Evening Primrose Oil

Evening Primrose Oil

Common Names

  • Evening primrose oil
  • Night willow herb
  • Fever plant
  • King's cure-all

For Patients & Caregivers

Evidence for whether evening primrose oil can relieve some types of pain or skin conditions is mixed, and it has not been adequately studied for its effects on cancer.

Evening primrose oil has been used for a variety of conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause symptoms, and eczema. It has also been used for several types of pain, including breast and diabetic nerve pain. Human studies are mixed on whether it can help relieve breast pain, PMS, nerve pain, or skin inflammation. Other studies suggest possible benefits in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. More studies are needed to confirm these effects. There are few studies with respect to its effects on cancer.

Interestingly, although evening primrose oil may decrease hot flash intensity in menopausal women, other data suggest that behavioral or lifestyle changes such as increased exercise provide better relief.

Evening primrose oil does not have hormonal properties, but some products that contain it may also contain phytoestrogens, which are plant-derived sources of estrogen. Therefore, patients with hormone-sensitive cancers should use evening primrose oil products with caution.

  • To treat cancer
    Evening primrose oil has not been studied extensively for cancer. In an older study, evening primrose oil had no effect on tumor size or survival in patients with liver cancer. In breast cancer patients, those who received gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which can be a component of evening primrose oil, in addition to tamoxifen, had faster response to treatment than those who received tamoxifen alone.
  • To treat diabetic neuropathy
    Results from older studies to improve symptoms of diabetic nerve pain were mixed.
  • To treat eczema
    Clinical trials show conflicting results, but some trials show benefit in skin conditions caused by specific drugs to treat acne and myelodysplastic syndrome. However, other large analyses have concluded both evening primrose oil and borage oil are not effective for eczema.
  • To treat gastrointestinal disorders such as colitis or irritable bowel syndrome
    One clinical trial studied the effects of evening primrose oil on ulcerative colitis, showing weak effects. In general, there is little support for this use.
  • To relieve breast pain
    A handful of clinical trials support this use, especially for breast pain associated with the menstrual cycle.
  • To relieve menopausal symptoms
    One clinical trial found that evening primrose oil was no better than placebo at relieving menopausal hot flashes. Another suggests it may improve quality of life and decrease hot flash intensity. Other data suggest that behavioral or lifestyle changes such as increased exercise provide better relief.
  • To prevent premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
    Results of clinical trials are inconsistent.
  • To reduce inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
    Clinical studies show that evening primrose rose oil may be useful in reducing symptoms of RA.
  • You are pregnant: Side effects have included pregnancy complications among women and skin conditions and bruising in a newborn.

  • You are taking anticoagulants or antiplatelet agents: Evening primrose oil may enhance their effects.

  • You are taking blood pressure medications: Even though no interactions have been reported, a large population-based study showed that evening primrose oil can increase blood pressure.

  • Minor: abdominal pain, indigestion, nausea, softening of stools, headaches

  • Labor abnormalities: Serious labor problems occurred among women who used evening primrose oil to shorten gestation and labor times.

Case reports

Red dots and large bruises on a newborn: The mother used raspberry leaf tea and evening primrose oil vaginally and orally 1 week before childbirth.

Lipoid pneumonia: In a 50-year-old woman following chronic use of evening primrose oil, caused by breathing in fat particles from this supplement into the lungs.

Evening primrose oil does not have hormonal properties, but some products that contain it may also contain phytoestrogens, which are plant-derived sources of estrogen. Therefore, patients with hormone-sensitive cancers should use evening primrose oil products with caution.

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For Healthcare Professionals

Oenothera biennis

Derived from the plant Oenothera biennis, evening primrose oil is used for rheumatoid arthritis, premenstrual syndrome, eczema, fatigue, diabetic neuropathy, and mastalgia. The mucilaginous stem and leaf juices have been used as a poultice to treat minor bruises and wounds, and to soothe skin inflammation (25). Evening primrose oil is thought to improve skin moisture and to reduce transepidermal water loss (26). It is also among the popular natural products used for menopausal symptoms (27) (28).

In vitro, evening primrose oil demonstrates anti-inflammatory activity (29) and inhibits platelet aggregation (6) (7). In animal models, it exerts anti-angiogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-arthritic effects (30) and improved cardiac recovery after myocardial infarction (31).

