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Evening Primrose Oil

What does evening primrose oil do?
Evening primrose oil (EPO), comes from the seeds of the evening primrose plant. Like black currant seed oil and borage oil, EPO contains gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid that the body converts to a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin E1 (PGE1).

PGE1 has anti-inflammatory properties and may also act as a blood thinner and blood vessel dilator. The anti-inflammatory properties of EPO have been studied in double-blind research with people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Some, but not all, studies have reported that EPO supplementation provides significant benefit to these people.1

GLA, the primary active ingredient in EPO, has anticancer activity in test tube studies2 and in some,3 but not all,4 animal studies. Injecting GLA into tumors has caused regression of cancer in people in preliminary research.5 Preliminary evidence in people with cancer suggested "marked subjective improvement,"6 though not all studies find GLA helpful.7

EPO has been reported to lower cholesterol levels in people in some,8 but not all,9 research.

EPO supplementation has been shown to improve skin itching, redness, and dryness associated with kidney dialysis.10 11

Linoleic acid, a common fatty acid found in nuts and seeds and most vegetable oils (including EPO), should theoretically be converted to PGE1; but many things can interfere with this conversion, including disease; the aging process; saturated fat; hydrogenated oils; blood sugar problems; and inadequate vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins. Supplements that provide GLA circumvent these conversion problems, leading to more predictable formation of PGE1.12

Where is evening primrose oil found?
EPO is found primarily in supplements. Its presumed active ingredient, GLA, can also be found in black currant seed oil and borage oil supplements. However, it is not known whether the effects of these three oils in the body are the same.

Evening primrose oil has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Rating Health Concerns
Fibrocystic breast disease
Osteoporosis (in combination with fish oil)
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Rheumatoid arthritis
Skin ulcers

Alcohol withdrawal
Attention deficit disorder
Intermittent claudication
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Multiple sclerosis
Raynaud’s disease
Sjogren’s syndrome
Tardive dyskinesia

Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.


 Who is likely to be deficient of evening primrose oil?

Those with premenstrual syndrome,13 diabetes,14 scleroderma,15 Sjogren’s syndrome,16 tardive dyskinesia,17 eczema,18 and other skin conditions19 can have a metabolic block that interferes with the body’s ability to make GLA. In preliminary research, supplementation with EPO has helped people with these conditions.20 21 22 23 24

There is evidence that alcoholics may be deficient in GLA, and a double-blind study suggested that alcohol withdrawal may be facilitated with EPO supplementation.25 Many people in Western societies may be at least partially GLA-deficient as a result of aging, glucose intolerance, high dietary fat intake, and other problems. People with deficiencies would presumably benefit from supplemental GLA intake from EPO, black currant seed oil, or borage oil.

How much evening primrose oil is usually taken?
Although many people may have inadequate levels of GLA, the optimal intake for this nutrient remains unknown. Researchers often use 3,000–6,000 mg of EPO per day, which provides approximately 270–540 mg of GLA.

Are there any side effects or interactions with evening primrose oil?
EPO has been reported to exacerbate symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy, which can sometimes be mistaken for schizophrenia.26 27

Other nutrients are needed by the body, along with EPO, to make PGE1. Consequently, some experts suggest that magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, niacin, and vitamin B6 should be taken along with EPO.

Are there any drug interactions?
Certain medicines may interact with evening primrose oil. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.