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Evening Primrose Oil

Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects & More

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Updated June 26, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Evening Primrose Oil

Evening Primrose flower

Anna Yu/Getty Images

What Is Evening Primrose Oil?

Evening primrose oil is sourced from Oenothera biennis, a plant native to North America. It contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid required by the body for growth and development.

Health Benefits of Evening Primrose Oil:

Research suggests that evening primrose oil may be of little value in the management of premenstrual syndrome or menopausal symptoms. However, other studies indicate that evening primrose oil may help with the following conditions:

1) Eczema

Evening primrose oil may help relieve the itching, crusting, redness, and swelling associated with atopic eczema, according to a meta-analysis published in 2006. Fatty acids are thought to play a role in these beneficial effects.

Evening primrose oil is just one remedy for eczema. Find out about other Natural Remedies For Eczema.

2) Rheumatoid Arthritis

To date, there's little research on the effectiveness of evening primrose oil in treating rheumatoid arthritis (an inflammatory condition that causes pain and swelling of the joints). However, a report published in 2001 suggests that evening primrose oil may have indirect anti-inflammatory actions and may help manage this autoimmune disease.

See Natural Remedies For Rheumatoid Arthritis.

3) Breast Cancer

Preliminary research suggests that GLA may help destroy tumors without inducing damage to normal cells or causing harmful side effects. And in a small study published in 2000, researchers found that participants who took GLA supplements in addition to the breast cancer drug tamoxifen responded more quickly to breast cancer treatment than those who took tamoxifen alone.

Learn about Natural Remedies For Breast Cancer Prevention as well as complementary therapies.

Uses for Evening Primrose Oil

In herbal medicine, evening primrose oil is typically used to treat these health problems:

  • eczema
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • premenstrual syndrome
  • menopausal symptoms
  • diabetes
  • How to Use Evening Primrose Oil

    Available in many health food stores and in pharmacies offering herbal supplements, evening primrose oil is typically sold in capsule form.

    If you're considering using evening primrose oil in treatment of a chronic condition, make sure to consult your physician first. It's especially important to seek medical guidance if you're seeking to manage a serious condition such as breast cancer or rheumatoid arthritis.

    Side Effects

    Although evening primrose oil is generally considered safe, it may cause mild side effects such as gastrointestinal upset, headache, and nausea in some individuals.

    Safety

    Intake of evening primrose oil may increase risk of bleeding for people taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet medication. It also may interfere with phenothiazines (tranquilizing drugs with antipsychotic actions).

    Since evening primrose oil may increase risk of pregnancy complications, pregnant women should consult their physician before using this supplement.

    Sources

    Budeiri D, Li Wan Po A, Dornan JC. "Is evening primrose oil of value in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome?" Control Clin Trials. 1996 17(1):60-8.

    Darlington LG, Stone TW. "Antioxidants and fatty acids in the amelioration of rheumatoid arthritis and related disorders." Br J Nutr. 2001 85(3):251-69.

    Kenny FS, Pinder SE, Ellis IO, Gee JM, Nicholson RI, Bryce RP, Robertson JF. "Gamma linolenic acid with tamoxifen as primary therapy in breast cancer." Int J Cancer. 2000 85(5):643-8.

    Kronenberg F, Fugh-Berman A. "Complementary and alternative medicine for menopausal symptoms: a review of randomized, controlled trials." Ann Intern Med. 2002 19;137(10):805-13.

    Medline Plus; (Oenothera biennis L.). Evening primrose oil; Accessed at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-primrose.html.

    Menendez JA, Ropero S, Lupu R, Colomer R. "Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (18:3n-6) enhances docetaxel (Taxotere) cytotoxicity in human breast carcinoma cells: Relationship to lipid peroxidation and HER-2/neu expression." Oncol Rep. 2004 11(6):1241-52.

    Morse NL, Clough PM. "A meta-analysis of randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials of Efamol evening primrose oil in atopic eczema. Where do we go from here in light of more recent discoveries?" Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2006 7(6):503-24.

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