Evening Primrose Oil

Benefits of Evening Primrose OilEvening primrose oil is extracted from the seeds of Oenothera biennis – a medical plant called “evening primrose” as its flowers bloom only at dusk. The plant has been used medicinally for hundreds of years by indigenous tribes of North America and Europe, and its extracted oil is now being used in Western herbal medicine for its rich concentration of omega-6 fatty acids.

Here we’ve narrowed down the most popular and scientifically relevant use cases for modern evening primrose oil supplements, followed by the best rated EPO supplements.

Use cases include:

  • Inflammation
  • PMS
  • Diabetic Nerve Pain
  • Skin Health

And lastly at the bottom, our top recommended brands for evening primrose oil supplements.

Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) and Inflammation

Evening primrose oil is rich in omega-6 essential fatty acids, particularly gamma linoleic acid (GLA) and linoleic acid (LA) [1]. These fats play key roles in inflammation and may help to reduce chronic inflammatory symptoms.

Inflammation is a cycle.

A signal is sent to kick-start inflammation in response to cellular damage – this is the first stage of healing. Redness, swelling and pain are signs that immune cells, nutrients, chemicals and building blocks are rushing to the site to clear out any pathogens and begin repairing the wound. It hurts, but it’s good news. Inflammation usually subsides as wound healing progresses, but sometimes inflammation itself is the cause of the cellular damage and perpetuates its own cycle – inflammatory processes damage cells, cells release signals to boost inflammation, and the cycle continues.

Good news – The GLA content of evening primrose oil is an anti-inflammatory fatty acid. It can interfere with the synthesis of inflammatory chemicals called eicosanoids. This is a group of compounds includes prostaglandins and cytokines – chemicals that are characteristically out of control in chronic inflammatory conditions. By reducing the amount of eicosanoids available, GLA may be able to relieve some inflammatory symptoms.

Bad news – The LA content in evening primrose oil can act as a pro-inflammatory fatty acid. This means that it could boost the inflammatory pathways that the GLA is trying to suppress. However, LA can be converted into GLA! This only happens when there is a higher ratio of omega-3:omega-6 fatty acids in the body, so consider reducing your meat intake and upping the healthy fats while taking EPO to make the most of its anti-inflammatory potential [2].

Evening Primrose Oil May Relieve Some PMS Symptoms

Evening primrose oil has been used traditionally for hormone-related issues, from PMS and painful periods through to menopause. Hormone function requires adequate omega-6 fatty acids – the types of fats that are abundant in evening primrose oil. Bumping up your omega-6 intake between the first day of your period and ovulation can help to balance hormone levels and you may find a reduction in PMS and PMDD symptoms within 2 cycles [3].

EPO has also been used as a traditional therapy for breast pain and tenderness. While the current literature doesn’t support its use, the studies that have been reported aren’t of particularly high quality either. Anecdotal reports suggest that applying the oil directly to the breast can relieve tenderness and pain.

EPO for Diabetic Nerve Pain

Evening primrose oil is gaining popularity for a very different therapeutic use – relieving diabetic nerve pain.

Inflammatory chemicals often have multiple roles in the body, including vasodilation – they cause blood vessels to relax so that nutrients, oxygen and immune cells can flow to the site of injury to begin repair. The conversion of omega-6 fatty acids into these vasodilators is inhibited in diabetes. Inadequate blood flow to the peripheral limbs, fingers and toes results in chronic nerve pain and other complications.

The rich amounts of GLA and LA in evening primrose oil is said to bypass the conversion that diabetes inhibits. In this way, EPO can contribute to higher levels of vasodilator chemicals, improve blood flow, and potentially relieve diabetic nerve pain. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that it works for some people, the empirical evidence is lacking. There are plenty of animal studies that show EPO could protect the pancreas, stimulate nerve regrowth, and control glucose in diabetes [4], but only one major human trial on nerve pain is available – a long-term study of over 100 participants showed that supplementing with 480mg of GLA per day for 1 year could reduce most symptoms of diabetic neuropathy [5].

NOTE: This study used GLA on its own. Evening primrose oil contains about 10% GLA, so that’s a massive dose of 4.8g of EPO per day to reach the levels of GLA used in this study. This study did not include LA that is found alongside GLA in EPO.

Evening Primrose Oil for Glowing Skin

Skin cells use a lot of GLA but are unable to synthesise it on their own. Dietary intake of pre-made GLA in oils like evening primrose oil supply these hungry cells while simultaneously balancing hormones that could otherwise cause skin eruptions like acne, rosacea, psoriasis, dermatitis and even fine lines and wrinkles. Evening primrose-derived GLA strengthens the structure of skin cells, improves tissue elasticity and protects nerve function.

  • An early study showed that taking EPO for 8 weeks or more could reduce some symptoms of eczema, such as itching and redness, but that its effect was reduced if the patient had used steroid creams in the past [6]. Despite this conclusion, a 2013 meta-analysis argued that the current evidence shows that taking evening primrose oil is NOT likely to significantly improve eczema [7]. This is likely due to the LA content perpetuating the inflammation cycle.

