January 20th, 2022 | Posted By: Magdalena Wszelaki | Posted in Articles, Estrogen Dominance

Evening Primrose vs. Borage Oil For Hormone Balance

Evening Primrose vs. Borage Oil For Hormone Balance

What You Will Learn in This Article 

  • What is GLA and where is it found?
  • Is evening primrose really the best source of GLA?
  • Borage oil is rich in hormone-supporting GLA
  • Medical benefits of using GLA internally
  • Medical benefits of using GLA externally
  • Who is likely to be deficient in GLA?
  • How to take GLA
  • Contraindications for Using GLA
  • The GLA we recommend

There are a variety of nutritional supplements women use for supporting hormone health, and one of the most popular ones is Evening Primrose Oil, which is often used for acne, PMS pain (breast and uterus), and even menopause. 

The main active ingredient in Evening Primrose that can be credited with these benefits is called GLA. 

What is GLA and Where Is It Found? 

GLA stands for Gamma-Linolenic Acid. GLA is an important omega-6 fatty acid that helps maintain healthy cell membranes. It’s a precursor to hormones and anti-inflammatory compounds, including prostaglandins and leukotrienes. (1)

GLA is revered for its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, especially by way of lowering inflammatory prostaglandins. 

GLA occurs naturally in certain plants (particularly the seeds), including (2, 3)

  • Borage (18-26% GLA)
  • Black Currant (15-20% GLA)
  • Evening Primrose (7-10% GLA)
  • Hemp (3% GLA)
  • Spirulina (1.2-2.4% GLA)


GLA can also be made to occur in safflower oil and perilla oil through genetic modification. (4, 5) The GMO safflower is 40% GLA and the perilla oil is over 45% GLA. It is worth noting that many GLA supplements that are available are likely to be GMO. Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) is probably the best-known source of GLA. Many women take Evening Primrose Oil to support hormone balance and calm inflammation. But is EPO the best natural source of GLA? Looking at the percentages above, the answer is: not really.

Is Evening Primrose Oil Really The Best Source? 

Like oranges as the go-to source of vitamin C or bananas as the go-to source for potassium, EPO simply had lots of marketing and education put behind it – even in naturopathic schools. The best natural source of GLA is borage seed oil.

In fact, borage oil contains 2 to 3 times more GLA than Evening Primrose Oil does, which is why we use borage rather than Evening Primrose in our GLA Maximus supplement. 

Evening Primrose Oil also at least one downside as a GLA supplement:

It’s known for increasing prostaglandin levels in general. That can increase pain levels and aggravate menstrual cramps. The reason for this is that prostaglandins stimulate muscles in the uterus to shed the uterine lining. It can also contribute to chronic inflammatory conditions. (6, 7)

Borage has an advantage over Evening Primrose in that it isn’t estrogenic and it’s not known for increasing all prostaglandin levels.

Borage Oil is Rich in Hormone-Supporting GLA

Borage (Borago officinalis) is an herb that’s also known as Star Flower and is native to parts of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. The flowers and young leaves are often used in salads and drinks, as they have a mild cucumber-like flavor. (8

The oil contained in the seeds is rich in GLA. As mentioned above, some studies have calculated the percentage to be between 18 and 26% – twice that of evening primrose. Others have calculated the percentage to be closer to 26 to 38% – three times that of evening primrose. (9)

Medical Benefits of Using GLA Internally

GLA can be used internally as a supplement, or externally as an oil. Here are some of the potential medical benefits of using GLA internally:

Balancing Estrogen Levels

GLA can help balance estrogen levels to address Estrogen Dominance; it does so by lowering inflammation (via prostaglandins, as mentioned below) and oxidative stress, improving liver health, and supporting anti-estrogen therapies.

