Evening primrose oil is a dietary supplement extracted from the seeds of the Oenothera biennis, or evening primrose plant. Evening Primrose supplements are generally available in capsules that are taken orally to treat a wide array of skin, autoimmune and other disorders. Used frequently in folk and alternative medicine, evening primrose oil has been the subject of numerous clinical studies since the 1980s.
The seeds of the evening primrose plant have a 7 to 10 percent concentration of the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA. Essential fatty acids must be included in the diet for the body to build and maintain cells. Essential fatty acids such as GLA are also important precursors to a number of molecules in the body.
GLA is thought to be an anti-inflammatory especially useful in treating autoimmune disorders. Native Americans first ascribed anti-inflammatory properties to evening primrose oil and used the oil to treat swelling in the body. Practitioners of natural medicine recommend evening primrose oil for a variety of ailments, including rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, cardiovascular disease, menopause and breast cysts.
Evening primrose oil has been shown to effectively treat only a few conditions, despite the variety of uses by alternative practitioners. Most notably, several clinical studies have demonstrated that evening primrose oil improves the itching, inflammation and scaling of eczema. Studies conducted on the benefits of evening primrose oil for menopause, rheumatoid arthritis and breast pain have shown mixed results. The clinical benefits of the oil for these and other conditions continue to be investigated in the United States.
There is currently no standard recommended dose of evening primrose oil. The suggested doses for this supplement are based on traditional use and clinical studies. Studies have shown that doses of 3 to 8 grams of evening primrose oil daily are optimal for adults. Trials conducted on children suggest that the dose for individuals younger than 18 should be 2 to 4 grams per day.
Evening primrose oil is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for medical use. Consult your physician before adding an evening primrose supplement to your regimen. An increased incidence of seizures has been reported by some individuals using evening primrose oil, so the supplement should not be taken by those with a seizure disorder. Side effects of evening primrose oil may include nausea, headache and abdominal pain.