If you have interstitial cystitis, chances are you have a toxic body. Your body is out of balance and is no longer keeping up with all of its processes at optimal levels. Problem is, a typical detox may be too strong for someone with IC, as we also tend to be quite sensitive and our livers can often be sluggish. Not to mention, a detox may cause our bladders to flare too much because the urine becomes even more acidic during a detox due the toxins and wastes leaving the body quite rapidly.
For women and men with IC, it’s important to incorporate gentle detox methods regularly, in order to slowly but surely cleanse the body of toxins. Castor oil packs are a great tool for this and can help with the healing process on several fronts!
What is castor oil?
Castor oil is a vegetable oil derived from the seed of the castor plant, ricinus communis. It is also known as Palma Christi because its leaves are said to be shaped like the hands of Christ and due to its healing abilities. The plant is also known as the African coffee tree, Arandi, Bi Ma Zi, Bofareira, Castor bean plant, Erand, Gandharva hasta, Mexico seed/weed, mole bean, oil plant, Tangantangan oil plant and the Wonder tree.
The most abundant fatty acid in castor oil (90%) is ricinoleic acid, an unsaturated omega-9 fatty acid, known for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. The other two fatty acids are linoleic and oleic acids. Carbohydrates, enzymes, mineral salts, vitamin E, water are also present. Ricin, a toxic plant protein found in the hull (outer layer) of the castor seed, is removed during the extraction process.
A popular folk remedy, castor oil was most commonly used as a laxative in the case of constipation, a purgative to rid the body of parasites and other foreign “invadors” and as a labour inducer for pregnant women. In all of these cases, the castor oil was taken internally.
Nowadays, castor oil is generally used topically, instead of internally. Castor oil is broken down by your small intestine into ricinoleic acid, which acts as an irritant to your intestinal lining. When taken internally, it is more likely to cause digestive discomfort, diarrhea and nausea. When applied topically, the possibility of these side effects is still there, but to a lesser degree.
Castor oil packs
The best and most effective way to apply castor oil topically, is the castor oil pack! A castor oil pack exerts mild compression and tension on the skin to increase pore sizes. This allows the castor oil to enter through the hair follicle and reach deep into the dermis where circulation lies. It also prevents the substance from rubbing off or evaporating. I will explain exactly how to make and use a castor oil pack, but first, let’s go over how castor oil packs can help those with interstitial cystitis.
7 uses of castor oil packs for interstitial cystitis
1) Reduce inflammation and pain
Castor oil packs can be used for both an acute and painful flare situation, or long term to decrease inflammation. The castor oil pack will be placed across the lower abdominal/pelvic region. If using the castor oil pack with heat further irritates your bladder, try it without the heat to see how it works. Start out with just 15-20 minutes and if you don’t experience any adverse reactions, keep it on for 30-45 minutes. If you are not applying heat, you can keep it on for even longer.
2) Constipation relief
If you are not having at least one bowel movement a day, you are constipated. Toxins and waste, such as excess cholesterol, hormones and by-products of bacteria, have time to reabsorb back into your body. This puts extra strain on your liver and causes bloating, cramping and gas. Castor oil packs promote regular bowl movements and decrease constipation. With IC in particular, being constipated can put extra pressure on the bladder area and is definitely something we want to avoid. Use a castor oil pack large enough to cover your entire upper and lower abdominal regions.
3) Liver detoxification
Today, our livers are overworked trying to eliminate all of the toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis. Castor oil packs help the liver work more efficiently by aiding in the detoxification process. Castor oil packs have also been shown to decrease inflammation in the liver and lower elevated liver enzymes in the blood. Detoxing is an important aspect of healing from any chronic disease, as those with chronic disease tend to have an increased toxic burden. Use a castor oil pack that covers your upper abdominal region.
4) Hormonal balance
Castor oil packs help to balance the levels of hormones in your body by making you bowels and liver more efficient in excreting excess hormones. Used topically, castor oil packs can help treat uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts and fibrocystic breast conditions, all of which are related to hormonal imbalance and are more common in women with interstitial cystitis. Regaining hormonal balance is a necessary component of healing from IC. Use a castor oil pack that covers your entire abdominal region. If you have any of the conditions noted above, use a castor oil pack that covers the pelvic region as well.
5) Reduce Stress and enhance sleep
Our nervous system can be in one of two states – sympathetic mode, also known as “fight or flight”, or parasympathetic mode, also known as “rest and digest”. You have probably noticed the connection between stress and an IC flare. It is a major IC trigger and in order to heal the body needs to be in parasympathetic mode the majority of the time. Castor oil packs placed over the entire abdominal region help put you into parasympathetic mode, thereby decreasing cortisol levels and helping you achieve a more restful sleep.
6) Improve immune and lymphatic systems
Regular use of castor oil packs can improve the function of your immune and lymphatic systems. This is accomplished by stimulating the thymus gland and increasing the number of lymphocytes, which aids in fighting infections, removing toxins and increasing blood circulation. With IC, your immune and lymphatic systems need extra support. Use a castor oil pack that covers your entire abdominal region.
7) Decrease internal scarring
With long term inflammation, scars eventually begin to form on the bladder wall, causing a stiffening of the bladder and reduced urine capacity. Even if you come to a point where you are no longer actively inflamed, a scarred bladder will result in increased frequency because you are unable a lot of urine at one time. Castor oil penetrates through the layers of skin and can break down and reduce internal scars over time. Use a castor oil pack that covers your lower abdominal region/pelvic area.
How to make & use a castor oil pack
- High quality, cold-pressed castor oil (see below for recommended brands)
- Hot water bottle or heating pad
- 2-3 one-foot square pieces of cotton flannel or wool, or one piece long enough to cover the treatment area when folded into thirds
- Plastic wrap, sheet of plastic or plastic garbage bag
- One large old sheet or bath towel
- Glass container to store your castor oil pack in the fridge
- Fold flannel three layers thick so it is still large enough to fit over your entire upper abdomen and liver, or stack the three squares.
- Soak flannel with the oil so that it is completely saturated. The oil should be at room temperature.
- Lie on your back with your feet elevated (using a pillow under your knees and feet works well), placing flannel pack directly onto your abdomen; cover oiled flannel with the sheet of plastic, and place the hot water bottle on top of the plastic.
- Cover everything with the old towel to insulate the heat. Take caution not to get the oil on whatever you are laying on, as it can stain. If necessary, cover that surface with something to protect it.
- Leave pack on for 45 to 60 minutes.
- When finished, remove the oil from your skin by washing with a solution of two tablespoons of baking soda to one quart water, or just soap and water. (Be sure to wash the towel by itself, as the castor oil can make other clothes stink if washed together.)
- You can reuse the pack several times, each time adding more oil as needed to keep the pack saturated. Store the pack in a large zip-lock bag or other plastic container in a convenient location, such as next to your bed. Replace the pack after it begins to change color.
- For maximum effectiveness, apply at least four consecutive days per week for one month. Patients who use the pack daily report the most benefits.
(Procedure taken from Dr. Mercola)
An easier method
I prefer to use the OJA compress and flannel insert by Ecoqol, which are made of 100% certified organic cotton. They are free of toxins and dyes and are re-usable/easy to clean, compostable and handcrafted in Canada . You should be able to pick one up at your local health food store. Here are three videos to give you an idea of the benefits of the OJA compress and how they work: introduction, instructions and body compress.
Please note: I have no affiliation with Ecoqol and do not benefit financially from them in any way. I just seriously dig their product!
How to choose a quality castor oil
Select a castor oil that is organic, cold-pressed, hexane-free and comes in a dark glass bottle, like the Pukka or OLJA brands.