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Complementary & Alternative Medicine
Index of Herbal Medicines, Supplements and Therapies
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening Primrose Oil
The decision to use products containing or claiming to contain evening primrose oil should be carefully considered.
Evening Primrose Oil (Oenothera biennis)
Be aware that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and dietary supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products containing or claiming to contain evening primrose oil. Decisions to use herbs or supplements should be carefully considered. Individuals using prescription drugs should discuss taking herbs or supplements with a pharmacist or health care professional before starting.
Scientists have studied evening primrose oil for the following health problems:
Skin conditions (eczema, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis)
There are several studies of evening primrose oil taken by mouth for eczema, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. It is popular for these conditions in Europe. Research suggests that six to eight grams of evening primrose oil a day by mouth in divided doses may help eczema. However, most studies are small, low quality and not fully convincing. Better studies are needed before a strong recommendation can be made.
Scientific research does not show a clear benefit in people taking evening primrose oil for rheumatoid arthritis.
Breast pain (mastalgia), breast cysts
Evening primrose oil is a popular treatment for breast pain in Europe. However, there are no high-quality scientific studies showing that it works. Studies of evening primrose oil for breast pain have yielded unclear results. Therefore, it cannot be recommended for either of these conditions.
Diabetes, nerve damage from diabetes (diabetic neuropathy)
Evening primrose oil improves the results of some diabetes blood tests in animals and humans. However, this research is early, and it is not clear that evening primrose oil has any long-term benefits in people with diabetes. Several studies show that one of the chemicals in evening primrose oil, gamma-linolenic acid, may help nerve pain caused by long-term diabetes. More research is necessary before this treatment can be recommended.
Premenstrual syndrome, symptoms of menopause
Evening primrose oil is popular in Europe and Australia for premenstrual syndrome and symptoms of menopause (including breast tenderness, fluid retention, mood changes and hot flashes). Despite widespread use, current scientific evidence suggests that evening primrose oil does not work for these conditions.
Early study of evening primrose oil shows a lack of significant beneficial effects on cardiovascular function and health.
Evening primrose oil has been suggested for many other uses, based on tradition or on scientific theories. However, these uses have not been thoroughly studied in humans, and there is limited scientific evidence about safety or effectiveness. Some of these suggested uses are for conditions that are potentially very serious and even life-threatening. You should consult a health care professional before using evening primrose oil for any unproven use.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
Bruises used as cream
Chemotherapy-induced neuropathy (nerve damage)
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Dry, rough, scaling skin (ichthyosis vulgaris)
| Irritable bowel syndrome|
Kidney and bladder stones
Melanoma (skin cancer)
Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy)
Preventing preterm delivery
Promoting easier birth
Skin conditions in dialysis patients
Whooping cough (pertussis)
Wounds used as cream
People with allergies to plants in the Onagraceae family may be allergic to evening primrose oil. People allergic to gamma-linolenic acid or any other ingredients in evening primrose oil should avoid its use. Contact dermatitis (skin rash) is possible.
There are reports of seizures with the use of evening primrose oil. People at risk of seizures should avoid using it. Evening primrose oil lowers blood pressure in animals, but effects in humans are not clear. Headache, stomach pain, nausea and loose stools may occur.
Pregnancy And Breast-Feeding
There is not enough information available to know if evening primrose oil is safe for pregnant or breast-feeding women.
Interactions with drugs, supplements and other herbs have not been thoroughly studied. The interactions listed below have been reported in scientific publications. If you are taking prescription drugs, speak with a health care professional or pharmacist before using herbs or dietary supplements.
Interactions With Drugs
Evening primrose oil may cause seizures when taken with phenothiazine drugs such as chlorpromazine (Thorazine), thioridazine (Mellaril), trifluoperazine (Stelazine) or fluphenazine (Prolixin). There is a risk of seizure when used with anesthesia, and you may need to stop taking evening primrose oil before some surgeries. Patients taking drugs that increase the risk of seizures or drugs that prevent seizures should avoid evening primrose oil. In theory, this herb may add to the blood pressure-lowering effects of other drugs. Ask a health care professional or pharmacist for advice before you take evening primrose oil if you are taking any other drugs.