In a study of women with estrogen-sensitive breast cancer, taking GLA supplements (2.8 grams per day) alongside the estrogen-blocking cancer drug, Tamoxifen, improved the effectiveness of the drug. (10

Reducing Inflammation 

GLA is excellent at reducing inflammation, which is evident by its effectiveness as a pain killer. We’ve had great results with GLA for hormonal pain, like the breast and uterus pain that occurs with PMS. Research supports this and has revealed that some people may do better when combining the GLA with an omega-3 supplement. (11, 12)

One cause of PMS pain is an imbalance between anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. (7) GLA converts into prostaglandins PgE1 and PgE3 (natural painkillers) and suppresses PgE2 (the cause of the pain). 

In people suffering from pain and inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis, GLA-rich borage and black currant oils reduced joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness in 4 clinical trials including a total of nearly 150 people. (13, 14, 15, 16)

GLA, fish oil, and a combination of the two reduced pain, inflammation, and painkiller reliance in 4 trials including nearly 400 people. (17, 18, 19, 20).

Supporting Weight Loss

GLA may support weight loss. In a study of people who had been obese but had lost a lot of weight, GLA was studied to see whether it would help them maintain the weight loss and keep them from regaining the weight. (21)

In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, GLA was given in the form of 5 grams per day of borage oil (controls were given olive oil). Formerly obese people were given either the borage or the olive oil. At the end of the study, those who had received the borage oil/GLA gained less weight back than the control group.

Improving Skin Health 

In a study of 45 women with dry and sensitive skin, borage supplements at a dosage of about 2 grams a day improved skin hydration, roughness, and scaling. (22)

This may be due, in part, to its ability to restore the skin to its natural pH level. 

A proper acidic pH allows the right microbes to thrive on the surface of the skin. When the skin microbiome becomes out of balance, skin conditions and disorders may occur. 

Here are some that are related to changes in the skin’s pH and its microbiome: (23, 24)

  • Acne
  • Rosacea
  • Aging skin
  • Dry skin
  • Psoriasis
  • Candida infections
  • Eczema
  • Seborrheic Dermatitis
  • Wounds that don’t heal
  • Allergies 

GLA-rich borage oil has been shown in animal research to restore the skin to its normal acidic pH when a supplement was added to food. (25)

GLA supplements may be helpful for acne, but the research is just beginning. In a clinical trial of 45 people with mild acne, GLA supplements that were taken at 400 mg of GLA (from borage oil) lessened the appearance of acne significantly. (26)

One study evaluated whether GLA could improve drug therapy for rosacea. In a double-blind, randomized, place-controlled trial, 31 rosacea patients were given either 320 mg/day of GLA or placebo in addition to their 100 mg/day dosage of Minocycline for 8 weeks. 

At the end of the study, the GLA group had a higher success rate of treating the rosacea than the placebo group. Researchers concluded that GLA would be a beneficial add-on to traditional rosacea treatment. (27)

Slowing Hair Loss

Deficiencies in essential fatty acids like GLA have been linked to hair loss in some people. (28) According to Dr. Andrew Weil, GLA improves hair texture and makes it stronger and less brittle. 

GLA is also a powerful blocker of an enzyme within the hair follicle called 5-alpha reductase. (29) This enzyme binds to testosterone and converts it to Dihydrotestosterone (DHT). 

DHT is destructive to hair follicles over time, causing a disruption in the normal growth cycle of hair, and either killing the hair follicle or slowing the growth. It causes frontal hair loss in women who are genetically susceptible. 

Making sure to have adequate GLA in diet and supplements may support thick and healthy hair growth. Read about the causes of hair loss in women and potential treatments here

Medical Benefits of Using GLA Externally

GLA-rich oils like borage or evening primrose can also be used topically for inflammation and skin conditions. 

Improving Skin Health

A review study of plant oils for skin health and healing found that GLA-rich borage oil, used topically, was helpful in infants and children with cradle cap or eczema, both inflammatory skin conditions. Borage helped to normalize the function of the skin barrier (30

This same review found that coating children’s undershirts with borage oil helped heal eczema on their backs and normalized skin barrier function. 

While GLA or borage oil may have other topical benefits for inflammation and pain relief, the research isn’t there just yet. 

