How to Sync Your Many Circadian Rhythms

  • Your brain’s suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) serves as the master biological clock that regulates your body’s circadian rhythms

  • Your body’s central circadian clock is not alone; peripheral clocks are found in various tissues and nearly every organ throughout your body, including the liver, lungs, heart and skeletal muscles

  • Shift work, jet lag and many other factors can throw your circadian rhythm off kilter; your body relies on zeitgebers — external cues that help regulate and synchronize your circadian rhythms — to get back on track

  • Exposure to bright light, ideally from sunlight, during the day and avoiding artificial light at night is a powerful method to keep your circadian rhythms in sync

  • Meal timing also influences your circadian rhythms; it’s best to avoid eating before sunrise or after sunset and to stop eating at least three hours before bedtime

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The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is a small region located in your brain’s hypothalamus. It serves as the master biological clock that regulates your body’s circadian rhythms — the 24-hour cycles that govern various physiological and behavioral processes, including your sleep-wake cycle, hormone release and body temperature.

But your body’s central circadian clock is not alone. The discovery of “peripheral clocks,” also known as peripheral oscillators, expanded our understanding of the body’s circadian system beyond the central clock.

Peripheral clocks are found in various tissues and nearly every organ throughout your body, including the liver, lungs, heart and skeletal muscles. These clocks help regulate local physiological processes in coordination with the master clock in the SCN. While ambient light is a primary influence on your central clock, peripheral clocks are sensitive to other factors as well, including the timing of your meals.1

While your body’s peripheral clocks are synchronized with your central clock, the peripheral clocks regulate local physiological processes throughout your body. As noted by Dr. Michael Greger, founding member and Fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine:2

“Our heart runs on a clock, our lungs run on one, and so do our kidneys, for instance. In fact, up to 80 percent of the genes in our liver are expressed in a circadian rhythm.3 Our entire digestive tract is, too.4 The rate at which our stomach empties, the secretion of digestive enzymes, and the expression of transporters in our intestinal lining for absorbing sugar and fat all cycle around the clock.

So, too, does the ability of our body fat to sop up extra calories. The way we know these cycles are driven by local clocks,5 rather than being controlled by our brain, is that you can take surgical biopsies of fat, put them in a petri dish, and watch them continue to rhythm away.”

Your liver’s circadian clock, for instance, regulates glucose metabolism, cholesterol synthesis and detoxification processes.6 Your pancreas’ circadian clock regulates insulin secretion,7 while kidney function, including filtration rates and urine production, also follows a circadian rhythm,8 generally increasing during the day and decreasing at night.

Circadian rhythms in your heart also influence daily fluctuations in blood pressure and heart rate, which are typically lower during sleep and higher during daytime activities.9 As explained in a review published in Medical Science Monitor:10

“Circadian clocks orchestrate various critical biological processes in virtually all cardiovascular cell types and a diverse spectrum of cardiovascular physiologies undergo circadian oscillations, including blood pressure, ECG pattern, heart rate, and metabolism.

The development, progression, and outcome of various cardiovascular diseases are closely linked to aberrant circadian rhythms. Disruption of this circadian regulation has been proven to lead to malfunction in cellular or organ processes, ultimately triggering pathological conditions.”

Beyond this, even your immune system and gastrointestinal tract depend on circadian rhythms to function properly.

Researchers with the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences used the analogy of a child on a swing to describe what happens if your circadian rhythms fall out of sync.11 Greger explains:12

“‘Imagine a child playing on a swing.’ Picture yourself pushing, but you become distracted by what’s going on around you in the playground and stop paying attention to the timing of the push. So, you forget to push or you push too early or too late. What happens? Out of sync, the swinging becomes erratic, slows, or even stops. That is what happens when we travel across multiple time zones or have to work the night shift.

The ‘pusher’ in this case is the light cues falling onto our eyes. Our circadian rhythm is meant to get a ‘push’ from bright light every morning at dawn, but if the sun rises at a different time or we’re exposed to bright light in the middle of the night, this can push our cycle out of sync and leave us feeling out of sorts.

That’s an example of a mismatch between the external environment and our central clock. Problems can also arise from a misalignment between the central clock in our brain and all the other organ clocks throughout our body.”

Many factors can throw your circadian rhythms off kilter, from working the night shift to a bout of jet lag. However, these rhythms rely on zeitgebers to get back on track. Zeitgebers are external cues that help regulate and synchronize your circadian rhythms. The term “zeitgeber” comes from the German words “Zeit,” meaning “time,” and “geber,” meaning “giver” or “supplier.”

Since ancient times, humans have adapted to light from the sun during the day and darkness at night, save for light from the moon and stars, and the warm glow of fire. It’s only been about a century since the invention of electric lights, which radically changed the way humans interact with daily light and darkness.

Soon after electric light bulbs were invented, night shift work began as humans found a way to extend “daylight” hours.13 With the advent of television, computers, tablets and smartphones, humans are exposed to light at night at an unprecedented level.

This disruption to circadian rhythm, which is stabilized by bright light exposure during the day and complete darkness at night, can take a toll on your health. More light exposure at night, for instance, is linked to an increased risk of several psychiatric conditions, including:14

  • Major depressive disorder

  • Generalized anxiety disorder

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Psychosis

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Self-harm behavior

In another study, exposure to any amount of light at night was linked detrimental effects on the health of older adults, increasing the risk of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.15 Further, nighttime exposure to light inhibits the secretion of melatonin, which can cause circadian disruptions that play a role in cancer.16

It’s previously been shown that higher exposure to outdoor light at night may increase the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer,17 and evidence suggests light at night may increase thyroid cancer risk, too,18 as thyroid function is regulated by circadian rhythm.

“The SCN makes use of so-called zeitgebers to accomplish such resynchronization. Environmental light, especially light of high intensity, may be the most salient zeitgeber …” the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences scientists explained.19

Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and tenured professor in the department of neurobiology at Stanford University School of Medicine, recommends viewing bright light, ideally from sunlight, within the first 30 to 60 minutes after waking to stimulate wakefulness throughout the day and help you fall asleep at night.20

Later in the day, there’s research showing that if you view light in the early evening hours, it may help to mitigate some of the consequences of light exposure later in the evening.21 However, from around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., into the hours when you get into bed and throughout the night while you’re asleep, it’s important to avoid bright artificial lights of any color.

This means, once the sun goes down, you should dim the lights in your environment and use as little artificial light as possible, including dimming your computer screen and avoiding overhead lights — opting for desk lamps instead. Better yet, use candlelight or moonlight after sunset.

If your bedroom is affected by light pollution, be sure to use blackout shades to keep light out and remove all sources of light from your bedroom, including a digital alarm clock or cellphone. You can also use a sleep mask and blackout shades for this purpose.

