 1 quart boiling water over 4 Tablespoons of herbs and cover. Let steep for 4-8 hours. Re heat on the stove or drink at room temperature. 3-4 cups/ day. You can make a large batch and store in refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Try this gut healing tea formula and tell me what happens!
VAGINAL ECOLOGY: THE KEY TO ACCESSING YOUR FEMININE POWER
This article was originally featured as a guest post on the Vibrant Souls blog
As women, our sensitive bodies are sounding an alarm and calling for a change. With so many of us experiencing vaginal infections that don’t seem to go away with standard treatment, it’s time to make a shift in the way we relate to, and treat, our beautiful yonis. Doing so is critical as we seek to tap into our vast feminine power.
Chronic, painful infections in and around your vagina can negatively impact your reproductive health and fertility. This threatens your whole body vitality, which in turn threatens your sense of happiness and your connection to the sacred feminine.
Fortunately, we are being invited to shift our perspectives on womb and vaginal health, and we’re becoming aware of the imbalances in our yonis and how to treat them. Given that these chronic issues are often not successfully normalized using current ineffective treatments, many women today are turning to ancient traditional wisdom. Women, we are ready to take matters of our yoni health in to our own hands and re-balance our lives by re-balancing our vaginal ecology.
Healthy Ecology Is Vital
The key to re-balancing your yoni health lies in understanding your vaginal ecology so you can keep it healthy. Healthy vaginal ecology means there is a sufficient amount and a diverse assembly of good bacteria that outnumbers the problematic, potentially pathogenic bacteria. When your vaginal ecology is balanced, your whole body is healthier.
Yet microbial balance in the vagina is commonly thrown off by an invasion of harmful pathogenic bacteria and yeast. Causes are varied and include, but are not limited to, the widespread overuse of antibiotics that creates ever stronger antibiotic resistant strains, synthetic fabrics and chemicals, and over-consumption of processed sugars.
Results from a Diflucan pharmaceutical survey show that 85% of teenage and adult females suffer with a bout of vaginitis (the catchall phrase for pain and inflammation of the vulva and vagina) at least once in their life. Many will contend with these issues for years to follow. Bacterial vaginosis (BV), which is the most common form of vaginitis, is when a certain kind of problematic bacteria proliferate in the mucus membranes of the vagina and vulva, often causing pain, itching and inflammation. However, a large portion of women who have BV are asymptomatic and unaware of the problem.
Given the vital strength, optimism and creative energy available if we can release our bodies from a low-grade or vigorous infection, it is critical that we address the challenges that may be tapping out our immune system. Imagine what power and grace could come with the additional energy and focus gained from a healthier yoni. This power could be utilized to tackle and enjoy the rest of life’s great challenges and pleasures!
Get Into Balance!
Research on what is needed for healthy vaginal membranes has been going on for almost 100 years! A report from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology noted: when L. acidophilus was introduced into the vagina, pathogenic bacteria such as staphylococcus, streptococcus, and diplococcus were replaced by these beneficial bacteria. The pH of the vaginal area shifted from an alkaline level to a more acidic level. The symptoms of vaginitis were promptly relieved and did not reoccur.
Abundant populations of friendly flora like L. acidophilus are not just nice health supplements, they are essential to your feminine well being and a yoni-happy lifestyle.
Yoni-Happy Lifestyle Tips
With plentiful problems lurking in the current mainstream way of life, as a woman you may have to make some important lifestyle choices that encourage and improve yoni health. Here are a couple simple tips for setting the stage to make the shift:
- Do a yoni steam at least once per month. Yoni steaming bathes the tissues in protective and microbe defending aromatic oils from plants that will help support your overall yoni health.
- Reconsider the products and fabrics you use that touch your vulva and vaginal membranes because often synthetic fabrics and harsh chemicals in soaps and detergents can cause irritation. Do you need them at all? Could you switch to natural versions with simpler, safer ingredients?
Peace In The Pelvis
Urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted infections are known to increase when vaginal ecology is out of balance. I have often heard from women that they had recurring BV or yeast infections and then contracted an STI, sometimes without even changing partners.
To maintain healthy cervical cells (those that your OB GYN analyzes when you get a pap), having a strong team of beneficial bacteria works to boost immunity and keep pathogenic invaders at bay. It is the job of L. acidophilus and other resident collaborators to protect the precious pelvic organs upstream of the vaginal canal from problems such as HPV.
Like the acidity in the stomach, the acidic environment of the vagina (which is created by the presence of L. acidophilus) acts like the bouncers at a club – making it tough for the wayward, uninvited types of microbes to enter. When this dynamic is functioning well, the bad microbes do not journey upward to ruin the party.
The result is peace in the pelvis.
Pelvic Health Tips
- Get cultured with a probiotic-rich diet. Fermentation is a fun and affordable way to transform your whole body ecology. Countless traditions of centaurians can’t be wrong! Also try replacing sugars and simple carbs with prebiotic starches (burdock root, sunchokes, leeks, garlic, asparagus) to encourage the new friendly microbes to stick around and flourish!
- Use castor oil packs. Topical warm castor oil over the lower abdomen have been shown to stimulate lymphatic activity and activate the immune system, helping the body to resist sickness. According to Christiane Northrup, M.D., “Castor oil packs applied to your lower abdomen two or three times a week can work wonders in preventing UTI’s because they appear to improve immune system functioning…. and decrease stress and adrenaline levels. “
Pleasure In Your Life
The blossoming of feminine power begins with the individual, and the willingness of each individual to open to her power demands a healthy foundation, i.e. a vital body and spiritual strength. If power is about one’s potential for self love, stamina, ability to exercise leadership and take a stand for what one believes in, a woman in her power wants to draw on all those capacities! She wants access to the full spectrum of her energy to develop this potential. Immune compromise and consistent pain between her legs surely holds her back. Immune health and the replacement of the pain between her legs with pleasure unleashes her power flow!
- How can you add more joy and creativity to your day? Life often gets over-run with business. For women, it is typically a long list of work and errands. Stress blunts immune power. Outsmart it by infusing joy and fun into your life.
- Have more orgasms! Ladies, have you heard about the awesome benefits of orgasms on your overall health and longevity? Orgasms have been shown to greatly optimize immune function, improve sleep, and alleviate depression!
The Wild Power Within
The time has come for the medical and cultural perspective on yoni wellness to be revisited.
The word ‘yoni,’ which is a Sanskrit term for the area from your vulva to your womb, also refers to the tremendous generative potential, pleasure and sacred energy it carries within you. This area where you create and birth life holds cellular magic and inexplicable feminine mystery. A lot of your power as a woman lies in this part of your body, whether you are birthing babies or not.
Claiming this word has helped many women give rise to the respect they want to cultivate for the sacred feminine.
Imagine what it would be like if you connected more frequently to the bliss and wild creative power of your yoni and less to the cyclical or chronic pain that sometimes occurs in that area.
Let’s consciously create this essential health and strength at the root of our beings, in our yonis!