Interactions With Herbs And Dietary Supplements
The possibility of harmful effects when taking evening primrose oil with other herbs or supplements has not been well studied. Always read labels carefully, and speak with a health care professional before starting new therapies.
The doses listed below are based on scientific research, publications or traditional use. Because most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly studied or monitored, safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients even within the same brand. Combination products often contain small amounts of each ingredient and may not be effective. Appropriate dosing should be discussed with a health care professional before starting therapy; always read the recommendations on a product's label. The dosing for unproven uses should be approached cautiously, because scientific information is limited in these areas.
For Atopic Dermatitis Or Eczema
Adults (Aged 18 Or Older)
A dose of four to eight grams daily, divided into two doses, has been taken by mouth.
Children (Younger Than 18)
The dosing and safety of evening primrose oil are not well studied in children. You should speak with a health care professional before starting therapy. Three grams daily divided into two doses by mouth has been used in some studies.
For Breast Pain (Mastalgia)
Adults (Aged 18 Or Older)
A dose of three grams daily, divided into two doses, has been taken by mouth.
Evening primrose oil has been studied for several different health problems, but there is no high-quality evidence for any use of it. Research suggests that evening primrose oil is not helpful for premenstrual syndrome or symptoms of menopause. People who are pregnant or have epilepsy should avoid evening primrose oil. It should not be taken with drugs that increase the risk of seizures, drugs that lower blood pressure, phenothiazine drugs or anesthesia. Contact a health care professional and pharmacist before starting evening primrose oil, especially if you are taking other drugs or if you are scheduled for surgery.
The information in this monograph was prepared by the professional staff at Natural Standard, based on thorough systematic review of scientific evidence. The material was reviewed by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School with final editing approved by Natural Standard.
- Natural Standard: An organization that produces scientifically based reviews of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): A division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services dedicated to research
Selected Scientific Studies: Evening Primrose Oil
Natural Standard reviewed more than 230 articles to prepare the professional monograph from which this version was created.
Some of the more recent studies are listed below:
- Blommers J, de Lange-De Klerk ES, Kuik DJ, et al. Evening primrose oil and fish oil for severe chronic mastalgia: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2002;Nov, 187(5):1389-1394.
- Budeiri D, Li Wan PA, Dornan JC. Is evening primrose oil of value in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome? Controlled Clin Trials 1996;17(1):60-68.
- Dickerson LM, Mazyck PJ, Hunter MH. Premenstrual syndrome. Am Fam Physician 2003;Apr 15, 67(8):1743-1752.
- Halat KM, Dennehy CE. Botanicals and dietary supplements in diabetic peripheral neuropathy. J Am Board Fam Pract 2003;Jan-Feb, 16(1):47-57.
- Humphreys F, Symons J, Brown H, et al. The effects of gamolenic acid on adult atopic eczema and premenstrual exacerbation of eczema. Eur J Dermatol 1994;4(598):603.
- Huntley AL, Ernst E. systematic review of herbal medicinal products for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. Menopause 2003;Sep-Oct, 10(5):465-476.
- Joe LA, Hart LL. Evening primrose oil in rheumatoid arthritis. Ann Pharmacother 1993;27(12):1475-1477.
- Joy CB, Mumby-Croft R, Joy LA. Polyunsaturated fatty acid (fish or evening primrose oil) for schizophrenia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2000;(2):CD001257.
- Khan F, Elherik K, Bolton-Smith C, et al. The effects of dietary fatty acid supplementation on endothelial function and vascular tone in healthy subjects. Cardiovasc Res 2003;Oct 1, 59(4):955-962.
- Morse PF, Horrobin DF, Manku MS, et al. Meta-analysis of placebo-controlled studies of the efficacy of Epogam in the treatment of atopic eczema: relationship between plasma essential fatty acid changes and clinical response. Br J Dermatol 1989;121(1):75-90.
- Whitaker DK, Cilliers J, de Beer C. Evening primrose oil (Epogam) in the treatment of chronic hand dermatitis: disappointing therapeutic results. Dermatology 1996;193(2):115-120.
Last updated June 29, 2005
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