Beyond light exposure, timing of food intake can reset your peripheral clocks, particularly in metabolic organs like your liver and pancreas. Eating times can influence peripheral clocks even in the absence of light cues.

“What drives our internal organ clocks that aren’t exposed to daylight? Food intake. That’s why the timing of our meals may be so important,” Greger says.22 In one study, researchers looked at how delaying meals by five hours impacted various body clocks and biological markers.23

Ten healthy young men followed a 13-day schedule where they ate three meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) at five-hour intervals, either starting soon after waking (early meals) or later in the day (late meals). After adjusting to early meals, the participants switched to late meals for six days.

When meals were delayed, blood glucose rhythms were also delayed by about 5.7 hours, and average glucose levels dropped, suggesting that meal timing helps synchronize peripheral circadian rhythms. Separate research also investigated if eating meals earlier in the day affects the body’s heart-related circadian rhythms and blood lipid levels.

Fourteen men who typically skipped breakfast, participated in the study. One group ate meals at 8:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m., while another group ate five hours later, at 1:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Results showed significant decreases in triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in the earlier eating group compared to the later eaters.

While high total cholesterol and/or elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol do not cause heart disease, the study still shows the profound influence that meal timing and circadian rhythms have on cholesterol synthesis. This information is also important for those using time-restricted eating (TRE). Greger notes:24

“Breakfast and morning meals play a role in syncing peripheral clocks. Skipping breakfast disrupts clock gene expression and is associated with adverse metabolic effects, which can be reversed by shifting meal times.”

If you’re metabolically inflexible, short-term fasting can be useful to help resolve obesity and insulin resistance. However, once you regain your metabolic flexibility, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, you will need to increase your eating window. The reason for this is because when you deprive your body of glucose for too long, it will produce cortisol to stimulate your liver to make glucose.

This increased cortisol can contribute to chronic inflammation and cellular damage. Therefore, once you are no longer insulin resistant, it is best to vary your eating window between 12 to 18 hours, with longer hours in the winter and shorter in the summer. It is also best to avoid eating before sunrise or after sunset and stop eating at least three hours before bedtime.

Synchronizing your circadian rhythms, including peripheral rhythms, is essential for maintaining overall health and well-being. Beyond optimizing light exposure and meal timing, other factors, like getting enough sleep and keep a regular sleep schedule, also influence your body’s internal rhythms.

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, reinforces your circadian rhythms, for instance, while engaging in regular physical activity,25 especially during daylight hours, also helps. Your circadian clock function is also closely connected to your body’s stress response system,26 which is why practices such as mindfulness, meditation and relaxation techniques that help manage stress can also help sync your circadian rhythms.

By aligning these elements with the natural 24-hour day, you can support optimal health, improve sleep quality and enhance joy and well-being in your life.

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Disclaimer: The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of Dr. Mercola, unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author, who retains copyright as marked.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Mercola and his community. Dr. Mercola encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional. The subscription fee being requested is for access to the articles and information posted on this site, and is not being paid for any individual medical advice.

If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your health care professional before using products based on this content.

Utilize the Power of Vibrations to Promote Wellness

power of vibrations to promote wellness

  • Whole-body vibration therapy is the therapeutic utilization of vibration to induce healing on the human body. Research suggests that the combination of muscle and sensory stimulation is the key behind its benefits

  • Published research shows that whole-body vibration therapy can be used on a multitude of conditions, such as fibromyalgia, dementia and knee osteoarthritis. The preferred tool to administer this therapy is vibration plates

  • Vibration plates come with various features and price points. Do your due diligence, selecting only the features you need to help you make a well-informed purchase

  • Despite research showcasing its benefits, whole-body vibration therapy must not be treated as a substitute for real exercise. It’s better to view is as an adjunct to your usual exercise routine

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Your body is exposed to vibrations nearly every day. From driving a car to operating motorized tools or just moving around your home, your body has an innate ability to absorb and balance itself in response to vibrations.

What’s interesting is that these very vibrations, when administered in controlled doses, can induce therapeutic benefits, too. If you’re looking to take your fitness to the next level, you may want to consider harnessing this modality using a vibration platform, such as the Power Plate.

According to a study1 published in F1000Research, the human body detects vibrations through the mechanoreceptors found under the skin and near the bones.2 These vibrations are measured in Hertz (Hz), which is a complete cycle a vibrating object makes when it moves from one position to the other and back again.3

The human body is sensitive to vibrations of 1 to 100 Hz.4 Strong vibrations are harmful to human health, and frequencies higher than this range can irritate and injure the musculoskeletal system. On the other hand, research has discovered that milder vibrations can be used for therapeutic purposes.5

Researchers theorize that there is a twofold mode of action as to how these controlled, milder vibrations can benefit human health. The first is muscle activation, and the second is the sensory (skin) component, which can stimulate brain activity. To harness these beneficial vibrations for better health, the popular method is a vibration platform, also known as a vibration plate.6

As the name implies, a vibration plate is a device that you can sit, stand or do exercises on. It creates vibrations higher than what we’re normally used to, which recruits our stabilizing muscles to contract at a higher intensity. With the device turned on, you’re actually exerting more effort and energy, leading to beneficial outcomes.7 As for the frequency used, protocols range from 12 Hz to 90 Hz.8

What kind of vibrations are actually created by the vibration plates? The answer depends on the type of vibration plate used. I recommend Power Plate, as it utilizes a unique “tri-planar” movement that improves upon commonly used vibrating plate technology. But before diving into its details, it would be wise familiarize yourself with the other kinds of vibration plates sold on the market today, namely:9

  • Pivotal vibration — Also known as oscillating vibration, a pivotal vibration works like a seesaw, tilting up with a central pivot point. The tilting goes up and down rapidly, which is almost imperceptible. The disadvantage is that the user cannot move on the surface while using the vibration plate, preventing dynamic exercise from being performed on it.

  • Linear vibration — This type of vibration plate moves back and forth along a straight line. The main difference between this and pivotal vibration is the direction. Linear has a back-and-forth motion, while pivotal has a tilting motion. The advantage with this technology is the products are usually cheaper, making it appealing for first timers.

On the other hand, Power Plate’s pioneering tri-planar vibration technology, called PrecisionWave™, is an improvement upon linear vibration plates, and works by vibrating in three different directions — up and down, side to side and front to back. It’s considered to be the most precise vibration methodology so far and is the most advanced vibration technology on the market. According to their website:10

“The vibrations of Power Plate’s machines are meticulously calibrated to assign each direction a specific frequency — which is a fancy way to say that Power Plate’s engineers have optimized each vibration to give you the best possible results.”

