Castor oil: Be wary of its efficacy as yet another baldness 'cure'

People's Pharmacy

Health & Fitness

September 12, 2004|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

I am 62 years old, and my hair is thinning, especially on the crown. Both of my grandfathers were bald in their 70s, so this doesn't surprise me much.

Yesterday, a woman I don't know stopped me in a parking lot to tell me how to grow new hair. She said I should put castor oil on my hair about twice a day to encourage its growth. She assured me her husband is a physician and they have had success with this treatment. I assume the castor oil would have to be massaged into my scalp for any benefit.

Was she pulling my leg, or is there anything to this? As you know, castor oil was once used as a laxative.

People have applied castor oil to bruises, warts and sore joints. We've never seen any scientific evidence that it works for any of these problems, but enthusiasts continue to praise it.

Baldness remedies go back thousands of years and include pigeon droppings, spider webs and bear grease. If castor oil is effective for baldness, it has not appeared in the medical literature. While it probably won't hurt to try it, getting the oily residue out of your hair could be a challenge.

I read an article that said too much vitamin A can weaken bones and even lead to osteoporosis. My daily vitamin-mineral supplement contains 5,000 IU (International Units). Could this be the reason my bone density test revealed bone loss?

There are many reasons for bone loss, but research shows that excess vitamin A can weaken bones (American Journal of Medicine, Aug. 1, 2004). Too little vitamin A also increases the risk of fractures. The recommended intake of vitamin A for a woman who is neither pregnant nor breast-feeding is 700 micrograms, equal to 2,333 IU. Your vitamin formulation is well under toxic levels, but you might want to look for a different formulation that supplies a little less of this fat-soluble vitamin.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail them via their Web site, www.peoplespharmacy.org.

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