The Guide to Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose oil is mainly used to ease PMS symptoms like breast tenderness, irritability, bloating and mild depression. I've certainly found it very effective for the first two PMS symptoms.

The oil generally provides 72% linoleic acid(LA) and 9% gamma linoleic acid(GLA). Evening primrose oil is a member of the w6 family of fatty acids, and GLA is the result of the first step in the conversion of linoleic acid to the beneficial series 1 prostaglandins.

The reason the GLA content of oils like evening primrose is touted is because it is a good alternative for those people who for various reasons are unable to convert LA to GLA.

To begin the process of conversion, an enzyme, delta-6-desaturase, is required. This same enzyme is required to metabolise w3 fatty acids to their derivatives. w3 fatty acids are provided by oils like flax.

Black current seed oil supplies both w3 and w6 fatty acid derivatives, so if the conversion due to enzyme problems is an issue, it may be more useful to supplement with black current seed oil instead of evening primrose oil.

Things that can affect the conversion of linoleic acid to gamma linoleic acid are too much cholesterol, saturated or monounsaturated long chain fatty acids, processed vegetable oil, trans fatty acids, heated oils, alcohol, aging, deficiency in zinc, viral infections, diabetes, and too much sugar.

Cofactors required for conversion are zinc, magnesium, vitamin c, vitamin b3, and vitamin b6. If you are taking a good multi vitamin or you have a particularly balanced and healthy diet, this should be no problem. These cofactors are required to metabolise all essential fatty acids, including w3's like flax.

Evening primrose oil has been studied quite extensively, particularly in comparison with oils supplying the w3 essential fatty acids.

In addition to helping with premenstrual symptoms, it was found to be effective for:

  • normalising fat metabolism in diabetes
  • decreasing the amount of insulin needed
  • preventing the drying of tear and saliva glands
  • improving some kinds of eczma
  • treating diabetic neuropathy in type 2 diabetes
  • slowing down or stopping the deterioration of MS (particularly if person begins using evening primrose soon after diagnosis)
  • preventing liver damage due to alcoholism, hangovers and withdrawl symptoms from alcohol

W3 oils will help with some of these but evening primrose oil was found to be more effective.

One thing to keep in mind when taking evening primrose oil is that the ratio of essential fatty acid types (W3:w6) recommended for health is 3:1.

So for every 2g of evening primrose oil or other w6 oils, you would need to take 6g of w3's like flax or fish oils. This ratio should take into account the total amount of w6's in your diet as usually these are quite plentiful, whereas w3's are deficient. So you may want to take a little bit more of the w3's if you supplement with evening primrose oil. I take 6 - 9g of flax and 2g evening primrose.

For more information on evening primrose oil and essential fatty acids, see Udo Erasmus' book Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill. Its a very easy read given the amount of information, and well researched.

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