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Evening primrose oil

Evening primrose oil, sometimes called EPO, is a herbal extract traditionally used for a wide range of ailments, commonly premenstrual and menopausal symptoms in women, particularly breast pain.

The oil is extracted from the seed of the evening primrose plant (Oenothera biennis).

Evening primrose oil contains the omega 6 fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), and vitamin E, which may help protect cells from oxidative stress.

Evening primrose oil health claims

There is no scientific evidence that evening primrose oil is any more effective for breast pain linked to the menstrual cycle than a placebo (dummy) medication. This placebo effect is acknowledged to be considerable with evening primrose oil and that leads some healthcare professionals to recommend it to patients.

Evening primrose oil has been tested in clinical trials for such conditions as eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetic neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, various cancers, Raynaud's phenomenon, ulcerative colitis, pre- eclampsia, schizophrenia and hyperactivity. However there is no scientific evidence of any benefit in treating these conditions with evening primrose oil.

High quality research published in 2013 into the use of oral evening primrose oil found little, if any, benefit for people with eczema. The authors, who published their review of 27 studies on the subject in The Cochrane Library, concluded that further research on the complementary therapy would be difficult to justify.

Arthritis Research UK says polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids in EPO may help control pain and inflammation. However, it says evidence for the effectiveness of EPO in reducing rheumatoid arthritis joint pain is not conclusive. It may, however, improve morning stiffness.

EPO regulation

Some herbal products are registered with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) under the Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) scheme. Unlike licensing for mainstream medicines, registration doesn't mean a herbal remedy has been tested and proven to actually work. It does mean the MHRA is satisfied the product is made to good quality standards with appropriate labelling and a product information leaflet. It also means the herb has been used in traditional remedies for more than 30 years. However, no registration is listed for evening primrose oil.

Claims about a food's nutritional or health benefits are regulated by the European Food Safety Authority. It has rejected a number of claims about products containing evening primrose oil, including that it helps to maintain:

  • Joint mobility
  • Normal blood cholesterol
  • Normal blood pressure
  • Bone strength/density
  • Normal, healthy skin
  • Balances skin moisture content, keeps the skin smooth, reduces itching, and soothes skin irritation.
  • Healthy function of the hormonal system
  • Integrity and the fluidity of the cell membrane
  • Healthy attitude and temperament during the menstrual cycle

Evening primrose oil precautions

Evening primrose oil is not recommended for women trying to get pregnant, women who are breastfeeding or people with epilepsy. Seek medical advice before taking any new supplement in case it interferes with other medicines.

For dose information, follow the product leaflet.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 07, 2017

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