Lessening pain – maybe 

Limited studies show no improvement of EPO on breast pain, however my team and I have tested it by applying GLA (derived from borage which contains higher concentration of GLA) on tender breasts and the uterus (during painful periods) and found much relief. Was it a placebo? Perhaps but it’s also plausible that since we tested borage oil, the GLA was more potent than the studies. 

Who is Likely to Be Deficient in GLA?

GLA deficiency can be caused by aging, high blood sugar levels, a poor diet, and chronic inflammation — and likely, a combination of these. (31

Supplementing with a good quality GLA source can help many of these conditions of chronic inflammation and aging.

How to Take GLA

The general recommended dosage for GLA dietary supplements is 240 mg three to four times per day with meals, or as directed by your healthcare practitioner.

However, clinical trials have used up to 2.8 grams (2,800 mg) of GLA per day with only mild adverse effects, like headache or digestive discomfort. (14, 32)

Contraindications for Using GLA 

Not everyone does well on GLA-rich oils or supplements. Because GLA is a natural blood-thinning agent, those on blood-thinner medications like Warfarin should check with their doctors before adding GLA supplements. (33, 34

Borage supplements may also be a problem for those on anticonvulsant medications. Elderly patients particularly experienced interactions between those medications and borage oil. (35)

Pregnant women should avoid borage, as it may harm the baby and potentially even cause an abortion. (36

What We Recommend: GLA Maximus

We carry a high-quality GLA supplement in our store called GLA Maximus. One softgel per day supplies 240 mg of GLA derived from borage seeds (the best source of GLA). This is an underestimated supplement that can offer many of the benefits women in the Hormones Balance community are looking for – such as smooth and healthy skin, and relief from breast pain, PMS, and other body pains and aches. 

Add GLA Maximus to your protocol and see how it helps you. 

 

