It may be an old wives’ tale: that taking castor oil helps to induce labor. However, it may well work and scientists have identified the active ingredient which helps trigger maternity process.
Many people take castor oil to help ease constipation or to induce labor. For some, taking the castor oil actually works. Until recently, however, scientists have not known how pressed castor oil, extracted from the castor bean, actually works.
Castor oil is a vegetable oil and is a colorless to very pale yellow liquid with mild or no odor or taste. Castor oil is used for a variety of purposes including the manufacturing of soaps, lubricants, hydraulic and brake fluids, paints, dyes, coatings, inks, cold resistant plastics, waxes and polishes, nylon, pharmaceuticals and perfumes.
Phys org reports that recent analysis, carried out in Germany and led by Sorin Tunaru, has shown that the key component within the oil is ricinoleic acid. Ricinoleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid.
Ricinoleic acid appears to target the receptors on smooth muscle cells in the intestines and uterus. This activity acts to stimulate contractions.
The research into this ‘active ingredient’ was undertaken in mice at the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research. In the studies, ricinoleic acid stimulated uterine contractions in pregnant rodents.
The research may lead to the development of new laxative drugs given that the mechanism for laxation and inducing birth is very similar.
The analysis was published in May 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).