Evening primrose oil, also known as EPO, is a popular supplement with numerous health claims. But is it as healthy as it seems, and what are the potential health benefits?
What Is EPO?
Evening primrose oil is a plant native to North America, which bears yellow flowers that bloom in the evening, hence the name evening primrose oil. EPO is found in the plant’s seeds and is high in essential fatty acids (roughly 25 percent EFAs), meaning they are required and essential for our health, but cannot be made by the body. The seeds of the flower are gathered together and cold pressed to make their oil, which can later be encapsulated to be used as a dietary supplement.
- Promote healthy joints
- Combat symptoms of PMS
- Balance gastrointestinal health
- Support heart health
- Nourish the skin
- Protect cell membrane integrity
- Promote balanced hormones
- Increase nerve health
- Improve brain function
- Support central nervous system health
- Aid in absorption of fat soluble vitamins D, E, and K
EPO is the most researched source of GLA, which can also be found in borage oil, black currant oil, hemp, and spirulina.
6 Benefits of Evening Primrose Oil
While EPO has several proven health benefits, it’s especially helpful for these six areas.
- Hormone Balance
Essential fatty acids are the building blocks of hormones, which are required for nearly every metabolic process in the body. Fatty acids found in EPO can help support hormone balance, reduce inflammatory prostaglandins, and even support endocrine disorders such as PCOS, which can impact fertility, ovulation, and the regularity of menstrual cycles.
EPO also helps to modulate prostaglandin production. Prostaglandins are hormone-like chemicals in the body that regulate body processes and help to stimulate others. Prostaglandins have roles in numerous things from normal blood clotting to water retention to even initiating labor in a pregnant woman. There are numerous kinds of prostaglandins, but all of them are needed for healthy body function. Evening primrose oil can help to maintain natural hormone balance through promoting normal prostaglandin levels. (4,5)
EPO has been found to increase cervical mucus and metabolic function, two key factors required for healthy ovulation and menstruation. Without enough cervical fluid, conception can be hindered as sperm has difficulty reaching the cervix to fertilize the egg. Prostaglandin E in particular, which is found in EPO, can help control and regulate hormones that deal with cell growth, which can also be used to help prepare the cervix for labor. (6,7)
- PMS and Women’s Health
EPO is often used for several symptoms associated with PMS, which can include:
- Breast pain
- Water retention
- Mood swings
All of the above symptoms can be related to hormone imbalances, and research has shown that evening primrose oil can help to moderate many of them when taken regularly. EPO should be taken on the first day of the menstrual cycle until ovulation to help ease and prevent severe PMS symptoms later in the cycle. (8,9)
EPO can also help alleviate symptoms associated with menopause, too, making it a valuable nutrient for women’s health.
- Healthy Skin
GLA is a conditionally essential fatty acid required for skin health. GLA has been shown to support healthy skin and the epidermis, and it can also balance skin issues that are related to hormone imbalances and inflammation.
Since the skin is the body’s largest organ, it is important to repair and rebuild skin health starting from the inside out and at a cellular level. The omega-6 fatty acids found in EPO can help support hormone regulation, reduce inflammation, improve skin elasticity, and optimize cell membrane structure. EPO has also been used for those suffering from skin issues such as eczema, psoriasis, and generalized redness. (10,11,12)
- Reducing Inflammation
EPO is a commonly used alternative therapy known to promote balance throughout inflammatory pathways in the body, specifically in the joints. It is best known for its use in the treatment of systemic diseases marked by chronic inflammation, such as atopic dermatitis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
RA can lead to pain and morning stiffness that occurs in the joints and is an autoimmune disease. Research has shown that evening primrose oil can help deal with painful symptoms associated with RA, especially when combined with lifestyle and dietary changes, too. (13,14)
- Healthy Hair
Hair loss is something that is common in both men and women and hormones are largely responsible for hair health. Hormonal causes of hair loss are typically due to the hormone DHT, which is a male hormone that can actually cause hair follicles to shrink, reducing the lifespan of hair and can decrease total hair production.
When DHT is high, due to excessive amounts of androgens—which are common in women who have PCOS, thyroid issues, or other chronic health problems—hair growth decreases. The essential fatty acids found in EPO can be helpful in fighting against hair loss. (15)
Should You Take Evening Primrose Oil?
When looking to supplement with EPO, make sure to find a brand that is standardized to around 8 percent gamma-linolenic acid and 72 percent linoleic acid, the two main omega-6 fatty acids found in this seed. As with any supplement, taking a look at the “other ingredients” section is a must, as many of the fillers can end up doing more damage than good. There shouldn’t be fructose, artificial colors, sweeteners, or things such as hydrogenated oils added to the capsules or oil.
Use a high quality non-GMO EPO that has reputable third-party certifications and adheres to good manufacturing practices (GMPs). Look for a brand that has the fatty acid composition broken down for you on the supplement fact panel (for example, 40 mg GLA, 295 mg LA, and 26 mg oleic acid).
For those who want to take EPO to help naturally prepare the uterus and cervix to induce labor, they should start around the 36th week of pregnancy. This is considered safe and effective at dosages around 500 mg daily. As the woman gets closer to her due date, she can slowly increase the dosage up to around 1,500mg daily. Some people experience mild cases of loose stools, diarrhea, or nausea if the dosage is too much for them.
PMS symptoms, such as cramps, mood swings, and headaches can be due to prostaglandin alterations in the body and taking EPO in the morning and the evening can help give relief from some of these symptoms. One should start by taking 500 mg in the morning and evening during the menstrual cycle, as well as taking the same dosage a week prior to getting her period to help prepare the body.
Evening primrose oil can be taken in oil or capsule form. EPO does have a slight blood thinning affect and can lower blood pressure, so users must consult a doctor if they are taking any other medications which might have interactions.
EPO should be taken with a meal, ideally with some fat, to increase nutrient absorption.
Brianna Diorio is a clinical nutritionist with an MS in human nutrition. She is also a holistic lifestyle coach and NASM CPT. Diorio advocates a holistic and naturopathic approach toward health and wellness, placing importance on proper digestive health, gluten-free living, herbal supplementation and using food as functional medicine as information for our cells. She is the director of training and education at Vitamer Laboratories in Irvine, CA.