The technology of vibration plates vibration began in the 19th century, but it was only during the 1990s that they surged in popularity when they were used to rehabilitate cosmonauts returning from outer space.11 Since then, researchers have delved into its therapeutic benefits, finding it to be effective in areas such as:

  • Knee osteoarthritis — According to a 2013 study12 published in Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine, vibration plates may have a positive effect on chronic knee osteoarthritis. In particular, researchers noted that it “reduced pain intensity and increased strength of the right quadriceps and dynamic balance performance.”

  • Cognitive function — In a study13 published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, researchers sought to identify the effects of whole-body vibration therapy to elderly women diagnosed with mild dementia.

    For eight weeks, 65 participants with an average age of 79 years old underwent whole-body vibration therapy five times a week. Results noted that they had elevated brainwave activity, and that using vibration plates can be a viable method to help prevent functional decline in the brain.

    In another study,14 whole-body vibration therapy was conducted on 16 patients diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment for 24 weeks. Using SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography) imaging, researchers noted that the participants had increased regional cerebral blood flow, which may result in improved cognitive function.

  • Fibromyalgia — Research suggests that utilizing whole-body vibration therapy may help patients diagnosed with this disease. In one study,15 researchers entered 60 fibromyalgia patients in a 12-week whole-body vibration therapy program. Using various tests, the authors observed better motor function and gait speed in the study population.

  • Spinal injury — In a pilot study16 published in 2009, researchers selected 17 participants with chronic spinal cord injury and administered whole-body vibration therapy three times a week for four weeks. By the end of the study, notable improvements were observed. According to the study:

    “The WBV [whole-body vibration] intervention was also associated with statistically significant increases in cadence, and both the stronger and weaker legs exhibited increased step length and improved consistency of intralimb coordination. Changes in cadence and step length of the stronger leg were strongly correlated with improvements in walking speed.”

  • Muscle strength — Using a vibration plate may help you boost your fitness levels, as noted in a 2007 study.17 Researchers recruited 16 healthy adults and asked them to perform various static and dynamic unloaded squats while their legs were monitored. Researchers concluded that using vibration plates significantly increased the neuromuscular activation of the leg muscles.

    In another study,18 researchers selected 97 participants aged between 60 and 80 years old, engaging them in whole-body vibration therapy. By the end of the experiment, the study population experienced an increase in isometric muscle strength, explosive muscle strength and overall muscle mass in their upper legs, suggesting that it may help prevent sarcopenia.

Based on published research, most people may benefit from vibration training. However, there are some exceptions. Those who recently had an operation, suffered a recent head injury or acute hernia, are epileptic and pregnant aren’t advised to use a vibration plate. Those who have balance issues, postural problems and bodies with limited range of motion also aren’t advised to use this device. To be sure, consult with a doctor or physical therapist first.19

Once your health care provider has given you the green light to use a vibration plate, how do you choose one that suits your needs? Here’s a helpful guide you can follow by Very Well Fit:20

  • Vibration type — It’s important to familiarize yourself with the different vibration types before choosing one of your own. Remember, tri-planar plates vibrate up and down, side to side and front to back, and are often seen in gyms and fitness centers. Meanwhile, oscillation plates move like a pendulum, from one side to another. This simulates walking and is seen more in therapy and general health rather than athletic uses.

  • Frequency and amplitude — Choose the output congruent to the fitness goals you’re trying to achieve. Again, frequency is the number of vibrations that cycle in one second, and amplitude is how far the plate moves up and down during each vibration. The higher the frequency and amplitude, the more intense the vibration plate will oscillate.

  • Speed — Look for a vibration plate with adjustable speed levels, giving you flexibility on the exercises you want to do on a particular day. For example, you may use higher speeds while you’re standing or doing lower-body exercises, while lower speeds are used when sitting on the device or doing upper-body exercises.

  • Weight capacity — Most vibration plates can support at least 230 pounds, but be sure to carefully read the product label. Ideally, look for a vibration plate that can support 300 pounds, since you may be holding additional weights aside from your bodyweight. Plates with a higher capacity tend to be sturdier, too.

  • Safety features — Inspect the vibration plate before purchasing. Confirm that it is sturdy and the platform won’t cause you to slip and slide while you use it. Check for other inclusions in the packaging, such as suction cups, rubber feet or additional mats. For guidance, a good vibration plate has a nonslip rubber or carpeted surface.

  • Additional features and accessories — Choose only the features that you need, which can help you save money. Some vibration plates come loaded with features such as speakers and pre-programmed workouts. Other ones have remote control, removable seats and come with exercise bands.

  • Price — Prices of vibration plates can vary widely, ranging from $100 to $3,000 for a top-of-the-line product. Cheaper ones may not be as sturdy or durable as the more expensive models, but you may not need all the extra features anyway. Carefully research the product that fits all your requirements so you don’t overspend.

You’ve purchased a vibration plate, now what? The next step is incorporating it into your existing exercise routine. Vibration plates can be used to slightly bump up the difficulty of exercises you may have been accustomed to for a while.

Before you exercise on the vibration plate, Very Well Fit recommends you turn it on for 30 to 45 seconds to allow your body to get used to the vibrations.21 Once you get used to it, try these vibration plate exercises from ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association):22 23

Push-ups:

  1. Place your hands on the vibration plate, keeping your wrists slightly outside the width of the body, but aligned with the elbows and shoulders.

  2. Engage your core and keep your hips down.

  3. Slowly flex your elbows, lowering your body toward the vibration plate.

  4. Push back up to the starting position.

Step-ups:

  1. Face the vibration plate, then place your right foot on the platform.

  2. Without using momentum or pushing off using the left foot, press through the heel of your right foot to step up onto the platform.

  3. Slowly reverse your movement and return to the starting position.

  4. Complete the rest of your set on the leg you started with. You can also alternate between legs for the set.

Plank:

  1. Assume the plank position. But instead of your forearms on the ground, place your forearms on the vibration plate.

  2. Keep your shoulders aligned with your elbows, with the head and neck neutral. Imagine your body in a straight line, with a slight angle from the head to your feet due to the vibration plate’s raised height.

  3. Engage your core muscles and keep the hips down. Once you’re in position, turn on the vibration plate.

  4. Hold the plank for your usual set amount of time, keeping your body engaged to maintain good form.

Squat:

  1. Stand with both feet on the vibration plate. Make sure that they’re slightly wider than hip-width with the toes slightly pointed outward.

  2. Push the hips back and slowly lower your torso to the squat position.

  3. At the bottom of the squat, push through your heels and return to the starting position.

Reverse lunge:

  1. Stand with both feet on the vibration plate.

  2. With the right foot on the vibration plate, step down with your left foot.

  3. Keep the right hip, knee and ankle aligned, then press through the right heel, reversing the movement to bring yourself up back to the starting position.

