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Evening Primrose and Menopause

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Updated April 23, 2014

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

One of the most popular natural remedies for menopausal symptoms is evening primrose oil, a substance extracted from the Oenothera biennis plant. Evening primrose oil is rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid involved in the production of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. By revving up production of prostaglandins, evening primrose oil is thought to help counter hormonal changes associated with menopause.

Find out more about evening primrose oil and learn more about the benefits of GLA.

Research on Evening Primrose Oil for Menopause

Some proponents claim that evening primrose oil can offer relief from a number of menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, difficultly sleeping, vaginal dryness, and disturbance in mood. However, there is little scientific support for the theory that evening primrose oil can help treat menopausal symptoms. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) classifies evening primrose oil as "possibly ineffective" for menopause-related symptoms.

While few studies have tested evening primrose oil's effects on women undergoing menopause, most of the available research has yielded negative findings. For instance, in a review published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2005, scientists analyzed 19 studies on the use of botanical remedies for relief of menopause-related symptoms and found that evening primrose oil (as well as dong quai and ginseng) appeared to be ineffective.

In a more recent report, published in American Family Physician in 2009, researchers stated that there is insufficient evidence to determine if evening primrose oil is effective for "most clinical indications" (including symptoms associated with menopause).

Using Evening Primrose Oil During Menopause

Evening primrose oil is likely safe for most people, according to the NIH. However, use of evening primrose oil supplements may cause some side effects (such as upset stomach, and nausea), as well as produce harmful interactions when taken in combination with certain medications (including blood-thinning drugs and anesthesia). If you're considering the use of evening primrose oil for treatment or prevention of symptoms associated with menopause, consult your primary care provider before starting your supplement regimen.

For relief of menopausal symptoms, consider lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, following a balanced diet, practicing relaxation techniques, and taking up yoga. Some studies suggest that natural remedies like soy and black cohosh also show promise in the treatment of menopausal symptoms.

Sources

Bayles B, Usatine R. "Evening primrose oil." Am Fam Physician. 2009 Dec 15;80(12):1405-8.

Carroll DG. "Nonhormonal therapies for hot flashes in menopause." Am Fam Physician. 2006 Feb 1;73(3):457-64.

Low Dog T. "Menopause: a review of botanical dietary supplements." Am J Med. 2005 Dec 19;118 Suppl 12B:98-108.

National Institutes of Health. "Evening primrose oil: MedlinePlus Supplements". December 2010.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Evening Primrose Oil [NCCAM Herbs at a Glance]". NCCAM Publication No. D341. Created December 2006. Updated July 2010.

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