References

  1. Asadi-Samani, Majid et al. “The chemical composition, botanical characteristic and biological activities of Borago officinalis: a review.” Asian Pacific journal of tropical medicine. 2014.
  2. Fan, Y Y, and R S Chapkin. “Importance of dietary gamma-linolenic acid in human health and nutrition.” The Journal of nutrition. 1998.
  3. Tanticharoen, M. et al. “Optimization of y-linolenic acid (GLA) production in Spirulina platensis.” Journal of Applied Phycology. 1994.
  4. Watkins, C. “First High-GLA Safflower Oil On The Market.” AOCS: Your Global Fats and Oils Connection. June 2010.
  5. Lee, Kyeong-Ryeol et al. “High accumulation of γ-linolenic acid and Stearidonic acid in transgenic Perilla (Perilla frutescens var. frutescens) seeds.” BMC plant biology. April, 2019.
  6. Schölkens, B A et al. “Evening primrose oil, a dietary prostaglandin precursor, diminishes vascular reactivity to renin and angiotensin II in rats.” Prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and medicine. 1982
  7. Brighten, J. “How Prostaglandins Cause Painful Periods + What To Do About It.” Drbrighten.com. March 2021.
  8. Osborne, J. L. “Borage.” Bee World. 1999.
  9. Asadi-Samani, Majid et al. “The chemical composition, botanical characteristic and biological activities of Borago officinalis: a review.” Asian Pacific journal of tropical medicine. 2014.
  10. Kenny, F S et al. “Gamma linolenic acid with tamoxifen as primary therapy in breast cancer.” International journal of cancer. 2000.
  11. Sergeant, Susan et al. “Gamma-linolenic acid, Dihommo-gamma linolenic, Eicosanoids and Inflammatory Processes.” European journal of pharmacology. 2016.
  12. Kuhnt, Katrin et al. “Consumption of echium oil increases EPA and DPA in blood fractions more efficiently compared to linseed oil in humans.” Lipids in health and disease. Feb. 2016.
  13. Leventhal, L J et al. “Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with gammalinolenic acid.” Annals of internal medicine. 1993.
  14. Zurier, R B et al. “gamma-Linolenic acid treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial.” Arthritis and rheumatism. 1996.
  15. Leventhal, L J et al. “Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with blackcurrant seed oil.” British journal of rheumatology. 1994.
  16. Watson, J et al. “Cytokine and prostaglandin production by monocytes of volunteers and rheumatoid arthritis patients treated with dietary supplements of blackcurrant seed oil.” British journal of rheumatology. 1993.
  17. Reed, George W et al. “Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with marine and botanical oils: an 18-month, randomized, and double-blind trial.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine. 2014.
  18. Olendzki, Barbara C et al. “Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with marine and botanical oils: influence on serum lipids.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine. 2011.
  19. Veselinovic, Mirjana et al. “Clinical Benefits of n-3 PUFA and ɤ-Linolenic Acid in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Nutrients. March 2017.
  20. Belch, J J et al. “Effects of altering dietary essential fatty acids on requirements for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a double blind placebo controlled study.” Annals of the rheumatic diseases. 1988.
  21. Schirmer, Marie A, and Stephen D Phinney. “Gamma-linolenate reduces weight regain in formerly obese humans.” The Journal of nutrition. 2007.
  22. Henz, B. M. et al. “Double-blind, multicentre analysis of the efficacy of borage oil in patients with atopic eczema.” The British journal of dermatology. 1999.
  23. Grice, Elizabeth A, and Julia A Segre. “The skin microbiome.” Nature reviews. Microbiology. 2011.
  24. Schommer, Nina N, and Richard L Gallo. “Structure and function of the human skin microbiome.” Trends in microbiology. 2013.
  25. Kim, Kun-Pyo et al. “Borage oil restores acidic skin pH by up-regulating the activity or expression of filaggrin and enzymes involved in epidermal lactate, free fatty acid, and acidic free amino acid metabolism in essential fatty acid-deficient Guinea pigs.” Nutrition research. 2018. 
  26. Jung, Jae Yoon et al. “Effect of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acid and gamma-linolenic acid on acne vulgaris: a randomised, double-blind, controlled trial.” Acta dermato-venereologica. 2014.
  27. Kim, Ji Hyun et al. “A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Gamma Linolenic Acid as an Add-on Therapy to Minocycline for the Treatment of Rosacea.” Annals of dermatology. 2020.
  28. Daniells, Suzie and Hardy, Gil. “Hair loss in long-term or home parenteral nutrition: are micronutrient deficiencies to blame?” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. November 2010.
  29. Liao, S et al. “Growth suppression of hamster flank organs by topical application of catechins, alizarin, curcumin, and myristoleic acid.” Archives of dermatological research. 2001.
  30. Lin, Tzu-Kai et al. “Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils.” International journal of molecular sciences. Dec. 2017.
  31. Dinicolantonio, J. J. “Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA).” Life Extension Magazine. September 2018.
  32. DeLuca, P et al. “Marine and botanical lipids as immunomodulatory and therapeutic agents in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.” Rheumatic diseases clinics of North America. 1995.
  33. Guivernau, M et al. “Clinical and experimental study on the long-term effect of dietary gamma-linolenic acid on plasma lipids, platelet aggregation, thromboxane formation, and prostacyclin production.” Prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and essential fatty acids. 1994.
  34. Riaz, Azra et al. “Assessment of anticoagulant effect of evening primrose oil.” Pakistan journal of pharmaceutical sciences. 2009.
  35. Wold, Rosemary S et al. “Increasing trends in elderly persons’ use of nonvitamin, nonmineral dietary supplements and concurrent use of medications.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association vol. 105,1 (2005)
  36. Kast, R E. “Borage oil reduction of rheumatoid arthritis activity may be mediated by increased cAMP that suppresses tumor necrosis factor-alpha.” International immunopharmacology. 2001.

2 Comments to Evening Primrose vs. Borage Oil For Hormone Balance

  1. Since having my gall bladder removed, I do not do well with digesting oils. Is there another way to take this, a powder or even a cream-can it be applied to the skin?

  2. Hi Sharon, you can use borage oil externally as an oil or cream. We have had women in our community open our GLA Maximus capsules and apply it to tender areas during menstruation. Like always, it’s important to source from a quality brand when deciding on a cream. I hope this helps!

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