  4. Complete the rest of the set with one leg. You can also complete the set alternating with the other leg.

Calf raises:

  1. Stand with both feet on the vibration plate.

  2. As the device begins to vibrate, slowly press through the balls of your feet to raise the heels upward and off the platform, as if you’re tiptoeing.

  3. Slowly lower your heels back to the starting position, and repeat until you complete the desired number of reps.

Triceps dip:

  1. Place your arms on the vibration plate and execute the exercise normally as you would.

  2. Pay attention to your form, lowering your torso down until your elbows are at 90 degrees.

  3. Lift yourself back up into the starting position.

Leg crunch:

  1. Sit on the vibration plate.

  2. Lean back slightly and lift your legs until the calves are parallel to the ground.

  3. You can either hold this position or bring your knees closer to your chest, same as a reverse crunch.

While the benefits of vibration plates seem enticing, don’t use it as a substitute for regular exercise. Indeed, the Mayo Clinic still recommends a combination of a nutritious diet and increased physical activity to stay healthy and adding whole-body vibration therapy as an adjunct.24

Moderate-intensity exercise can go hand in hand with a vibration plate. In my interview with Dr. James O’Keefe, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, activities that fall under this category include going for a casual bike ride, yoga, walking, gardening and non-intense swimming. In his research, he noted that people who exercise moderately tend to have a good reduction in long-term mortality compared to those who vigorously exercise in high volumes.

Once you’ve got your exercise routine down, add a vibration plate into the mix (remember to try the exercises above). According to Hypervibe, vibration plates aren’t meant to be used for long sessions. Depending on your goals, you only need to use the device 15 to 30 minutes a day, a few days a week. The guidelines below can help you plan out your use of the device:25

  • For general wellness, such as helping with weight loss, use the device for 30 minutes a day, four days a week.

  • For strengthening muscles and energy levels, use the device 15 to 20 minutes a day, three days a week.

  • For strengthening bone density, use the device 20 minutes a day, four days a week.

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Disclaimer: The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of Dr. Mercola, unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author, who retains copyright as marked.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Mercola and his community. Dr. Mercola encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional. The subscription fee being requested is for access to the articles and information posted on this site, and is not being paid for any individual medical advice.

If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your health care professional before using products based on this content.

Dirt Don’t Hurt

soil based organisms

  • When it comes to keeping your children healthy, most parents are cautious, if not hypervigilant, over-sterilizing their environments so their children never get dirty and overusing antibacterial soaps

  • In years past, parents served (and the kids ate) fermented foods containing good bacteria and allowed them to get dirty outside and play with animals on a regular basis, a stark contrast to many kids today

  • Soil-based organisms (SBOs) may help to stimulate your immune system, reduce inflammation and aid in detoxification

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Editor’s Note: This article is a reprint. It was originally published July 31, 2017.

If you live in the typical American household, dirt of any kind is often avoided at all costs, so much so that hand sanitizer is very probably in the majority of school classrooms, day care centers and even mom’s purses if they have a toddler in the house.

But is that really the best thing to do? Microbial ecosystems scientist Jack Gilbert, Ph.D., decided to do some checking on his own regarding the best way to view germs and the risks for children growing up in today’s modern culture. One bit of advice might be eyebrow-raising to some, but to harried but savvy parents, he offers this advice, via NPR’s Your Health:

“It turned out that most of the exposures were actually beneficial. So that dirty pacifier that fell on the floor — if you just stick it in your mouth and lick it, and then pop it back in little Tommy’s mouth, it’s actually going to stimulate their immune system. Their immune system’s going to become stronger because of it.”1

Gilbert even wrote a book titled “Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System,” which addresses parents’ questions on the subject, highlighted below.

When it comes to keeping your children healthy, most parents are cautious, if not hypervigilant. One thing modern-day parents have a tendency to do is over-sterilize their environments, so their children won’t get dirty, particularly when crawling on the floor or putting objects in their mouths.

An example is when (or if) they go outside to play in the mud, after which many parents strip them down for a bath and even haul out the antiseptic wipes as soon as possible to clean the dirt from their faces.

Gilbert notes that perhaps one of the most important ways to combat sickness, rather than keeping kids out of the dirt, is to simply make sure they eat plenty of colorful vegetables, which contain numerous vitamins, minerals and other compounds that supply what they (and you) need to keep them (and you) healthy.

And do it early; mashed squash and carrots when they’re tiny and keep it up through toddlerhood and into school age, resisting the temptation to go the “easy” route with all its hazardous, illness-inducing sugary and/or chemically treated snacks (such as cheeseburger-flavored Doritos, about which a Salon article quips, “All the flavor of a hamburger with none of the nutrition”2) and drinks with little to no nutritive value.

Gilbert addressed the fact that kids who get into the dirt in the country seem more robust than kids who’ve grown up in the city. Is it possible that people are healthier when they get their hands into good soils?

Further, are things like allergies an unintended consequence of trying to protect our kids too much? Sadly, yes. Gilbert explains that in years past, parents served (and the kids ate) fermented foods containing good bacteria and allowed them to get dirty outside and play with animals on a regular basis. These days, however, parents sterilize virtually everything and often shield them from dirt as if from the plague to the point that their systems have become hypersensitized:

“You have these little soldier cells in your body called neutrophils, and when they spend too long going around looking for something to do, they become grumpy and proinflammatory. And so when they finally see something that’s foreign, like a piece of pollen, they become explosively inflammatory. They go crazy. That’s what triggers asthma and eczema and often times, food allergies.”3

Also, should kids be allowed to play with animals, especially the ones outside? Well, there are a multitude of parents who keep their kids away from animals, believing them to be dirty creatures that should stay outside. Maybe the kids can have a dog or cat, but not cows or goats or horses. Gilbert explains, “If they’re interacting with a dog, and the dog licks their face, that’s not a bad thing. In fact that could be extremely beneficial for the child’s health.”

What about hand sanitizer? Gilbert says sanitizer is generally not a good idea. In fact, it’s “usually bad,” adding that it’s fine to wash kids’ hands if there’s a cold or a flu virus going around, but soapy water is fine for cleaning kids up and is less damaging to their overall health than the use of antibacterial alternatives.

When you think of probiotics, kefir, yogurt, kombucha and fermented vegetables like kimchi might come to mind. You may also think of probiotics in pill form. All can be extremely beneficial to optimizing your gut bacteria, but there’s another kind of good bacteria on the block.

