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Evening Primrose Oil

Skin Conditions, Women's Health | August 4, 2017 | Author: Naturopath

Skin conditions, women's health

Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose oil is a polyunsaturated fatty acid obtained from the pretty Oenothera biennis (Evening Primrose) plant, a common wild flower found growing in North America. Historically it was used by the Native Americans for food and as a medicine, the seeds being used for food and the whole plant as a poultice for bruising.  European settlers brought the plant back to Germany and England to use as a food. 

The evening primrose seed provides us with a fine textured oil high in essential fatty acids called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and linoleic acid (LA). Both LA and GLA are omega-6 fatty acids. Evening primrose oil has anti-inflammatory and anti- allergic actions and can correct omega-6 deficiencies. Evening primrose oil can be used both topically and internally for a number of conditions, such as premenstrual syndrome, breast pain (mastalgia), dry skin and eczema and diabetic neuropathy.

 A bit about polyunsaturated fatty acids

Polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFAs) are classified according to their molecular make-up and in the case of EPO, it is classified as an omega-6 fatty acid (n-6 fatty acid). Linoleic acid (LA) is the most common n-6 fatty acid and is found in many vegetable oils.

Our bodies cannot manufacture omega 6 thus it is considered an essential fatty acid that we must obtained from our diet.

PUFAs are components of the cell membrane that:

  • Provide flexibility to the cell membrane and influence the intake of fluid 
  • Helps to maintain normal cellular structure
  • Maintain the water impermeability of the skin
  • Are used for energy production and storage

and provide

  • precursors needed for the formation of ‘Eicosanoids’, which function in platelet aggregation (blood clotting) and the inflammatory process.

The  principle subclasses of eicosanoids are prostaglandins, leukotrienes and thromboxanes.

Prostaglandins modify responses to hormones; contribute to the inflammatory response; prevent stomach ulcers; enlarge airways to the lungs; regulate body temperature; along with many other roles.
Leukotrienes are involved in allergic and inflammatory responses.
Thromboxanes influence platelet aggregation (blood clot formation).

The GLA from Evening primrose oil is assimilated more readily into the body than other LA containing vegetable oils, is rapidly absorbed and available for its many uses

Some of which include:

atopic eczemaEczema and Atopic dermatitis (AD). Evening primrose oil has been a popular choice for the treatment of eczema and atopic dermatitis, though there is conflicting scientific evidence for its use in eczema.

It has been approved for atopic dermatitis and eczema in several countries outside the United States. Studies have suggested its use in Atopic dermatitis.

People with this condition have been found to have a deficiency of delta-6-desaturase, which is an enzyme responsible for the conversion of linoleic acid to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). 

As evening primrose oil (EPO) contains high amounts of GLA it is thought that supplementing will help with this condition. A preliminary trial has postulated this theory after supplementing with EPO was found to increase serum levels of GLA.

Dry Skin can be a result of high amount of water loss from the skin. This can happen with atopic dermatitis due to poor skin barrier function. The over use of corticosteroid creams can often thin the skin. Psoriasis is an acceleration of the cell proliferation process resulting in scales of immature cells on the surface of the skin.  Dry skin can be caused by poor cellular function resulting in water loss. GLA was found to improve skin barrier function in subjects with dry skin conditions and mild atopic dermatitis.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by overproduction of inflammatory mediators and weakened oxidative defensive mechanisms. Pathological angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels) has been found to play a critical role in how this disease progresses. 

A study was carried out to evaluate the anti-angiogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant effects of evening primrose oil (EPO), either alone or in combination with aspirin or celecoxib, on rats. It was demonstrated that EPO significantly reduced the synovial hyperplasia and inflammatory cell invasion in joint tissues, an effect which was enhanced by combination with the use of aspirin or Celebrex.

GLA-rich natural oils such as evening primrose which possess anti-angiogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant activities, used along with more traditional analgesics, show a promising strategy to hold back the progression of this debilitating diseases. EPO should not be used long term in people with RA

Breast pain (mastalgia) EPO is listed for use in the United Kingdom. Studies have been performed using 1000mg 3 times a day for 3 -6 months showed a reduction in pain and tenderness of breast. These positive results are suggested due to its anti-inflammatory action.

Menopause symptoms. in a random 6 week trial women were given 2 capsules of 500mg evening primrose oil or placebo and asked to evaluate their “hot flash related daily interference” using a questionnaire before and after the trial.

It was concluded that the EPO taking patients had a reduction in the intensity of their hot flush attacks and they became more bearable.

Other conditions that have not been proven but have shown positive results with the use of EPO or GLA include:

  • Dry eyes
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis)
  • High cholesterol
  • Dyslexia (difficulty reading)
  • Diabetes and Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Raynaud's phenomenon (poor circulation)

Other sources of GLA include spirulina (blue - green algae), borage, hemp, and black currant oils. Other essential fatty acids you might be familiar with are Omega-3’s, found mainly in fish oil, walnuts and soy.

The body needs a balance of omega-6s and omega-3s to stay healthy.

Caution! Please check with your medical practitioner if on medication before use as some medicines interact with Evening primrose oil.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Tortora Gerald J., Derrickson Bryan, 2006 Principles of Anatomy and Physiology 11th edition, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Mills, Simon and Bone, Kerry; 2000, Principles and practice of Phytotherapy, Churchill Livingstone, AustMills, Simon and Bone, Kerry; 2000, Principles and practice of Phytotherapy, Churchill Livingstone, Aust

Romm, Aviva; 2010; Botanical Medicine of Women’s Health, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, USA

Gamma-linolenic acid levels correlate with clinical efficacy of evening primrose oil in patients with atopic dermatitis.

The effect of oral evening primrose oil on menopausal hot flashes: a randomized clinical trial.

Evening primrose oil and celecoxib inhibited pathological angiogenesis, inflammation, and oxidative stress in adjuvant-induced arthritis: novel role of angiopoietin-1.

Dietary supplementation of gamma-linolenic acid improves skin parameters in subjects with dry skin and mild atopic dermatitis.

Mills S, Bone K, (2009), Principles and Practice of Phototherapy, Elsevier, Aust

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