Evening primrose oil is extracted from the seeds of the evening primrose, a beautiful plant with bright yellow flowers. Because of key nutrients and chemicals within the oil, it has been a popular folk remedy for many centuries. Proponents of evening primrose oil claim that it can treat a wide variety of conditions and modern evidence supports some of these assertions.
A 2005 study found some evidence that taking oral supplements of evening primrose oil promotes smooth skin. It may also help with skin elasticity and firmness while maintaining hydration.
According to the study, the skin needs a gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) for ideal structure and function, but cannot create GLA on its own. Evening primrose oil is rich in GLA, allowing the skin to meet its nutrient needs.
In addition to promoting overall skin health, the GLA in evening primrose oil may reduce skin inflammation and limit harmful cells. These qualities, in combination with promoting moisture retention, mean that evening primrose oil may fight acne.
According to some studies, evening primrose oil also improved symptoms of lip inflammation in people with acne.
Some countries other than the United States have approved using evening primrose oil to treat atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema. Older studies indicate that the GLA in evening primrose oil fights the inflammation responsible for eczema, while also promoting moisture retention to fight dry skin. However, modern systematic reviews have concluded that oral supplements of evening primrose oil do not improve eczema symptoms. Little research exists on the topical use of evening primrose oil for treating atopic dermatitis.
Older evidence supports evening primrose oil as a potential treatment for some premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, such as bloating, irritability, and depression. Researchers felt these effects stemmed from GLA becoming prostaglandin E1 in the body, preventing the hormone prolactin from triggering PMS symptoms.
A 2010 study found that a combination of vitamins and evening primrose oil was effective in alleviating the effects of PMS. However, the oil may not be responsible for the majority of these benefits, as systematic reviews claim there is little evidence supporting these findings.
Prolactin is also responsible for causing breast growth during and after pregnancy and may cause breast tenderness in those who are not pregnant.
Certain evidence points to the GLA in evening primrose oil preventing inflammation and limiting the effects of prolactin and other hormones that may be responsible for breast pain. However, the study also included vitamin E supplementation, so the exact efficacy of evening primrose oil remains unclear.
During menopause, most people experience hot flashes, which are sudden feelings of intense warmth. Evening primrose oil can potentially limit the severity of hot flashes, as well as reduce their frequency.
However, earlier reviews stated that there was not enough evidence to support evening primrose oil as a regular treatment for hot flashes.
Before undergoing a hysteroscopy or similar procedure, it may be beneficial to use evening primrose oil.
In a small study, researchers provided participants with soft capsules of evening primrose oil at set intervals before cervical procedures. They discovered that cervical dilation occurred much more quickly and was less painful for the participants who took the oil. The researchers proposed that the oil may also make childbirth easier.
Heart disease is one of the biggest concerns in modern medicine. A 2014 study of evening primrose oil’s effects on rats confirmed its anti-inflammatory effects while also discovering that it could reduce cholesterol levels.
While experts have not proven that inflammation causes heart disease, inflammation is commonly present in people with cardiac conditions.
Many people experience bone and joint pain as a result of rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory condition. A systematic review from 2011 notes that the GLA in evening primrose oil has substantial anti-inflammatory properties that benefit arthritis symptoms. Additionally, the oil appears to reduce pain without dangerous side effects.
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that develops when the nerves on the outside of the spinal cord and brain are damaged. Symptoms include weakness, numbness, and pain, especially in the hands and feet.
Some older research suggests that the linolenic acid in evening primrose oil helps reduce symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, namely temperature sensitivity and weakness.
Though evening primrose oil is probably safe for most adults and is generally well-tolerated, certain individuals should avoid using it.
Oral use of the oil may increase the risk of bleeding in people with bleeding disorders. Additionally, it can increase the risk of seizures for individuals with schizophrenia and epilepsy. Evening primrose oil also interacts with many medications, so always speak with a doctor about potential complications.
For centuries, Native Americans created poultices from the plant to treat minor injuries and bruises. They also created topical remedies for skin inflammation from the stem and leaf juices. Some tribes ate the leaves to treat sore throats and gastrointestinal problems.
During the 17th century, evening primrose oil became such a popular medication that it earned the nickname “King’s cure-all.”
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