The “King’s Cure for all.” That is what evening primrose oil (EPO) was called in Europe in the 17th century. This unique little plant only flowers at sunset and closes its flowers to the world during the day, hence the name Evening Primrose.
EPO was prescribed to me by my doctor during a nasty bout of premenstrual symptoms. Ready for relief, I took the tablets as prescribed, which worked wonders for my PMS and skin. What a bonus! I was recently reminded about EPO when experiencing persistent migraine attacks due to my anxiety disorder flare-up. Again, it really brought relief. That is why I want to share the quick facts about this little helper.
What is EPO?
It is a plant that originates from North and South America but is also found throughout Europe and Asia. EPO poultices were traditionally used to treat bruises and wounds, while the leaves were used for easing digestive problems and calming sore throats.
The oil from this plant is used in EPO tablets, with the main benefits being centered on its wealth of omega-6 fatty acids. The most essential fatty acid it contains is gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), an essential omega-6 fatty acid often referred to as a “good” omega-6 because of its anti-inflammatory properties. GLA is most commonly found in breast milk, organ meats, and some botanical seed oils. It is mainly taken as a supplement.
In addition to GLA, our EPO friend also contains linoleic acid and vitamin E. We care about linoleic acid because it’s an essential component of myelin, the protective covering of our nerve fibers. The oil contains other goodies, too, like amino acids, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.
Strictly speaking, we can also use Borage Oil or Spirulina in our diet since they are similar to EPO in some ways. However, I choose to use EPO because although Borage Oil is the richest source of GLA, it also contains amabilin, which is toxic to your liver. Therefore, the more borage oil you take, the greater your risk of liver damage. I also choose EPO above Spirulina because the blue-green algae collected from natural environments have a higher chance of contamination with heavy metals, liver toxins, and harmful bacteria.
EPO and Premenstrual Symptoms
“EPO has been shown to reduce breast pain, swelling, and tenderness during our monthly cycles. This was the main reason EPO was prescribed to me and the results have been promising.
Studies have shown EPO to be an effective treatment for premenstrual-related depression and irritability. Another study conducted in 2010 also showed that EPO helped lessen breast pain, swelling, and breast tenderness often experienced during our cycles. This was the main reason my doctor prescribed EPO; the results were terrific. EPO helps with breast swelling, pain, and tenderness because of its inhibitory effect on prostaglandins and the inflammation that causes breast pain. The study proved that regular EPO and vitamin E intake for 6 months reduced cyclic breast pain.
Another fun premenstrual symptom is cramping. These are caused by prostaglandins, compounds released when the uterus undergoes hormonal changes. Prostaglandins cause the uterus to contract, which causes the cramping we experience. Scientists have found that women who have cramps have higher levels of prostaglandins and, therefore, higher levels of pain than women who don’t have premenstrual cramps. EPO can reduce prostaglandins and consequently lead to a reduction in cramps and pain.
One of the frequent symptoms of PMS is a menstrual headache, which I am particularly susceptible to. One of the add-on symptoms of my anxiety disorder is also debilitating migraines that can sometimes come about in continuous cluster attacks. EPO minimizes menstrual headaches for me and seems to lessen the frequency of anxiety-related migraines. It does not diminish the intensity of my anxiety-related migraines, but I feel I have gotten them a little less since I started retaking EPO. Unfortunately, no studies seem to examine the effect of evening primrose oil on migraines or premenstrual headaches, so this is my subjective experience. Most studies explore the results of unsaturated fatty acids (found in EPO) on the other premenstrual symptoms.
Even though studies have shown that EPO relieves PMS symptoms, the control group who participated in the study and received only a placebo also experienced improvement. This does not mean that EPO is ineffective but only that it cannot be said with 100% scientific certainty that it works for everyone.
The Benefits Of EPO In Skincare
As we already know, EPO contains high omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. These acids have strong anti-inflammatory properties and can therefore be expected to help treat and prevent acne. It’s been speculated that EPO helps reduce acne, helping to balance the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids in the body.
Linoleic acid can help strengthen the skin barrier, prevent water loss in the epidermis, prevent skin infections, and regulate sebum production. This acid is also present in EPO. Although we know what linoleic acid’s effect on acne, EPO’s use for treating specific forms of acne, such as hormonal or cystic, has no clinical evidence. Regardless of this, some sources claim it can help calm inflammatory acne. We also must remember that although linoleic acid has anti-inflammatory properties, EPO contains such a high level of linoleic acid it may do the opposite and cause inflammation.
We can confidently say that EPO can help improve the skin’s ability to protect itself. This is important because we want our skin barrier to function optimally, so we are less prone to irritation, environmental skin damage, and sensitization. If the skin barrier is affected, the skin is more sensitive, and you can become more breakout prone.
Studies also prove that EPO can aid in preventing transepidermal water loss. We care about this because we want our skin to have the ability to retain water so we can avoid dehydration. Dehydrated skin is more prone to sensitization, often looks tired and dull, can feel tight, and fine lines and wrinkles appear more pronounced.
Is EPO Safe?
“There is no evidence that shows harm in taking EPO and the benefits can be substantial. My doctor recommended it to me and I would advise you to check with your healthcare provider to see if its the right solution for you.
Toxicological studies on animals and the widespread use of EPO have shown no evidence of harm in taking it. As a dietary supplement, however, the maximum recommended daily dose is approximately 4g which contains 300 to 360 mg of GLA.
Short-term use of EPO appears to be safe but long-term use in adults and children is still in the research phase, and there is no clinical confirmation of long-term safety yet. Once again, I would check with your doctor to see if EPO is the right fit for you, what dose you should take, and how long. You never know if EPO or any new dietary supplement you introduce could react with other medications you may be taking. For example, if you are currently on Warfarin, you should not use EPO because it has a blood-thinning effect, and simultaneous use can lead to bleeding. Always be safe and check with your medical professional.
My Conclusions On EPO
The most significant improvement I have experienced with EPO is the blessed relief of breast pain, swelling, and tenderness during my cycle. I have also experienced less cramping or less intense cramping and bloating.
I noticed that my skin is slightly less tender than usual. Although I still get the odd pimple or breakout, I do not get the bulging, painful cystic bump anymore. Instead, I have tiny whiteheads that are much more easily cleared up. I have also noticed a pronounced difference in my skin’s hydration levels.
These are my takeaways and experience with EPO. Again, my doctor cleared the use of this dietary supplement. Although I think there are some promising results from the studies, it’s still best to ask your doctor about your specific situation and evaluate if EPO can help you.
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