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Evening primrose oil benefits for women's health

Posted by Dr. Matt Hand on Jul 9, 2021 1:56:01 PM

evening primrose oil for women

With increasing onslaughts to women’s health and hormonal balance, it’s critical to understand how to stay healthy as we age and support discomforts once they begin.

Evening primrose oil comes from the seeds of a wildflower commonly found across the United States. It is best known for its high gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) content. This omega-6 essential fatty acid is highly effective in supporting inflammatory pathways in the body and is used to address uncomfortable premenstrual issues, menopause-related problems, healthy skin, bone health, body and breast discomfort, and more.*

While omega-6 fatty acids are thought of as pro-inflammatory, GLA breaks down into a prostaglandin inhibitor, ultimately becoming a potent inflammatory support compound.*

Factors affecting women's health issues

A growing number of women are visiting their doctors for menstrual cycle issues and other women’s health concerns. Doctors are seeking answers for how to manage women's hormonal imbalances.

Stress plays a significant role in impacting hormone levels that influence women’s health, such as cortisol, thyroid, and female sex hormones. Other factors include a diet high in refined sugar and carbohydrates, inadequate sleep, lack of exercise, environmental toxins, and toxins found in foods, household items, and personal care products.

Evening primrose oil benefits and mechanisms

Most of evening primrose oil’s benefits come from its GLA content, an omega-6 essential fatty acid that is difficult to obtain from diet alone—although it can be found in black currant and borage seeds. The body can convert linolenic acid in nuts and seeds to gamma-linolenic acid, but getting high levels of GLA from foods is tough.

Much of GLA’s benefits stem from its ability to support normal inflammatory pathways.* The body converts GLA to dihomo GLA (DGLA), which becomes incorporated into cell membrane phospholipids. When released, DGLA counters the pro-inflammatory actions of arachidonic acid and competes for the enzymes LOX and COX, which include inflammation-mediating prostaglandins. Some research even suggests that DGLA might help modulate the body’s immune response by acting on T-cells.[1]

evening primrose oil uses

Evening primrose oil has many uses that support various physical discomforts.* Recently, it has been highlighted as a valuable aid for women’s health issues, likely due to the connection between a heightened inflammatory response and hormone imbalances.*

Body discomfort

Over 35% of children and even more adults report ongoing body discomfort to their doctors and pediatricians. Since inflammatory pathways seem to play a major role in body discomfort, the effects of GLA help.*[2][3]

The GLA in evening primrose oil also seems to support nerve-related problems, as well as bone and joint discomfort.*[4]

breast tenderness

Some women experience breast tenderness during menstruation or menopause. This is caused by normal hormone fluctuations causing heightened inflammation pathways. Evening primrose oil is thought to help with this by inhibiting the prostaglandins that cause it.*[5]

bone health

More research is needed, but evening primrose oil may help with bone discomfort and support bone density, especially when combined with omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil and calcium.*

menstrual-related discomforts

No conclusive studies have linked evening primrose oil to help with menstrual-related discomforts (both premenstrual and menopause-related), but many women and practitioners report a positive effect on anxiousness, breast tenderness and swelling, and fluid retention.*

healthy skin

The skin can’t produce GLA on its own. Evening primrose oil has also been effective at supporting healthy skin structure, including elasticity, firmness, and moisture.*[6]

related content: detoxification and female hormones

Evening primrose oil side effects and considerations

Evening primrose oil seems generally safe for most people, with few adverse events or contraindications. The minor adverse events reported include digestive upset, bloating, and headaches. If you are taking a blood-clotting medication, discuss dosage and safety carefully with your integrative doctor.

final thoughts

Omega-3 fatty acids have received far more attention for their support of inflammatory pathways and health benefits, while omega-6 fatty acids have gotten a bad rap. While the average American diet is too high in unhealthy fats and inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, GLA is unique in its ability to support the body’s normal inflammatory response.* In turn, supplementing with GLA-containing evening primrose oil can be an excellent way to support women’s health and hormonal balance.*

By Dr. Matthew Hand, DO, Pediatric Nephrologist


[1]  Kapoor R, Huang YS. Gamma linolenic acid: an antiinflammatory omega-6 fatty acid. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2006 Dec;7(6):531-4. doi: 10.2174/138920106779116874. PMID: 17168669

[2]  Ranieri M, Sciuscio M, Cortese AM, Santamato A, Di Teo L, Ianieri G, Bellomo RG, Stasi M, Megna M. The use of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and rehabilitation... in the treatment of back pain: effect on health-related quality of life. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2009 Jul-Sep;22(3 Suppl):45-50. doi: 10.1177/03946320090220S309. PMID: 19887043.

[3]  https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD002948.pub2/abstract

[4]  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1464-5491.1990.tb01397.x

[5]  Pruthi S, Wahner-Roedler DL, Torkelson CJ, Cha SS, Thicke LS, Hazelton JH, Bauer BA. Vitamin E and evening primrose oil for management of cyclical mastalgia: a randomized pilot study. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Apr;15(1):59-67. PMID: 20359269.

[6]  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-2494.2005.00274.x

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