Evening primrose oil is extracted from seeds of the evening primrose plant (Oenothera biennis) - a wildflower that grows in eastern and central North America.
Originally, evening primrose was used by Native Americans to make poultices and heal wounds. It was also traditionally eaten and used as a leaf vegetable.
Nowadays evening primrose is mainly used for the production of its oil, which has a range of therapeutic properties.
The oil is commonly used to help reduce the pains associated with premenstrual stress syndrome (PMS) and for its therapeutic benefits for the skin of the face. There are other possible therapeutic properties of the oil as well.
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Evening primrose is normally available as an oil or in capsules.
What makes evening primrose oil special?
Evening primrose seeds have very high levels of the essential fatty acid "gamma-linolenic acid" (GLA), also known as "omega-6". The oil contains up to 15% gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and 70% linolenic acid, which your body turns into GLA.
The body eventually converts GLA into prostaglandins - hormones necessary for a number of important functions.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center1, evening primrose oil is one of the main sources of GLA.GLA is crucial for maintaining a joint's cell structure and function. The U.S. National Institutes of Health2 says GLA could also help slow blood clotting.
The oil could also be used to treat problems with inflammation and auto-immune diseases - although research confirming this remains scarce.
Evening primrose oil is primarily used to treat symptoms of skin conditions. It is used to help alleviate itchiness caused by dermatitis and eczema - the strongest evidence is for treatment of eczema. Women often use the oil to help with breast pains caused by PMS.
Evening primrose has proved to be an effective treatment option for people suffering from eczema. In a study, which included over 1,200 patients, evening primrose oil was remarkably good at relieving many of their symptoms, such as itching, redness and edema.
Evening primrose oil is sometimes used to alleviate mastalgia (breast pain).
However, one study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology3, found that "neither evening primrose oil nor fish oil offered clear benefits over control oils in the treatment of mastalgia."
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Although more "high-quality" studies are necessary to evaluate the true efficacy of evening primrose oil for treating PMS, many women around the world take it because they say it helps.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)Some studies have showed that RA patients who took evening primrose oil began feeling slightly better. Arthritis Research UK4 reported that a clinical trial involving 49 people found that "94% of participants who got EPO alone and 93% who received EPO combined with fish oil reported a significant improvement of disease-related symptoms, including pain and morning stiffness, compared to only 30% in the placebo group."
Evening primrose oil might also be effective for the following illnesses and conditions:
- Hot flashes (UK: hot flushes)
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - An Australian study found that evening primrose oil improved symptoms of children with ADHD.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
Side effects and complications linked to using evening primrose oil
If taken at the right dosage - 6 grams (540 mg GLA) - side effects are rare.
Some common side effects include:
- Skin rashes
According to Arthritis Research UK5, people who suffer from epilepsy should not take evening primrose oil as it may increase their risk of seizures.
Written by Joseph Nordqvist