Evening Primrose for Eczema

Soothe dermatitis with evening primrose


| November/December 1999



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Evening primrose is one of the best-known substances for restoring and maintaining healthy skin.


People with eczema, or dermatitis, may find relief from a surprising source: the dainty evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). The active ­phytochemical in evening primrose oil, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), is one of the best-known substances for restoring and maintaining healthy skin.

GLA is a storage lipid, one that stores the food energy for the primrose seed to consume while sprouting. In relation to the human body, GLA is called a polyunsaturated fatty acid, or PUFA. PUFAs must be consumed in the diet because they can’t be made directly by the body. Linoleic acid (LA) is another PUFA related to GLA and often a precursor to it. In a healthy body, LA is converted to GLA.

LA is required for proper body functioning, and is thus classified as an essential fatty acid (EFA)—a distinction GLA doesn’t yet officially have. But GLA should be considered among the EFAs—at least for people with dermatitis, also called eczema. Studies on individuals with eczema have shown that they lack the ability to convert LA to GLA.

Which plants have GLA?

Most plants don’t contain significant levels of GLA, making the GLA-rich seed oil of evening primrose a valuable commercial resource. Although the GLA content of evening primrose oil is only about half that of borage seed (Borago officinalis), black currant (Ribes nigrum), and many fungal oils, it is considered a superior source of GLA for pharmacological use because it appears to be more bioavailable—that is, the body seems to process and benefit from it more readily than it does other sources. This has been demonstrated in several laboratory experiments where rats were fed diets containing equal quantities of GLA from evening primrose, black currant, borage, or fungal oils. The rats fed GLA from evening primrose produced the highest amount of certain anti-inflammatory biochemicals derived from GLA.

In other trials involving both humans and animals, evening primrose was also found to be more effective than borage, black currant, or fungal oils for lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and platelet aggregation (clumping that plays a role in clotting).





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