Health Benefits of Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose is a plant with yellow flowers native to North America. Its seeds are used to produce evening primrose oil, also sometimes called night willow herb, fever plant, or King’s cure-all.

Native Americans used evening primrose oil to heal wounds and treat issues like stomach pain and sore throat. By the 17th century, it became a popular folk remedy in Europe — where it earned the nickname “King’s cure-all”. 

Today you can buy evening primrose oil at grocery stores and online. To use, apply directly to your skin or take as an oral supplement. While research is ongoing to confirm the oil’s historical claims, studies offer some scientific support for several potential health benefits.  

Health Benefits

Evening primrose oil is rich with gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and pain-relieving effects. Many people use GLA as a type of medicine. Researchers believe its soothing properties contribute to evening primroseoil’s potential health benefits like:

Skin Health

Research suggests that the GLA in evening primrose oil is essential for good skin health. One study found that taking the oil by mouth significantly improved skin moisture, roughness, firmness, and elasticity.

It may help treat certain skin conditions as well. The oil’s moisture-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties might help fight acne or eczema, but clinical studies show conflicting results.

Alleviate Premenstrual Syndrome

Scientists believe that sensitivity to changing hormone levels may cause premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms in women. These hormones are influenced by essential fatty acids like the GLA in evening primrose oil, pointing to the oil’s potential to alleviate discomfort.

Studies show that evening primrose oil may help ease PMS symptoms like:

Menopausal Relief

Evening primrose oil has been shown to help relieve hot flashes in menopausal women, including their severity, frequency, and duration. One clinical trial found that in addition to hot flash relief, participants taking the oil also improved other metrics like social interactions and sexuality.  

Arthritis Pain Reduction

The GLA in evening primrose oil may reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. This condition happens when the immune system attacks the body’s tissues. It affects many people around the world and is characterized by painful swelling of the hands and feet, and stiffening of the joints.

Thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects, studies show supplementing with evening primrose oil can reduce pain severity and improve mobility. It also helps with symptoms like morning stiffness better than medication alone. 

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Health Risks

In general, evening primrose oil is considered safe for most people to use. However, some studies indicate that it may cause problems for people with certain health conditions. These include cancer and pregnancy.

Talk to your doctor before adding it or any other supplement to your diet, considering the oil’s potential health risks:

Side Effects

Some people report minor side effects when taking evening primrose oil, like stomach pain, digestive problems, and headaches. Add it to your diet slowly and stop taking it if symptoms don’t go away.

Medication Interactions

Evening primrose oil may enhance the effects of blood thinners or antiplatelet medications or increase bleeding risk in people taking them.  

Evening primrose oil also significantly increases the levels of antiretroviral drugs that treat HIV, which can raise the risk of adverse effects.  

Blood Pressure

Evening primrose oil may increase blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to heart-related problems like a heart attack, stroke, or other heart diseases. Talk to your doctor before taking the oil if you are managing your blood pressure levels.

Pregnancy

Do not take evening primrose oil if you are pregnant. Doing so may endanger you or the baby. Reported side effects include delivery complications and newborn bruising.

Amounts and Dosage

Since evening primrose oil is a nutritional supplement, there is no recommended daily amount set for its use. The average supplement contains about 1.3 grams of evening primrose oil, and clinical trials that study its health benefits use doses that range between 500 milligrams and 8 grams per day. 

Talk to your doctor about how much evening primrose oil you should take based on your health goals and medications, and follow the dosing instructions from a reliable supplement brand

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 17, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Cochrane Systematic Review: “Herbal therapy for treating rheumatoid arthritis.”

Inflammopharmacology: “Evening primrose oil and celecoxib inhibited pathological angiogenesis, inflammation, and oxidative stress in adjuvant-induced arthritis: novel role of angiopoietin-1.”

International Journal of Cosmetic Science: “Systemic evening primrose oil improves the biophysical skin parameters of healthy adults.”

Journal of Menopausal Medicine: “Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) Oil in Management of Female Ailments.”

Mayo Clinic: Rheumatoid arthritis.”

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Evening Primrose Oil.”

National Institutes of Health: “Evening Primrose Oil.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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