The Herbs Section
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Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis [Latin]), also known as evening star, produces little yellow flowers that bloom for only one night and then wither and die. The seeds for this plant are used to produce evening primrose oil (EPO), an excellent source of the omega-6 essential fatty acid. Evening primrose oil has been proven to be an effective treatment for many skin disorders, and may also help prevent diseases involving the breasts and central nervous system.
The omega-6 essential fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), is believed to be the active ingredient of evening primrose oil. Gamma-linolenic acid is known to help soothe inflammation in the body, and to support the body’s immune system.
Several studies have shown that oral supplements containing evening primrose oil can help heal skin conditions that involve inflammation and have been linked to the body’s autoimmune response, including eczema, ischthysosis vulgaris (scaly skin), and atopic dermatitis. Evening primrose oil has been approved for treatment of these conditions in several countries outside the United States.
The gamma-linolenic acid contained in evening primrose oil helps maintain the integrity of the myelin sheath that surrounds the nerves and helps protect them from damage. Therefore, evening primrose oil may be helpful to those suffering from disorders that affect brain chemistry. Based on the results of laboratory studies, it is thought that taking oral evening primrose supplements can help control symptoms and prolong remission in individuals suffering from conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, and diabetic neuropathy. The typical dosage for treatment of these diseases ranges anywhere from 500 to 2,400 milligrams in capsules per day, but it’s a good idea to consult a physician before taking evening primrose oil or any other herbal supplements in medicinal dosages.
The gamma-linolenic acid in evening primrose oil inhibits the production of hormone-like chemicals in the blood called prostaglandins, some of which are thought to cause inflammation. High levels of prostaglandins have been linked to conditions such as pre-eclampsia, mastitis, and the formation of cysts in the breasts. EPO is used for breast pain and cysts in several European countries, and is thought to be particularly effective in fighting the cyclical breast pain that often accompanies premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The recommended dosage for treatment of breast ailments is 1,500 milligrams in capsules two times per day.
Evening primrose oil is also being studied for use as a treatment for other uncomfortable, hormone-induced symptoms that can accompany PMS and menopause, such as excessive cramping and hot flashes.
The anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting action of evening primrose oil makes it a potential treatment for other disorders characterized by pain and inflammation, such as Raynaud’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. One study showed that rheumatoid arthritis patients taking 12 capsules per day of evening primrose oil were able to cut back significantly on their use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Evening primrose oil, which is derived from the seeds of the evening primrose flower, is available in capsules; however, there are also supplements that are made from the whole herb, which are a good source of tryptophan, a substance that has been used to treat insomnia and depression.
There have been no reports of toxic reaction to evening primrose oil, but some people do report stomach upset and diarrhea when taking this supplement. In large amounts, evening primrose oil may actually increase breast tenderness, and there have been reports that taking large doses of evening primrose oil over long periods of time can cause permanent breast enlargement.
Evening primrose oil may produce allergic skin reactions in some sensitive individuals; some people even report that these supplements caused their acne to flare up. People taking drugs to treat schizophrenia should not take evening primrose supplements without consulting their physician—there have been some reports that that these supplements interact with these drugs in a way that increases the risk of seizure and may cause difficulty breathing.
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