Compared to the somewhat delicate strains of bifidobacteria and lactic acid that may be found in certain probiotics and fermented foods, most of the good bacteria found in plain old dirt are very hardy, even thriving in your gut with whatever it may hold. What are the attributes of SBOs? One interesting study shows certain organisms in dirt can “up” your intelligence and even help make you happy and healthy. Ways they do it include:

  • Regulating your immune system

  • Reducing inflammation

  • Breaking down your food

  • Helping with detoxification

  • Benefiting your genetic expression

In fact, one type exhibited an 82% to 100% remission rate in patients with irritable bowel syndrome within two weeks, and a follow-up study found the participants were still benefiting a year after going off them.4

Therapeutic Landscapes Network5 reported a study that “Correlates the high diversity of bacteria and fungi in household dust, soil and farm animals the low likelihood of asthma.” A strain known as Mycobacterium vaccae releases serotonin, which is where the “happy” comes in. The “smart” part traces back to the healing effects of gardening, as shown by an experiment with 30 participants given 30 minutes of either gardening or reading. Afterward:

“Salivary cortisol levels and self-reported mood were repeatedly measured. Gardening and reading each led to decreases in cortisol during the recovery period, but decreases were significantly stronger in the gardening group. Positive mood was fully restored after gardening, but further deteriorated during reading. These findings provide the first experimental evidence that gardening can promote relief from acute stress.”6

However, every speck of dirt is not beneficial, and it’s through gradual acclimation to the soil that releases the healing aspects; children are geared for it, but adults should “get back to the garden,” as it were, gradually.

Scientists and researchers have been buzzing about gut bacteria, aka your microbiome, and how an appropriate balance of microorganisms can make or break your health, impacting everything from allergies to your mood; obesity to autism.

Quick and Dirty Tips from “Nutrition Diva” Monica Reinagel says that even as supplement sales have decreased, probiotics are on the rise. Many people are also getting into their own veggie fermentation, but interest in soil-based critters is also growing.

Outside, they do for soil what probiotics do for humans, breaking food down, providing nutrients and combating “bad” bacteria, to name a few. As mentioned, soil-based organisms are less “delicate” compared to those derived from food. But Reinagel points out that while some are beneficial, others fall into the pathogen category, however:

“Most commercially available products include lots of different strains, the vast majority of which have not been studied in humans, alone or in combination. But how they behave will depend very much on how much you take, which bugs you already have on board, and the health of your gut when you take them. Not surprisingly, people with health problems are more likely to have adverse reactions.”7

Because soil-based organisms taken as supplements are regulated differently than pharmaceuticals, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) reins aren’t as tight. Further, highly respected research is scarce. While there may be anecdotal evidence and testimonials for therapeutic use, Reinagel believes food-based probiotic sources such as kombucha and kimchi are a better bet for improving gut health.

In 2012, the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project,8 five years in the making, concluded that humans are essentially superorganisms with microbes that outnumber our own cells 10 to 1. In a fascinating article, The Atlantic9 reported that some scientists think health care, in response, will begin focusing “less on traditional illnesses and more on treating disorders of the human microbiome” with targeted microbial species and therapeutic foods for gut health.

“Just as we have unwittingly destroyed vital microbes in the human gut through overuse of antibiotics and highly processed foods, we have recklessly devastated soil microbiota essential to plant health through overuse of certain chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, failure to add sufficient organic matter (upon which they feed) and heavy tillage.

These soil microorganisms — particularly bacteria and fungi — cycle nutrients and water to plants, to our crops, the source of our food, and ultimately our health. Soil bacteria and fungi serve as the ‘stomachs’ of plants.

They form symbiotic relationships with plant roots and ‘digest’ nutrients, providing nitrogen, phosphorus, and many other nutrients in a form that plant cells can assimilate. Reintroducing the right bacteria and fungi to facilitate the dark fermentation process in depleted and sterile soils is analogous to eating yogurt (or taking those targeted probiotic ‘drugs of the future’) to restore the right microbiota deep in your digestive tract.”10

Nature has provided humans with some pretty amazing tools to fight harmful bacteria. One of them is automatically delivered, no pun intended, when (and if) we come into the world through the birth canal via your mother’s vaginal fluids.

You could call it your first inoculation against asthma, allergies and celiac disease, and it’s completely natural.11 In addition, many protective bacteria adhere to your skin even through thousands of showers, although the way you wash can influence their makeup.

You could call them “helper” bacteria. Soil-based organisms contain protective “shells” that, once ingested, travel to your lower intestine and “come alive” as the warm, moist environment germinates them. Additionally, they remain there to provide more benefits over time. In fact:

“In 2010, the Human Microbiome Project published an analysis of 178 genomes from bacteria that live in or on the human body. [Ten thousand] different types of bacteria in the human body have been identified, including novel genes and proteins that serve functions in human health and disease. The vast numbers of bacteria discovered appear to provide benefit to the human body, not harm.”12

As one scientist put it, while some focus on bad bacteria, there are actually many more that are beneficial, which without we’d never survive, but the emphasis should also be placed on balance. But that balance can be altered when antibiotics you take kill off both, and disease-causing bacteria such as parasites, fungi and yeasts can wreak havoc; H. pylori, for instance, can spawn such disorders as ulcers and Crohn’s disease.

That balance has everything to do with the aforementioned mood, brain signaling, energy and disease resistance. When we carry salt out to the garden to eat a radish out of the garden, for instance, helpful bacteria are probably clinging to the microscopic bit of soil on its skin. That’s the way your ancestors ate all the time, gleaning multiple benefits for health, literally through the soil.

Some scientists believe introducing SBOs to your microbiome may be one of the most important things you can do for your health. One scientist, Hank Liers, asserts that humans carry roughly 99 times more genetic material that’s nonhuman, i.e., bacterial, than human.13

Likely essential for human health, Integrated Health Blog14 lists a number of benefits SBOs could provide:

  • Improved gastrointestinal health

  • Prevention of gut colonization by harmful bacteria and fungi

  • Support for intestinal regeneration

  • Support for balancing gut microbiota

  • More balanced colon pH

  • Increased resistance to harmful bacteria and fungi

  • Increased nutrient absorption in your intestines

  • Microflora replenishment in your colon

  • Overall health and well-being

  • Better gut metabolism

  • Normalized bowel function

  • Reduced gas and bloating

  • Better immune system function

  • Improved GI tract barrier function

While you can look for SBOs in supplement form, your best bet may be to simply get outside and put your hands and feet in the soil (in an area that’s free from chemical treatments, of course) while gardening, digging or just reconnecting with the earth.

Children do this naturally — provided we let them — and perhaps this is a lesson we adults could learn from too. If you grow your own organic vegetables, you’ll also get some exposure to SBOs, especially if you enjoy eating the fruits of your labor right from the vine.

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The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Mercola and his community. Dr. Mercola encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional. The subscription fee being requested is for access to the articles and information posted on this site, and is not being paid for any individual medical advice.

If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your health care professional before using products based on this content.

