Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose oil is extracted from the evening primrose plant (Oenothera biennis), a wildflower found in North America, Europe and parts of Asia. The plant's pale yellow flowers open in the evening—hence its common name. Its seeds bear the special fatty oil that is used in healing today. Seeds contain about 14% fixed oil (evening primrose oil, EPO), with approx. 50-70% cis-linolenic acid, and 7-10% cis-gamma-linolenic acid (Gamma linolenic acid, GLA). Production of GLA from linoleic acid may be blocked or diminished as the result of: aging, diabetes mellitus, excessive carbohydrate intake or fasting. Contains the highest amount of GLA of any food.

In another era, Native Americans and the early settlers gathered the plant and its root to treat such ailments as hemorrhoids, stomachaches, sore throats, and bruises. It took modern research to unveil the therapeutic power contained within the seed oil: an essential fatty acid (EFA) called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Once processed in the body, GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid, exerts anti-inflammatory and other healing actions.

Evening primrose oil is certainly not the only source of GLA. Various foods actually contain small amounts of it and the body produces GLA on its own from a number of dietary fats. But evening primrose oil offers an unusually concentrated source, with 7% to 10% of its fatty acids available in the form of GLA. Interestingly, borage oil features even more GLA (20% to 26%), and black currant oil offers rich stores as well (14% to 19%), but their effectiveness and safety for many ailments has not been as intensively examined as evening primrose oil. Nonetheless, some people prefer borage and black currant oils because they require a lower dose (at less total cost) for the same amount of GLA.

The remarkably rich stores of GLA in evening primrose oil are what make it so valuable in healing. Taken internally, the body converts GLA into prostaglandins. These hormonelike compounds help regulate various body functions, controlling inflammation in some cases and promoting it in others. The prostaglandins produced from GLA fall into the anti-inflammatory category. Cell membranes also rely on the presence of GLA.

Specifically, evening primrose oil may help to:

  • Relieve the discomforts of PMS (premenstrual syndrome), menstruation, endometriosis and fibrocystic breasts.
  • Ease the joint pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Prevent diabetes-associated nerve damage.
  • Reduce the symptoms of eczema.
  • Treat acne and rosacea.
  • Alleviate inflammation associated with lupus.
  • Lessen numbness and tingling.
  • Combat damage from multiple sclerosis.
  • Treat Alzheimer's-related memory deficiencies.
  • Protect against the effects of aging.
  • Counter impotence and female infertility.
  • Alleviate Raynaud's disease symptoms.
  • Nourish nails, scalp, and hair.
  • Prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Evening primrose oil may increase the risk of temporal lobe epilepsy in schizophrenic patients taking phenothiazine epileptogenic drugs. When combined with antiepileptic drugs there may be an increased risk of seizure. Due to the antihypertensive (hypotensive) action of this herb the following interactions are possible: when taken with anesthetics an increased hypotensive effect; potentiation of antihypertensives; when taken with diuretics difficulty with diuresis and hypertension may result; antagonism of sympathomimetics. There are no other known drug or nutrient interactions associated with evening primrose oil or its contained essential fatty acids.

Evening primrose oil appears to be safe. Stomach upset, headaches, and rashes have been reported as side effects. None of these are fatal, of course. Bloating or abdominal upset develop in a small percentage (about 2%) of those participating in evening primrose oil studies.