SCIENCE IN THE NEWS DAILY
Just a Spoonful of Castor Oil
from ScienceNOW Daily News
Castor oil may have a bad rap among people who were force-fed spoonfuls as children, but it's no myth that the tonic has health effects. Now, scientists have elucidated the molecular mechanism of the active ingredient in castor oil, which has been used for thousands of years as a laxative and labor-inducer. Ricinoleic acid, the fatty acid that makes up about 90% of the oil, binds to one particular receptor in the intestines and uterus, the researchers discovered. The discovery explains how castor oil works and could lead to the development of less unpleasant drugs.
Although taking a daily spoonful of diluted castor oil as a general health aid is no longer in vogue, alternative health stores still sell the foul-tasting liquid as a laxative. The Food and Drug Administration has categorized castor oil as "generally recognized as safe and effective," but researchers don't understand its mechanism.
"When you study classic, old drugs, you almost always learn something from them," says first author of the new study Stefan Offermanns, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Germany. "The major surprise here was how specifically castor oil worked."
Subscribe to Our Content!
Visit our RSS Feeds page to choose among 13 customized feeds, or create a free My AmSci account to request an email notice whenever a specified author, department or discipline appears online.
A free daily summary of the latest news in scientific research. Each story is summarized concisely and linked directly to the original source for further reading.
An early peek at each new issue, with descriptions of feature articles, columns,
and more. Every other issue contains links to everything in the latest issue's table of contents.
News of book reviews published in
and around the web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.
To sign up for automatic emails of the
Update and Scientists' Nightstand issues, create an
online profile, then sign up in the
My AmSci area.
Science in the Media
Magazines and Web Sites:
The Science-Media Intersection: