It’s also not recommended for people who may have a gastrointestinal blockage, appendicitis, or inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, Kersch adds.
If used every day or multiple times a day, risks include loss of fluid through the stool, loss of electrolytes like sodium, potassium and magnesium, or weight loss.
While castor oil packs — a piece of cloth soaked in castor oil and applied to the skin — are gaining popularity as a treatment for cramps or digestive issues, castor oil needs to be ingested to be effective for gastrointestinal conditions, says Kersch.
“The heat from a castor oil pack could be soothing for gas or cramping, but it’s not going to be the same as if you drink it and stimulate the gut.”
For problems with constipation, making diet and lifestyle changes can help prevent you from getting to the point where you may need a laxative. Increasing the amount of water you drink, fiber intake, and exercise can help speed up digestion, and eating certain foods like flax and chia seeds, prunes, and kiwis help bulk up stool to help move them through your digestive system.
“Some people have the misconception that if it’s not a prescription it’s OK not to check in with a health provider. But it’s important to talk to a doctor or gastrointestinal dietitian since over-the-counter and natural remedies can have potential side effects,” says Kersch.