Does Stevia Promote Infertility?

stevia infertility

  • Many people are concerned that stevia is dangerous because it’s associated with infertility; this is misinformation

  • It’s been said that certain tribes in Paraguay used stevia tea as a contraceptive, starting the misconception that it’s harmful to fertility

  • A 1968 study that found stevia reduces fertility in female rats has been criticized for “having dubious scientific methodology” and “overdosing” the rats on the compound

  • Other research found stevia is safe and causes no negative reproductive effects; some studies even suggest stevia may have protective effects on fertility and reproduction

  • While stevia is most known in the modern world for its naturally sweet taste, it also has antidiabetic, antihypertensive, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antitumor and anti-inflammatory properties

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Many people are concerned that stevia is dangerous because it’s associated with infertility. This is misinformation. Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, native to South America. Also known as sweet weed, sweet leaf, sweet herbs and honey leaf,1 stevia contains steviol glycosides that are 250 to 300 times sweeter than sucrose.2

Stevia is called ka’a he’e in the Paraguayan language Guaraní. The Guaraní people long used stevia for its medicinal properties, including to regulate blood sugar.3 It was also said, however, that certain tribes in Paraguay used stevia tea as a contraceptive, starting the misconception that it’s harmful to fertility.4

A 1968 study by Joseph Kruc of Purdue University reported that stevia reduces fertility in female rats.5 The research involved feeding the rats large amounts of stevia, which resulted in the production of fewer offspring than the control group.

However, the study has been criticized for “having dubious scientific methodology, and multiple studies attempting to replicate its findings failed. Kruc later admitted that the rats’ lower fertility rates may have resulted from his ‘overdosing’ them on the compound,” noted chiropractor B.J. Hardick.6

In 1988, Mauro Alvarez of Brazil’s University of Maringa Foundation repeated Kruc’s study, again finding that stevia caused a similar contraceptive effect. However, this study’s methodology was also heavily criticized, and Alvarez reportedly later agreed that stevia poses no threat to fertility.

Still, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cited these controversial studies as a primary reason why it has not approved whole stevia leaves or crude stevia extracts for use as food additives.

According to the FDA, “With regard to use in conventional foods, stevia leaf, or its crude extract, is not an approved food additive and is not considered GRAS [generally recognized as safe] due to inadequate toxicological information.”7 That said, the FDA considers certain stevia glycosides GRAS, noting:8

“The FDA has evaluated many GRAS notices for the use of high purity (95% minimum purity) steviol glycosides, including Rebaudioside A (also known as Reb A), Stevioside, Rebaudioside D, or steviol glycoside mixture preparations with Rebaudioside A and/or Stevioside as predominant components.

FDA has not questioned the notifiers’ GRAS conclusions for these high-purity stevia derived sweeteners under the intended conditions of use identified in the GRAS notices submitted to the FDA.

… The safety of steviol glycosides has been extensively studied and reported in the scientific literature. In humans, steviol glycosides are not hydrolyzed by digestive enzymes of the upper gastrointestinal tract and are not absorbed through the upper portion of the gastrointestinal tract. Several chronic studies and clinical studies in humans have been conducted demonstrating no adverse effects.”

Meanwhile, additional research supports the notion that stevia is safe and causes no negative reproductive effects. In 1991, researchers with the Chulalongkorn University Primate Research Centre in Bangkok, Thailand looked at the effects of stevioside, a stevia glycoside, on the growth and reproduction of hamsters.9

The scientists gave four groups of 20 hamsters different daily doses of stevioside, including none, 0.5, 1.0, and 2.5 g/kg body weight. They found no growth or fertility issues in males or females. All males successfully mated with females, and each female had three litters during the study.

The length of pregnancy, number of fetuses and number of young born each time were similar to the control group. The offspring that continued receiving stevioside also had normal growth and fertility. The researchers concluded:10

“Histological examinations of reproductive tissues from all three generations revealed no evidence of abnormality which could be linked to the effects of consuming stevioside. We conclude that stevioside at a dose as high as 2.5 g/kg body wt/day affects neither growth nor reproduction in hamsters.”

Another study that evaluated stevia’s effects on female reproduction similarly found no harm, concluding:11

“This study reports that the oral intake of water-based sweet stevia extract and stevioside, at doses 500 mg/kg body weight and 800 mg/kg body weight, respectively, does not cause any significant female reproductive toxic effect in Swiss albino mouse.”

More recent research even suggests stevia may have protective effects on fertility and reproduction. One study investigated the effects of stevia extract on the fertility of male Wistar rats exposed to tartrazine, a commonly used yellow food coloring also known as FD&C Yellow No. 5 that can affect fertility and cause oxidative stress at high dosages.12

A control group received distilled water for 56 days, while the stevia group received 1,000 mg/kg of stevia extract. A third group received 300 mg/kg of tartrazine and a fourth group received stevia extract followed by tartrazine an hour later.

Results showed that tartrazine significantly reduced testosterone levels and decreased sperm motility, viability and count, and antioxidant levels, while increasing sperm abnormalities and DNA degradation. The stevia extract, however, improved testosterone levels and antioxidant levels. There was also an improvement in sperm quality in the stevia and tartrazine-treated group compared with the tartrazine group.

Stevia also reduced malondialdehyde levels, a marker of oxidative stress, and sperm abnormalities, while improving liver and kidney function parameters. According to the study, “Stevia administration has a protective effect on the testicular tissues and sperm quality against toxicity induced by tartrazine exposure.”

In another example, researchers with Shiraz University of Medical Sciences in Iran evaluated stevia’s effects on hormone levels and testicular damage in rats with diabetes, which can affect the reproductive system.13 Stevia significantly reduced fasting blood sugar and increased luteinizing hormone levels in diabetic rats, while leading to several other beneficial reproductive effects:14

“Stevia also resulted in an increase in weight, testis volume, the number of sexual lineage cells, and sperm count and motility, compared to diabetic rats (P<0.05). Due to its antioxidant properties, Stevia enhanced the alteration in spermatogenesis and stereological characteristics in diabetic rat testes. Hence, Stevia could diminish the reproductive system problems and improve infertility in diabetic male rats.”

While stevia is most known in the modern world for its naturally sweet taste, it also contains carbohydrates, lipids, dietary fibers, essential oils, water-soluble vitamins, minerals and a number of beneficial phenolic compounds. As such, “Recent studies have shown several benefits of stevia leaf consumption on human health,” researchers wrote in the journal Nutrients, including the following properties:15

  • Antidiabetic

  • Antihypertensive

  • Antimicrobial

  • Anti-inflammatory

  • Antitumor

  • Antioxidant

“Since inflammation and oxidative stress play critical roles in the pathogenesis of many diseases, stevia emerges as a promising natural product that could support human health,” the researchers, from the University of Thessaly in Lamia, Greece, explained.16

They conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis, which found “a statistically significant antioxidant restorative effect of oxidative status markers of experimentally diseased animals after they have been administered stevia leaf extracts.”

