Evening Primrose Oil: How it Heals
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Evening primrose oil's anti-inflammatory properties make it suited to help with everything from pain relief to soothing itchy skin. Here's what you need to know.
Hidden within the evening primrose plant’s tiny, spherical seeds is a beneficial fat called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) that is believed to have benefits for a wide variety of health conditions. A native of North America, this edible plant was used by Native Americans to make poultices to relieve bruises, heal sores, and soothe hemorrhoids. English settlers took evening primrose back to the British Isles, where its roots were eaten as a food and its seeds used in place of poppy seeds. Today, herbalists and medical researchers focus their attention on evening primrose oil (EPO).
“Evening primrose oil is used for premenstrual syndrome, breast pain, endometriosis, and hot flashes from menopause,” says Catherine Uram, MD, a course instructor and fellow at the University of Arizona’s Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson, Arizona. “There is some evidence that EPO may improve eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome, nerve damage in diabetes, dry eyes, dyslexia and dyspraxia in children when taken in combination with certain other nutrients, high cholesterol, and Raynaud’s Syndrome.”
How evening primrose oil works
The human body converts GLA into a chemical that inhibits inflammation-boosting compounds. A study published in 2018 in the journal Antioxidants showed that EPO can help treat eczema, psoriasis, Sjögren’s syndrome, and asthma. A study published in 2017 in Pharmaceutical and Biosciences Journal, found that consuming EPO can also slow the progression of diabetes-related complications in people with type 2 diabetes. And other research suggests that EPO may help relieve symptoms in people with rheumatoid arthritis. However, EPO research has not been unanimously positive; some studies have found little benefit, leading researchers to speculate that it may work better for some people than for others.
How to use evening primrose oil
EPO is usually taken in capsule form, says Dr. Uram. “The dosing and length of treatment is different for each condition.” For chronic fatigue syndrome, for instance, research suggests taking EPO along with fish oil capsules may help improve symptoms, says Dr. Uram. To play it safe, follow label instructions or take as professionally prescribed. (Here are some signs of chronic fatigue syndrome.)
Who should avoid EPO? “There is not enough data to support safe use of EPO in during pregnancy, so best to avoid, and discuss with your physician if you’re considering taking EPO while breast feeding,” says Dr. Uram. “EPO may increase bleeding, so do not use if you have a bleeding disorder or if you’re about to have surgery or are recovering from surgery. EPO may increase likelihood of seizures in epilepsy, so best to avoid; people with schizophrenia on certain medications may have a greater likelihood of having a seizure as well, so discuss with your doctor. EPO also has interactions with some medications that are broken down in the liver, medications that affect blood clotting and anesthesia, so best to talk with your doctor.” It’s generally a good idea to not mix medications and/or supplements before talking with a healthcare professional.
- Catherine Uram, MD, a course instructor and fellow at the University of Arizona's Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, in Tucson, AZ.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, "Evening Primrose Oil."
- Penn State Hershey, "Gammo-linolenic acid."
- Antioxidants, "Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) Biological Activity Dependent on Chemical Composition."
- Pharmaceutical and Biosciences Journal, "Study Effect of Evening Primrose Oil Supplement on Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus - Associated Metabolic Parameters."
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, "Rheumatoid Arthritis: In Depth."
- Doctors’ Favorite Natural Remedies by The Editors of Reader's Digest