Evening primrose is a night-blooming herb that grows in the wild in parts of Europe and North America. Evening primrose oil is extracted from the seeds and made into capsules for use as supplements. It contains linolenic acid, gamma-linolenic acid, and vitamin E.
Gamma-linolenic acid is a known precursor to prostaglandin E, a hormone-like chemical necessary for many bodily functions, including hormone regulation.
Can Evening Primrose Oil Replace Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Hormone replacement therapy is one of the main treatments for menopause and it works by replacing lost estrogen. Most experts agree that if taken for a short time, the benefits outweigh the slight risk of developing some cancers, stroke, and DVT.
However, not all women are able to take Hormone Replacement Therapy (those with a history of breast / ovarian cancer, heart disease / stroke and DVT are warned) and it may have side effects including bloating, fluid retention, pain head and depression.
Recent concerns about Hormone Replacement Therapy as a treatment for menopausal symptoms have seen many women seeking complementary and alternative treatments.
Evening primrose oil has been used since the 1930s as a popular remedy for eczema and, more recently, for menopausal symptoms. Given the ability of evening primrose oil to synthesize prostaglandins, which play such an important role in regulating hormones, it is believed that evening primrose oil can help counteract the hormonal changes associated with menopause.
For more information, I recommend that you read this article with complete information about evening primrose oil .
The theory underlying the use of evening primrose oil for the treatment of menopausal symptoms lies in the changes in prostaglandin-dependent peripheral and central mechanisms that stimulate the release of gonadotropins through the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that is linked to body temperature, sleep , and emotional activity.
A 1994 study looked at the effectiveness of gamma-linolenic acid in the form of evening primrose oil in treating hot flashes and sweating associated with menopause. Fifty-six volunteers started the seven-month study, half of the participants were assigned evening primrose oil supplements (500 mg) of four capsules taken twice daily; the other half were assigned the placebo of four capsules twice daily of 500 mg of liquid paraffin.
The results found that all the women who completed the study (35, of whom 17 received the placebo) showed a reduction in the number and severity of hot flashes and sweating episodes from the initial month to the final month. This suggests that the effects were more significant in development, plus sweating and hot flashes would have naturally decreased over time, regardless of supplementation.
Therefore, this study was unable to demonstrate the benefits of evening primrose oil treatment for menopause compared to a placebo. Evening primrose oil treatment showed additional mild relief of symptoms compared to placebo , but these effects were not statistically significant. Further studies with a larger number of participants are required to establish the efficacy of this type of alternative treatment.
A more recent study involved 56 menopausal women in a six-week trial. Again, the researchers found that hot flashes in both the evening primrose oil and placebo groups improved over the six weeks. However, relief from the severity of hot flashes in the evening primrose oil group was significantly better than in the placebo group. The study concluded that the oral application of evening primrose oil compared to placebo can decrease the intensity of the attacks as well as the frequency.
Elsewhere, another study of more than 1,000 menopausal women in Sydney, Australia, looked at the use of various complementary therapies to relieve menopausal symptoms. He concluded that several therapies were effective and that evening primrose oil was among the most effective products.) However, it concluded that many women were using alternative therapies in conjunction with pharmaceutical drugs, and that there was insufficient communication between doctors and patients, which could lead to possible drug interactions.
However, although alternative therapies, such as evening primrose oil, may produce mild relief of some menopausal symptoms, overall the evidence, summarized by leading British authorities , suggests that these alternatives are much less effective than Hormone Replacement Therapy .
Evening primrose oil and libido
Because hormonal changes play an important role in libido levels, it is suggested that evening primrose oil, with its high levels of gamma-linolenic acid, may help promote sexual appetite in women.
This type of sexual dysfunction is often caused by decreased circulation, hormonal imbalance, depression, or anxiety.
Additionally, the essential fatty acids found in evening primrose oil can help improve blood flow as well as balance hormones. However, clinical studies are needed to confirm the efficacy of evening primrose oil on libido.
Evening primrose oil and the placebo effect
There is little clinical evidence that evening primrose oil is beneficial for women going through menopause. However, it can be used as a placebo drug. The placebo effect refers to the power of the mind that influences the body.
Therefore, when a person believes that they are taking an effective treatment, they are more likely to improve, regardless of what they are taking. This effect is always observed in conventional, complementary or alternative health treatments.
What are the recommended doses of Evening Primrose Oil?
If you choose to supplement with evening primrose oil, to relieve hot flashes associated with menopause, it is recommended to take 500 mg of evening primrose oil four times a day.
The NHS (Dumfries & Galloway) suggestion is 240mg daily for at least two months for maximum effect, with the dose reduced. However, keep in mind that evening primrose oil can have adverse interactions with other medications.
Taking evening primrose oil with food will help the absorption of gamma-linolenic acid, as well as minimize any possible unpleasant side effects.
Side Effects of Taking Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil has been found to cause some mild side effects in some people, including stomach aches, headaches, and nausea. Evening primrose oil should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women and by anyone with epilepsy or another seizure disorder. As always, if you are planning to take evening primrose oil, check with your doctor first, as it can negatively interact with a number of prescription medications.
It is important that any herbal products you buy to alleviate menopause (or other) symptoms are registered with the Regulatory Authority for Medicines and Health Care Products in your country, to ensure that what you are buying has been regulated for your quality and safety.
Natural alternatives to evening primrose oil
If you decide that increasing your levels of linolenic acid and gamma-linolenic acid would be beneficial to you, there are other ways to consume omega-6 fatty acids without taking evening primrose oil supplements, such as eating more vegetable oils, almonds, and egg yolks.
The benefits of evening primrose oil during menopause
Evening primrose oil contains the essential fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid, which can be beneficial in treating some menopausal symptoms. Gamma-linolenic acid is used by the body to make prostaglandins, which can regulate hormones.
Menopause marks the beginning of the end of menstrual periods and usually begins when a woman reaches 50 years of age. It is caused by a decrease in estrogen levels. Unfortunately, this drop often leads to a host of uncomfortable symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings.
Menopausal women are advised to speak with a GP before taking evening primrose oil supplements; especially women with an existing condition or those who are already taking medication.
People taking blood thinners or phenothiazine for psychotic disorders are advised not to do so. Evening primrose oil is generally considered safe for most adults to take for a year at a time, although some people may experience mild side effects, including headaches, nausea, and diarrhea.
The RDA for evening primrose is one 1,000mg tablet per day , or two 500mg tablets
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