In this case, they found the restorative activity was mainly due to stevia whole leaf extracts and only to a minor extent by glycosides. Further, “diabetes mellitus emerged as the disease with the highest restorative response to stevia leaf extract administration.”17

A 2021 review that summarized data on stevia extract’s and glycosides’ biological activities revealed the compounds “stimulate insulin production in diabetics, improve polycystic kidney disease, have chemotherapeutic action in cancer and possess powerful antibacterial, antioxidant and immunomodulating properties.”18

While stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, are synthetically produced chemicals designed to mimic the sweetness of sugar.

Stevia contains natural compounds — steviol glycosides — that provide sweetness and have been used traditionally in some cultures, while artificial sweeteners contain human-made chemicals. Further, as opposed to stevia’s health benefits, artificial sweeteners are linked to a variety of health risks.

For instance, a 2022 population-based cohort study published in PLOS Medicine, which involved 102,865 adults, also revealed artificial sweeteners — especially aspartame and acesulfame-K — were associated with increased cancer risk, including breast cancer and obesity-related cancers.19

When you consume aspartame, it’s broken down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine — a precursor of monoamine neurotransmitters — and methanol, which may have “potent” effects on your central nervous system, Florida State University College of Medicine researchers noted.20

Their study linked aspartame consumption to anxiety and found the mental health changes were passed on to future generations. In another nine-year study involving 103,388 people, the artificial sweeteners aspartame (Equal), acesulfame potassium and sucralose (Splenda) were linked to cardiovascular disease and stroke.21

The study found that just 78 mg a day of artificial sweeteners — about the amount found in half a can of diet soda — posed a health risk, with those consuming that amount being one-tenth more likely to have a heart attack and one-fifth more likely to have a stroke.22 Further, artificial sweeteners may lead to shifts in gut microbiota similar to those caused by antibiotics.23

Equally disturbing, in research presented at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting held April 2 to 5, 2022, in Philadelphia, it was revealed that artificial sweeteners — specifically acesulfame potassium and sucralose — may interfere with your liver’s delicate detoxification process.24

Stevia is a natural sweetener option that can be used on occasion and isn’t associated with the numerous risks linked to artificial sweeteners. While there’s talk that it may affect fertility, research shows this is a myth — and stevia may even have protective effects. Other options for a natural sweet treat include in season, ripe fruit, maple syrup and raw honey.

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Disclaimer: The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of Dr. Mercola, unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author, who retains copyright as marked.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Mercola and his community. Dr. Mercola encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional. The subscription fee being requested is for access to the articles and information posted on this site, and is not being paid for any individual medical advice.

If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your health care professional before using products based on this content.

Castor Oil May Be Helpful in the Treatment of Dry Eye Disease

castor oil dry eye disease

  • Researchers with the University of Auckland in New Zealand tested castor oil in the treatment of dry eye disease, with promising results

  • People with blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids that’s a common cause of dry eye disease, applied a 100% cold pressed castor oil formulation to the eyelid of one eye twice daily for four weeks

  • There was a significant improvement in dry eye symptoms in the eyes treated with castor oil

  • The castor-oil treated eyes had reduced eyelid swelling, visible blood vessels, tangled eyelashes, eyelash loss, dandruff-like flakes and eyelid inflammation

  • Applied topically, castor oil has a variety of beneficial uses for skin and hair health, fungal infections, muscle and joint pain, and more

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Castor oil comes from the seeds of the castor bean plant, Ricinus communis. It’s a pale-yellow liquid with a distinct taste and odor, primarily composed of ricinoleic acid, which accounts for about 90% of its fatty acid content.

Known for its various industrial, medicinal and cosmetic uses, castor oil has been utilized for centuries. Industrially, castor oil is used as a lubricant and in the production of soaps, paints, inks and waxes. Medicinally, it’s commonly used as a laxative to relieve occasional constipation. Researchers with the University of Auckland in New Zealand also tested it in the treatment of dry eye disease, with promising results.

Dry eye disease, also known as dry eye syndrome or keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is a common condition that occurs when your eyes don’t produce enough tears or when your tears evaporate too quickly. This results in inflammation and damage to your eye’s surface, leading to discomfort and vision problems.

Worldwide, prevalence is up to 50% in certain regions,1 with risk increasing at age 50 and over. Other risk factors include menopause, autoimmune diseases, extended screen time and wearing contact lenses.

In New Zealand, it’s estimated that 58% of people over age 50 have dry eye disease,2 for instance, while in the U.S. the condition is increasing in both young and old adults, “making it imperative that clinicians figure out how best to treat it,” noted the American Academy of Ophthalmology.3

Blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids, particularly at the base of the eyelashes, is one of the most common causes of dry eye disease, accounting for more than 80% of cases, according to the University of Auckland.4

“Currently, patients are left grappling with symptoms of dryness, grittiness and, in some cases, watery eyes that feel uncomfortable impacting on their quality of life and work productivity,” the study’s lead clinical investigator Catherine Jennings explained. “Often patients are left feeling helpless when attempting to manage a chronic condition.”5

While antibacterial and anti-inflammatory medications are available for treatment, antimicrobial resistance and significant side effects make them unsuitable for long-term use. University of Auckland researchers instead tested cold-pressed castor oil enhanced with mānuka and kanuka oils, applied using a rollerball applicator, for treatment.

The study involved 26 people with signs of blepharitis. They applied a 100% cold pressed castor oil formulation to the eyelid of one eye twice daily for four weeks.6

At the start, there were no differences between the treated and control eyes. However, after four weeks of treatment, there was a significant improvement in dry eye symptoms in the eyes treated with castor oil. The treated eyes had reduced eyelid swelling, visible blood vessels, tangled eyelashes, eyelash loss, dandruff-like flakes and eyelid inflammation.

Castor oil treatment also led to less staphylococcal and seborrheic crusting on the eyelashes compared to the control eyes. Further, there were no negative side effects reported. According to the study:7

“Topical castor oil application effected significant improvements in ocular surface signs and symptoms in patients with blepharitis. The favorable therapeutic profile would suggest that castor oil demonstrates promise as a potential treatment for blepharitis, and support the conduct of further efficacy trials with longer follow up.”

The researchers are now conducting a double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled study to look further into the effects of castor oil on dry eye and eyelash crusting.8 Study author Jennifer Craig, head of the University of Auckland’s Ocular Surface Laboratory, said:9

“Castor oil has been proposed as a natural product that could offer a safe, effective and easy-to-use alternative to existing therapies.

My hope is this study will produce evidence-based guidance for clinicians with regard to offering castor oil as a possible management option for patients suffering from blepharitis, so they continue to enjoy a great quality of life, read the books they love, be productive in their work environment and enjoy other visual hobbies.”