In humans, small studies suggest its effectiveness against atopic dermatitis (18) (25) (32), but other analyses have concluded that neither evening primrose oil nor borage oil are effective for eczema (23) (33). A small study in acne patients treated with oral isotretinoin suggests that evening primrose oil can improve xerotic cheilitis (34), and may also be effective against 5-azacitidine-induced skin reactions in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) (19). Evening primrose oil was useful in preventing weight regain following extensive weight loss (5) and a meta-analysis suggests it may relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms (21). Other studies suggest weak benefit in patients with ulcerative colitis (35) (36) or in ocular surface diseases such as dry eye (37) (38). Results from older studies to improve symptoms of diabetic neuropathy were equivocal (39). Several studies suggest that co-supplementation with hemp seed and evening primrose oils along with a diet high in total antioxidant capacity may improve clinical and immunological parameters in patients with multiple sclerosis (40) (41) (42).

Supplementation with vitamin E and evening primrose oil reduced cyclical mastalgia (20), but other analyses did not find improvements in breast pain (1) (43) or premenstrual syndrome (22). Evening primrose oil may improve quality of life and decrease hot flash intensity in menopausal women (44), although other data suggest that behavioral/lifestyle approaches such as exercise provide better relief (28). Evening primrose oil has not been studied extensively for cancer, but an older study in liver cancer patients showed no effect on tumor size or survival (45). Another small study suggested that gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) may be an effective adjunctive therapy for breast cancer (4).

Although evening primrose oil does not have intrinsic estrogenic properties, some commercial products combine evening primrose oil with phytoestrogens. Therefore, patients with hormone-sensitive cancers should use evening primrose oil products with caution.

  • Cancer treatment
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Eczema
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Mastalgia
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Evening primrose oil is rich in omega-6 gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which can be converted directly to the prostaglandin precursor dihomo-GLA (DGLA) (2) (3). Administration of the oil may benefit individuals unable to metabolize cis-linolenic acid to GLA, producing subsequent intermediates of metabolic significance including prostaglandins (2) (3).

In vitro, long-chain fatty alcohols such as hexacosanol, tetracosanol, docosanol, and octocosanol demontrate anti-inflammatory activity (29). In animal models, benefits on cardiac recovery after myocardial infarction are attributed to its hypocholesterolemic effect and indirect influence on prostaglandins and cytokine synthesis (31). In arthiritis models, evening primrose oil normalized body weight, angiopoietin-1, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha levels, and reduced malondialdehyde levels, synovial hyperplasia, and inflammatory cell invasion in joint tissues (30).

In patients with multiple sclerosis, evening primrose oil accelerates anti-inflammatory responses and prevents pro-inflammatory cytokine production while helping to maintain fatty acid membranes and optimizing balance between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids (40). Increases in plasma GLA and its metabolite DGLA seen with evening primrose oil supplementation has correlated with clinical improvements in atopic dermatitis (32) and produced dose-dependent effects on serum fatty acid levels and eczema severity scores (25). Inhibition of cheilitis is attributed to GLA’s effects on stratum corneum maturation, differentiation, and preservation of its permeability barrier (34). Antiplatelet and anticoagulant effects are likely related to decreased thromboxane B2 synthesis induced by evening primrose oil (46) (47).

  • Pregnant women should not take evening primrose oil due to increased risk of pregnancy complications (8) (48).
  • Patients with hormone-sensitive cancers should use evening primrose oil products with caution, because even though it does not possess estrogenic properties on its own, some commercial evening primrose oil products may contain other phytoestrogen ingredients.

Minor: abdominal pain, indigestion, nausea, softening of stools, and headaches (25).
Labor abnormalities: When used to shorten gestation and length of labor, increased incidences of prolonged membrane rupture, oxytocin augmentation, arrest of descent, and vacuum extraction (8) (48).  

Case reports
Petechiae and ecchymoses: Observed in a newborn whose mother used raspberry leaf tea and evening primrose oil vaginally and orally 1 week before childbirth (12).
Lipoid pneumonia: In a 50-year-old woman following chronic use of evening primrose oil, caused by aspiration of lipid particles into the lungs (24).

Anticoagulants/Antiplatelets: May have additive effects and increase bleeding risk (46) (47) (49).

Blood pressure medications: Although there are no interactions reported with blood pressure medications, evening primrose oil was identified as being among supplements that may increase both systolic and diastolic blood pressures, with a clinically meaningful difference for systolic blood pressure in a large population-based study (50).

  1. Srivastava A, Mansel RE, Arvind N, et al. Evidence-based management of Mastalgia: a meta-analysis of randomised trials. Breast. Oct 2007;16(5):503-512.

  2. Belch JJ, Hill A. Evening primrose oil and borage oil in rheumatologic conditions. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:352S-6S.

  3. Tyler, V. Herbs of Choice, the Therapeutical Use of Phytomedicinals. Binghamton: Pharmaceutical Press; 1994.

  4. Kenny FS, et al. