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Evening primrose oil supplements are dietary enhancements that contain oil extracted from evening primrose flower seeds, which are a source of omega-6 fatty acids. The omega-6 fatty acids in the seed’s oil may help improve hormone, nerve and skin problems. The supplement traditionally comes in capsule form or bottled liquid form, which is administered one to five drops at a time beneath the tongue with an eyedropper. The yellow evening primrose flower is distinct in that it blooms only once in its lifetime and then subsequently dies. Some complete multivitamins also contain up to 100 milligrams of evening primrose oil.
The fatty acid most active in these supplements is gamma linolenic acid (GLA). The ability of GLA to protect the outer layer of nerve cells may cause better brain function, calmness, and alertness. Increased nerve control is also a possible benefit, so some healthcare professionals prescribe it to those suffering nervous system ailments, such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
The body converts GLA to prostaglandins, pseudo-hormones that can potentially correct hormonal imbalances that cause breast lumps, acne, and other forms of inflammation. Users of evening primrose oil supplements often report smoother skin, shrinking breast cysts, and less pain prior to and during menstruation. Some research suggests the supplement’s hormone-balancing powers can be used to ease hot flashes and cramping during menopause. Its anti-inflammation properties have also made it a popular choice for arthritis sufferers.
Prostaglandins may reduce blood clots and lower blood pressure, making evening primrose oil potentially useful for the heart and circulatory system. Research suggests that the body’s immune system responds to prostaglandins as well; consequently, some users of the oil report stronger resistance to colds and viruses. Evening primrose oil has more GLAs and prostaglandin-producing ability than any other natural oil, according to most research.
Most users take between 100 milligrams and 2,400 milligrams of evening primrose oil supplements per day. Roughly 500 milligrams are needed for skin problems. Typically, 1,400 milligrams is recommended for breast and premenstrual problems. Many users divide the daily intake into two or three doses taken throughout a 24-hour period.
More women than men are known to take evening primrose oil, in part perhaps because the supplement has a reputation for increasing breast size as a side effect. Other side effects include nausea and diarrhea, but usually only with high doses. There is debate about whether evening primrose oil is effective for men. Some studies suggest that men may receive heart, skin, and joint benefits from the oil, but most supplements are marketed specifically to women.