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The Science Behind Evening Primrose Oil

Supplements are big business, and it appears that regardless of what area of your health you’re wanting to improve or ailment you want to treat, there is a remedy readily available to get you back on track. With many issues occurring all over our bodies, the danger can become that your cabinet becomes full with a multitude of ointments and pills, all of which can provide varying results or even counteract another treatment. Plus, who wants to be spending a chunk of their day treating themselves with an array of antidotes?

Amongst the popular supplement market we’re increasingly seeing solutions that improve a range of conditions, and a further benefit is they’re constructed from wholly natural ingredients.

Step forward Evening Primrose Oil/EPO (Oenothera biennis), an extract derived from the seeds of the plant of the same name. Native to and growing wild across North America, but also located in parts of Europe and Asia, this yellow flower (that intriguingly blooms at sunset) is rich in omega-6 essential fatty acids such as gamma-Linolenic acid (GLA), and is most commonly consumed orally in tablet form though is also available as a liquid.

Initially cultivated by Native Americans using the leaves and roots to treat everything from bruises, and haemorrhoids, to gastrointestinal issues and sore throats. EPO’s versatility has further expanded with greater exploration, now being largely associated as a cure for dermatological issues such as eczema, acne, and atopic dermatitis, though has been shown as an effective curative for, rheumatoid arthritis and many female-orientated issues such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause symptoms, and breast pain.

With a multitude of studies being carried out into the effectiveness of EPO there have been a range of conflicting results, leading to questions over the effectiveness of the seed extract. Although a cross-section of research on the individual benefits of Evening Primrose Oil have been conducted, there is not enough evidence to support it’s effectiveness in relation to any medical condition. In a 2009 publication in American Family Physician authors Bryan Bayles, PhD, and Richard Usatine, MD btw of the University of Texas Health Science Center, stated,

“…there is insufficient evidence to make a reliable assessment of its effectiveness for most clinical indications…However, most trials to date have significant methodologic flaws and must be considered preliminary.”

The above statement underlines the complex and often confusing relationship human anatomy has with the ingestion of Evening Primrose Oil, there is no real simple explanation of it’s success, other than what works for some, may not for others.

Regardless, there has been many success stories for users, and going forward this article will examine four key areas in which EPO is noted as being particularly influential (acne, arthritis, menopause, and pregnancy), before a deeper look at the state of current research and understanding, how and when to effectively dose yourself, and of course notable side effects.
Ultimately, we want to provide an informative and insightful guide for those of you who are considering incorporating Evening Primrose Oil into your health regimen, and how you can gain the greatest effects from this change.

Evening Primrose Oil and You

Above we’ve already noted a multitude of the potential benefits of EPO, though we’re going to cover four of the more commonly associated ailments that are purportedly advantageous, healing reactions, and we’re going to dissect them to highlight the range of positives. With acne, arthritis, menopause, pregnancy our selected topics and each potentially impacting our health at one stage or another, we feel this to provide a balanced insight and of most relevance to your health issues.

But before we do all that, it’s essential we get a brief understanding of how EPO functions.

Evening Primrose Oil Benefits

Remember we mentioned the fatty-acids that are high in EPO? Well, turns out that it’s virtually impossible for our bodies to access a substantial enough level of the omega-3, and omega-6 GLA chain acids through purely our diets. So a course of EPO is a generous helping hand that provides a necessary boost our system desperately requires, and even if we’re still not completely cognisant with all it’s wonderful effects, aiding your system is rarely a negative.


So, to our first area of concern. I’m certain we all at one stage during our teenage years have had to battle with those ghastly spots and scars that appear at random and strike fear into the hearts of narcissistic youngsters everywhere.

In all seriousness, acne can be truly devastating not just for adolescents but can stretch into adult life, raising issues with your confidence and appearance. Thankfully EPO can provide soothing relief to those battling acne.

Applied either topically or internally, your body goes straight to work processing EPO. Breaking down the GLA content, your system creates a further ingredient named dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) and when level of this element increase in your body, research has proven that dermatological inflammation is suppressed, fighting breakouts of acne, as well as calming eczema and atopic dermatitis.

Furthermore, the impact of GLA, EPO, and DGLA reduces the number of skin cells that produce lesions and aid the skin in retaining moisture.


From an affliction associated with youngsters, to one that conjures images of the elderly, arthritis (particularly rheumatoid) is a desperately uncomfortable ailment that impedes the effective functioning of joints across the body. Leaving the individual feeling immobile, like acne, the physical realities can give rise to mental effects too.

As noted above, the breakdown of linolenic acids is crucial to the reduction and restraint of inflammation in the joints. A 2011 study by the Cochrane Library revealed the benefits of GLA on rheumatoid arthritis reduced pain intensity, improved disability, and left patients suffering with little to no side effects. Reducing the discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis without any adverse reactions is a godsend, particularly for those who are particularly elderly and frail.


Marking the end of a female’s menstrual cycle, the menopause is a natural part of ageing and starts between the late forties and early fifties. Symptoms are often centred around influencing mood and particularly fluctuating body temperatures, marked by the uncomfortable experience of hot flushes. As the standout condition associated with the menopause, hot flushes are severe enough to comprise a woman’s overall sense of wellbeing and quality of life.

Evening Primrose Oil in relation to the menopause is an area that has drawn debate and conflicting results from the experts. In 2010 the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association evaluated over-the-counter remedies for hot flushes and concluded there was no consistent or beneficial data supporting EPO in hot flush management.

Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics drew an alternative result stating that taking 500 milligrams of EPO twice daily for six weeks drastically reduced the regularity and severity of hot flushes.


