Castor oil used as laxative 2500 years ago

AncientEgyptMedicinePeople may be a little embarrassed to admit it, but the fact is a great proportion of the modern population is preoccupied with bowel movements.

This is particularly true of older folks, judging by the number of over-the-counter and prescription laxatives consumed in America and other western countries each year.

But concern about bowel activity is not new.

The history of pharmacology shows that ancient peoples were also concerned with daily and regular bowel behavior. The earliest recorded cathartic, popular throughout Mesopotamia and along the Nile, was the yellowish oil extracted from the castor bean.

By 1500 B. C., the Assyrians’ knowledge of laxatives was extensive. They were familiar with ‘bulk-forming’ laxatives such as bran, ‘saline’ laxatives, which contain sodium and draw water into the bowel, and ‘stimulant’ laxatives, which act on the intestinal wall to promote waves of muscular contraction that result in defecation.

Prior to a few thousand years B. C., man was mostly nomadic, living primarily on a high-fiber diet of fibrous roots, grains and berries, with occasional meat from wild animals.

Regular defecation as a result of diet and activity was undoubtedly taken for granted.

But then farming began.

Living off the meat of domestic animals and their milk products, man shocked the ancient human bowel with a high-fat, much lower fiber diet. As time went on, man invented new ways to ‘process’ the products of farming.

Ever since, people have been troubled by irregular bowel function and sought remedying cathartics.

In 1905, a native Hungarian and pharmacist, Max Kiss, emigrated to New York and began combining the chemical phenolphthalein which he had found effective in wine, with chocolate as a commercial laxative he initially named Bo-Bo.

Shortly thereafter, he reconsidered and named his product Ex-Lax, his contraction for ‘Excellent Laxative.’

The chocolate tasting laxative was a welcome improvement over castor oil—especially with children. And thus, Ex-Lax became an integral part of the early 20th-century medicine chest.

Today it is well known that healthy bowel movements (one to three times a day, depending on the individual) are a vital part of general health and even brain function, as the stomach is known as the ‘2nd brain.’

The Standard American Diet (SAD), with food more processed than ever, ensures that many people suffer from diarrhea or constipation.

A whole food diet, activity and digestive enzymes and probiotics may prevent many problems that have modern people running to the pharmacy or doctor for laxatives.

Source: Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, by Charles Panati

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