While the LA content is no good for inflamed skin, it can add lustre to dry, mature skin that needs a pick-me-up. EPO has been used as an anti-ageing therapy for hundreds of years and a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that taking 500mg of evening primrose oil orally three times a day for 12 weeks improved skin moisture, elasticity, firmness, and smoothness in adult women and men [8].

Note: If improving skin appearance and firmness is an interest of yours, be sure to check out our recommendations on collagen supplements for skin.

Other Uses for Evening Primrose Oil

With its high concentration of GLA, evening primrose oil can be used as a regular tonic to improve:

  • Brain function
  • Cognition and memory
  • Mood stability
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Exercise recovery [9] [10] [11]

Cautions & Contraindications for EPO

Evening primrose oil is generally considered safe for short-term use. There have been no long-term studies to assess its safety beyond 8 – 12 weeks or so.

Evening primrose oil may increase bleeding in people who take anticoagulant medication such as warfarin. This could extend to people taking anticoagulant herbal remedies such as garlic. Check with a qualified herbalist, naturopath or nutritionist for personalized advice.

It is unknown whether evening primrose oil is safe in pregnancy. Avoid EPO if you are pregnant or may become pregnant, or speak to a qualified professional for personalized advice.

How To Take Evening Primrose Oil

A standard oral dose of EPO is 500 mg taken three times a day, for a total of 1,500 mg per day.

The GLA content of an evening primrose oil supplement will determine how potent the therapeutic effects may be. Generally, GLA is found at a concentration of 7 – 10%.

The evening primrose seeds must be cold pressed. Any heat during the extraction process will destroy the therapeutic essential fatty acids. Look for “cold pressed” on the label of EPO supplements before buying.

Best EPO Supplements

5 Best Evening Primrose Oil Supplements

#5 Source Naturals Evening Primrose Oil (1,350mg, 120 soft gels)

Evening Primrose Oil EPOSource Naturals offers the highest concentration we were able to find per dose – 1.35g of evening primrose with 10% GLA content per soft gel. That means you’ll get 135mg of GLA per dose, so one or two capsules per day is enough to reach therapeutic levels – however, it hasn’t been established whether this is as effective as taking a lower dose multiple times per day (e.g. 500mg of EPO at breakfast, lunch and dinner). Note that this product delivers 945mg of linoleic acid with each dose – amounts this high are effectively anti-inflammatory for people who follow plant-based diets, but for people who eat animal products and meat the LA content may be metabolised into pro-inflammatory fats.

#4 Botanical Beauty Organic Evening Primrose Oil (15mL)

Botanical Beauty EPOThis product comes with a liquid dropper rather than encapsulation. This makes it easier to use for skin treatments and cheaper than buying capsules. Botanical Beauty offer high quality, cold-pressed EPO that is highly absorbable, light on the skin, and slightly scented – the sign of a fresh, potent oil. Their EPO is undiluted and unrefined, and the “virgin” press of the evening primrose seeds – it’s the first oil that is released from the seeds during cold pressing and contains the most GLA.

Reviews on Amazon suggest that this is a great cream for skincare and hair growth, and some reviewers have found relief from breast tenderness by applying the oil topically.

#3 DEVA Evening Primrose Oil (500mg, 90 capsules)

Deva EPO

With a standard dose of 500mg per capsule, it’s easy to follow the tried and tested EPO protocol of “one capsule three times a day” with this supplement from DEVA. Each dose contains a good level of GLA (42.5mg per soft gel) from cold-pressed, unrefined organic evening primrose seeds. The capsules used are small in size and easy to swallow, made from plant-based cellulose and also contain a trace amount of vitamin E as a natural preservative and fat-soluble antioxidant. This is a great choice if you’re looking for a natural product at an affordable price.

#2 Weleda Evening Primrose Age Revitalizing Body Oil (3.4 fl oz)

EPO Liquid TinctureWeleda is a leading name in natural body-care products and they have created an evening primrose oil blend for topical application. Combining EPO with jojoba, sesame seed, sunflower seed, macadamia seed and wheatgerm oils, Weleda have created a nourishing, firming blend that is able to deliver EPO’s therapeutic actions deeply into the skin. This is a popular product for preventing stretch marks during pregnancy or growth spurts, reducing fine lines in mature skin, and for treating dry skin conditions. Obviously this is for skin care only – do not take internally!

#1 Sports Research High Potency Evening Primrose Oil (1,300mg, 120 soft gels)

SR Evening Primrose OilThese liquid softgels are jam-packed with 1,300mg of evening primrose oil, boasting an impressing 10% GLA content. Sports Research have kept this formula particularly clean by using plant-based softgels and including no hexanes, gluten, GMOs, preservatives, soy or titanium dioxide. This is a great choice if you’re looking for an easy high dose of very good quality oil. The team at Sports Research even offer a 90 day money-back guarantee!

These softgels are also appropriate if you want to use EPO topically for skin health – just pierce the gels with a pin, squeeze out the oil and apply it directly to the skin. With 1,300mg in each capsule, you should have enough to treat a fairly large area.

View Sports Research EPO here on Amazon

Further Reading:

About James Lyons

James Lyons (BHSc Nutritional Medicine) is a clinical nutritionist, medical writer, and educator. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and is passionate about improving public access to reliable and accurate health information.

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