Following a successful pilot study, researchers at the University of Auckland are conducting a clinical trial of castor oil as a potentially safe and natural treatment for dry eye conditions.
Castor oil is an oil produced from castor beans, which are commonly grown in Western India, South America, and Africa. In terms of medical use, most people know castor oil as a laxative taken by the spoonful.
Further, it has been used therapeutically for millennia, including more recently in eye cosmetics and eye makeup removers.
Some risk factors for developing dry eye disease include advanced age, menopause, increased screen time, and contact lens wear. Blepharitis is the leading cause of dry eye illness, accounting for more than 80 percent of cases. It is a chronic disease with no known cure.
“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,” says doctoral candidate and lead clinical investigator Catherine Jennings.
Current treatments, such as antibacterials and anti-inflammatories, are generally unsuitable for long-term use, due to significant side effects and the potential for antimicrobial resistance.
The current trial is of a product containing cold-pressed castor oil enhanced with manuka and kanuka oils applied using a rollerball attached to a small glass bottle.
“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,” said Jennings.
In the pilot study, 26 patients with blepharitis were treated with cold-pressed castor oil over four weeks. They had measurable improvements in symptoms, such as reduced redness of the lid margin, decreased thickening of the eyelid, and a decline in bacterial profusion, as well as reduced eyelash crusting.
Building on the success of the pilot study, the research team is now engaged in a more extensive double-blinded, randomized, and placebo-controlled study. They are aiming to recruit 92 participants and generate robust scientific evidence for clinicians.
The ultimate goal is to sustainably improve the quality of life for this large group of patients using a natural, safe, and effective product, principal investigator Professor Jennifer Craig said.
Castor oil has been suggested as a potential natural treatment for dry eye conditions, but it’s essential to approach this with caution and consult with a healthcare professional before attempting any new treatments. While some people may find relief from using castor oil for dry eyes, it’s crucial to approach it as a complementary measure rather than a sole treatment.