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Evening primrose oil 'no benefit for eczema'

Review of evidence finds little benefit from either evening primrose or borage oil for people with eczema
By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
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30th April 2013 - High quality research into the use of oral evening primrose oil and borage oil (starflower oil) shows little, if any, benefit for people with eczema.

The authors, who published their review of 27 studies on the subject in The Cochrane Library, conclude that further research on the two complementary therapies would be difficult to justify.

Atopic eczema

Atopic eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is the most common form of eczema. It is a chronic inflammatory skin condition which usually develops in early childhood. It affects about 10 to 20% of school age children, who may suffer with tight, red, painful skin, sleepless nights and low self-esteem due to appearance, itching and scratching.

For around 60% of people the disorder will improve or clear up by adulthood but there is no cure. Constant itch makes life uncomfortable for those with this condition, no matter what age they are, so it can have a significant effect on a person’s quality of life.

Creams, ointments, bath additives, topical steroids and antihistamines are some of the treatments prescribed to ease the condition.

Evening primrose and borage oil

Many people with eczema are reluctant to use the most commonly recommended treatments, i.e. topical corticosteroids, because of fears of side-effects, such as allergies or skin thinning or long-term health effects, such as growth retardation and adrenal gland suppression. Instead they turn to complementary therapies like evening primrose oil (EPO) and borage oil which contain high quantities of gamma linoleic acid (GLA), which was once thought to play a role in reducing skin inflammation in eczema.

Review

The researchers analysed the benefits and side effects associated with evening primrose oil and borage oil in 27 studies involving a total of 1,596 people (adults and children) in 27 countries.

19 studies assessed evening primrose oil, and eight studies assessed borage oil.

Participants in the studies took evening primrose oil or borage oil, or a placebo, (dummy treatment) for between three to 24 weeks.

Overall, the researchers found that taking evening primrose or borage oil offered no clear improvement of eczema symptoms over placebos. Commonly used placebos included olive oil and liquid paraffin.

There was also no improvement in quality of life with the complementary therapies, although only two studies considered this measure.

Lead researcher, Dr Joel Bamford of the University of Minnesota Medical School, US says in a news release: "There is no evidence that taking either evening primrose or borage oil is of benefit to eczema sufferers. Given the strength of the evidence in our review, we think further studies on the use of these complementary therapies to treat eczema would be hard to justify."

Long term use

The short-term studies included in the review did not examine possible adverse effects of long-term use of evening primrose or borage oil. A case report warned that if EPO is taken for a prolonged period of time (more than one year), there is a potential risk of inflammation, thrombosis and immunosuppression; another study found that EPO may increase bleeding for people on warfarin (a blood thinner) medication.

"Consumers need to be warned that oral evening primrose oil is listed as a known cause of increased bleeding for those taking Coumadin or warfarin, a very common medication," says Dr Bamford.

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