Does evening primrose oil have anti-aging effects?

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Answered by: Shelley, An Expert in the Herbs and Supplements Category
While many skin care products with anti-aging benefits are available, evening primrose oil is different. Evening primrose oil provides a nutrient that’s essential for your health, and you take the oil in capsules rather than apply it to your skin. The important component of this oil for skin – and for other health benefits – is gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).

Evening primrose oil comes from the seeds of a flowering plant that grows wild in North America and many other parts of the world. As its name suggests, the plant has an unusual characteristic -- its creamy to bright yellow flowers only bloom after sunset and on cloudy days. Evening primrose seed oil contains a high level of GLA, which is an omega-6 essential fatty acid.

You’ve probably heard about omega-3 essential fatty acids. The anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy benefits of those fatty acids have led to a spike in the popularity of fish oil supplements. Your body also needs omega-6 fatty acids, but some omega-6 fatty acids cause inflammation. GLA, however, actually appears to decrease inflammation.

Research published in the August 2005 issue of the “International Journal of Cosmetic Science” found several anti-aging benefits associated with evening primrose oil supplements. This study focused on improving biophysical skin parameters, which indicate age-related changes in skin. One group of participants took evening primrose oil and another a placebo capsule. By 12 weeks, the evening primrose group experienced significant benefits. They had better skin moisture, elasticity and firmness compared with their original skin parameters, as well as decreased skin roughness.

In this study, participants took three 500-milligram softgel capsules twice per day for a total of 1 gram per day. Taking up to 8 grams of evening primrose oil per day is generally acceptable, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, but consult your health care provider about a suitable dosage and how long you should take the supplement. Buy capsules that are standardized to contain at least 8 percent GLA, and store them in the refrigerator to keep them fresh.

Most people don’t experience side effects from evening primrose oil. If you develop an upset stomach, stomach pain or mild diarrhea, you might be taking too much. Try reducing the dosage and then gradually increasing it again.

Taking evening primrose oil during pregnancy may increase the risk of pregnancy complications. Evening primrose oil may reduce blood clotting ability, so it’s inadvisable to take this supplement if you use blood-thinning medication or if you have a bleeding disorder. You also shouldn’t take evening primrose oil for two weeks before any surgery. In addition, people at risk of having seizures shouldn’t take evening primrose oil.

In addition to anti-aging effects, the anti-inflammatory properties of GLA in evening primrose oil have other benefits as well. GLA is useful, for example, for relieving symptoms of eczema. This condition causes reddened, itchy and scaly skin due to allergies or in reaction to irritants. GLA may be useful for reducing rheumatoid arthritis pain, but research results are conflicting, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

In addition, GLA may decrease breast pain associated with the menstrual cycle. Although some supplement manufacturers market evening primrose oil as helpful for premenstrual syndrome, research doesn’t support that use.

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