Another field in which EPO causes controversy and debate is pregnancy, due to it’s common usage amongst mothers and midwives due to it’s natural composition compared to chemical alternatives, yet it has little to no scientific evidence to support it’s success post-implementation.

Applied vaginally for the purposes of cervical ripening, shortening labour, and and decreasing the incidence of post-term pregnancies, the linolenic acid triggers the body to release prostaglandin hormones, which again are essential in inflammation management, blood flow, and the induction of labour.

Yet, as common as using EPO is during birth, it’s fairly striking that there is no in-depth analysis on it’s effectiveness during this process, and that the oil has no role to play in the invitation of labour. In fact, the National Toxicology Program released a chemical review document on EPO and discovered the women who had taken it prior to birth were on average in labour for 3 more hours compared to those who hadn’t taken it!

It appears that the positive experiences of those who deployed EPO during pregnancy are purely anecdotal, and despite the benefits the natural extra brings to the human body, comparing anecdotal evidence against no thorough, qualitative research, is simply bonkers. More in-depth research is essential to open up our limited knowledge on EPO and pregnancy.

Evening Primrose Oil Research

As mentioned previously throughout this piece, the analysis and effectiveness of EPO when deployed on any number of medical issues is at best spotty. Yes, the debate is lively, often with reports supporting and tearing down it’s status, but the inconclusiveness that is generated from the multiple research programs into EPO is worrying.

Let’s place the negatives to one side and actually look at the knowledge and research currently available.

The most comprehensive work currently available is the aforementioned article published by American Family Physician (AFP) in 2009. Yes, the article is almost a decade old, but the results from back then still stand true to this day, and many more contemporary publications, such as the work of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2016) and The Mayo Clinic (2017), prop up the findings from the AFP’s defining research.

So what is it that we know about Evening Primrose Oil and it’s effectiveness?

  • Many studies have been conducted to evaluate EPO’s effects on a range of ailments from eczema, PMS, and Diabetic neuropathy, amongst many other fields.
  • A large proportion of these studies have produced inconclusive evidence to support the effectiveness of EPO with regards to existing health conditions.
  • That oral consumption is rarely helpful in curing the particular issue.
  • Has adverse effects such as abdominal pain, nausea, increased bowel movements, and headaches.
  • Regardless of these factors, EPO is still widely taken despite being very likely ineffective.

One element all the publications unite on is to express caution when dosing EPO. Most people will be absolutely fine to use the seed extract, but should only be used as a complementary treatment (due to limited intel on it’s effects) and also that any usage should be short term and not exceed six months, again as knowledge is limited on longer term use.

Taking Evening Primrose Oil (Dosage)

So you’ve decided to buy a course of EPO, so now you’re essentially set, all you need is a guideline of how and when to take it to maximise it’s impact. Of course, different brands have differing strengths so be aware what you’re purchasing, though if you’re needing an idea of what’s a decent brand, the AFP research states,

“A single standardized 1-g capsule of a common formulation, Efamol, contains 0.62 g linoleic acid, 0.08 g GLA, and 0.062 g oleic acid.”

When it comes to taking the tablet please always refer to what the packet recommends, and if you’re still unsure consult your doctor or a herbal medicine expert to find out more in-depth details. In some clinical trials adults were provided with 6 to 8 milligrams per day where as children received between 2 and 4 milligrams, and it can be expected any professional information you attain will suggest similar dosages.

Please do head forth with EPO with care and caution, as you’ll see in the next section there can be some unwelcome effects you may have to tolerate.

Site Effects

Naturally when you begin any course of medication or treatment side effects can be part and parcel of the process. Even with an over-the-counter supplement like EPO it’s vital you proceed carefully to minimise the impact of adversity.

The most important thing to keep in mind when starting a course of treatment is to not exceed your dosage, doing so opens yourself up to unwanted effects, and taking a higher dosage isn’t going to accelerate the the healing process (common sense, but has to be said).

Evening Primrose Oil is likely to be safe when used in moderation and as a supplementary aid. Do keep in mind, as an oil based product if the oil content is high it can upset your stomach, cause nausea, and headaches. Gastrointestinal upset is a minor adverse effect but can really ruin your inner balance.

And whilst we touched upon EPO and pregnancy earlier, expectant mothers please be wary, as taking the substance thins the blood and and can impact your unborn child. A report from the Memorial Sloan_kettering Cancer Center reported a newborn having broken capillaries and bleeding under the skin, and can be traced to the mother’s EPO intake. Furthermore, if you have any bleeding related disorder (or have recently had surgery) please stay away from EPO as the thinning of the blood can be potentially dangerous.

It has also been suggested that sufferers of Epilepsy, Schizophrenia, and other seizure related ailment, should avoid EPO, as the GLA content can exacerbate convulsions.


Despite the limited knowledge and incapability to establish the benefits of Evening Primrose Oil, the extract theoretically promotes better health and has worked wonders for many people. Now, we don’t want to side with anecdotal explanations against fact, but whilst research into this field is still in it’s early stages, we can only wait for further investigative research to be taken.

As for yourself, if you’re curious about EPO and believe it may benefit whatever it is you’re centred on, we say consult a professional first and if they green light a course, then absolutely go for it and see if this plant can work wonders for you too.

Scientific Citations

  1. https://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/complementary-and-alternative-medicines/cam-report/complementary-medicines-for-rheumatoid-arthritis/epo.aspx
  2. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/eveningprimrose
  3. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/1215/p1405.html
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5868221/
  5. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0ecb/6ba8de5a92fa16ebee0d07b9afe4340ce856.pdf


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