Craig and colleagues wrote a review about the therapeutic potential of castor oil in managing blepharitis and dry eye, as well as meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), which causes dryness in the eyes, in 2020, noting:10

“Castor oil is deemed safe and tolerable, with strong anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-nociceptive, analgesic, antioxidant, wound healing and vaso-constrictive properties. Its main constituent, ricinoleic acid, has a bipolar molecular structure that promotes the formation of esters, amides and polymers.

These can supplement deficient physiological tear film lipids, enabling enhanced lipid spreading characteristics and reducing aqueous tear evaporation. Studies reveal that castor oil applied topically to the ocular surface has a prolonged residence time, facilitating increased tear film lipid layer thickness, stability, improved ocular surface staining and symptoms.”

Castor oil is considered one of the world’s oldest drugs, perhaps most well-known for its laxative effects and ability to induce labor in pregnant women11 — although I don’t recommend using it for the latter purpose.

Applied topically, castor oil may help reduce inflammation and fight infections. It’s also sometimes used to treat conditions like arthritis and minor skin infections, and the oil can promote healing of small cuts and abrasions due to its antimicrobial properties.

“The previous pilot study, conducted by our research team, was unique in its use of castor oil in such an application on the eyelids, with the product not known to be used anywhere else in the world for treating blepharitis,” Jennings said.12 However, anecdotal reports suggest that dabbing a small amount of castor oil on your eyelids may also help you fall asleep easier, while topical castor oil is widely used for a variety of haircare and skincare purposes.

Castor oil has a variety of cosmetic uses, and is a popular ingredient in skincare products, due to its ability to deeply moisturize and hydrate the skin. It’s often used to treat dry skin and conditions like eczema and psoriasis, as well as in hair care products to support hair growth, reduce dandruff and moisturize the scalp.13

Massaging warm castor oil on your scalp (and even your eyebrows) may stimulate the follicles and result in extra hair growth. Do this every night, and you might see improvement in as little as two weeks. Castor oil may work on areas that have been affected by alopecia as well.

In addition to offering a moisturizing effect on hair, the fatty acids in castor oil may nourish the hair follicle. Ricinoleic acid also helps protect the scalp and hair shaft form fungal and microbial infections. It also penetrates the skin and may inhibit prostaglandin D2 synthase, which inhibits hair growth.14

Some people also use castor oil to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines due to its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties. The fatty acids in castor oil help nourish and moisturize dry skin. Due to its viscous nature, it stays put and easily penetrates your skin tissue. Castor oil is considered an occlusive moisturizer, which forms a barrier on the skin, helping to prevent the evaporation of water.15

Because of castor oil’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, it may also have some beneficial effects on skin tags, acne and warts. One study published in the Journal of International Toxicology also found that castor oil may have positive effects against occupational dermatitis.16

Castor oil may even be useful for reliving common infections like ringworm, jock itch (tinea cruris) and athlete’s foot. Research also suggests that phytochemical compounds in castor essential oil may relieve infections caused by Cunninghamella bertholletiae fungi as well as standard antifungal drugs.17

To use, simply rub a teaspoon of castor oil between your palms and apply to your skin. You can also mix castor oil with a carrier oil to reduce any risk of irritation.

If you’re in need of a natural laxative, castor oil is “generally regarded as safe and effective” for use as a stimulant laxative,18 according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Oral ingestion of castor oil can “purge” the digestive tract within two to five hours.

However, remember to take it in the appropriate dose. Adults can take 1 to 2 tablespoons, while children 2 to 12 years old should be given only 1 to 2 teaspoons. Infants under 2 years old are not advised to take more than a teaspoon at a time. When giving it to children, try mixing it in freshly squeezed juice so it becomes more palatable.

Topical application of ricinoleic acid found in castor oil may also exert “remarkable analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.”19 It’s useful for muscle pain relief, to alleviate joint pain and “can be used as an effective therapy” among patients with knee osteoarthritis.20

You can try rubbing castor oil on your muscles after a workout to promote blood circulation and relieve soreness, or massage it onto your joints for pain relief. Ricinoleic acid in castor oil also has a decongestant effect on the lymphatic system, which is responsible for collecting waste from your tissues and carrying it to your bloodstream for elimination. Castor oil, applied topically on your skin, may help jumpstart your lymphatic system.

Castor beans have notable anti-inflammatory, anthelmintic, antibacterial, wound-healing and laxative properties, but they also contain ricin, a poison that can inhibit protein synthesis in cells, leading to cell death. This is why, if chewed and swallowed, castor beans are toxic. Ricin is also contained in the bean pulp that remains after it’s pressed for oil, but ricin isn’t found in castor oil.

“Castor oil does not contain ricin because ricin does not partition into the oil,” according to the International Journal of Toxicology.21 It may be the poison from castor beans that has the longest usage. According to the Toxins review:22

“The castor plant has been known since time immemorial and its use in the prehistoric era has been evidenced by archaeological findings such as that of the Border Cave in South Africa. Traces of wax containing ricinoleic and ricinelaidic acids were found on a thin wooden stick, which was suggested to be a poison applicator, dating back to about 24,000 years ago.”

Ricin prevents protein synthesis and kills your cells through oral, nasal or intravenous transfusion. It’s so potent that ingesting or inhaling just 1 milligram may be fatal,23 just as eating four to eight castor seeds can lead to death.24 There is no antidote for ricin, which is why it’s even used as a chemical warfare agent.25

While castor beans are highly toxic, castor oil is safe in recommended doses. However, ingesting large quantities can lead to serious gastrointestinal distress, including severe diarrhea and dehydration. Overuse can also disrupt electrolyte balance, so it’s important to follow recommended dosages for internal use and to test your skin for sensitivity before topical application.

Further, pregnant women shouldn’t use castor oil due to its ability to induce contractions. Even late in pregnancy, I don’t recommend using castor oil to stimulate labor. One study reported that all pregnant women who took castor oil experienced nausea afterward.26

Another study also warned that the castor oil-induced contractions may lead to the passage of meconium — a baby’s first stool — while still inside the womb, putting them at risk of meconium aspiration that may result in neonatal respiratory distress.27

If you suffer from digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, cramps, diverticulitis, colitis or hemorrhoids, I advise you to avoid using this oil. Those who have recently undergone surgery should also refrain from using castor oil. And when choosing a product to use, look for organic castor oil from a trustworthy source.

Many commercial castor oils contain pesticide residues and are processed with solvents and other chemicals. For the highest quality oil free of contaminants and with its beneficial components intact, look for organic castor oil.

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Disclaimer: The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of Dr. Mercola, unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author, who retains copyright as marked.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Mercola and his community. Dr. Mercola encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional. The subscription fee being requested is for access to the articles and information posted on this site, and is not being paid for any individual medical advice.

If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your health care professional before using products based on this content.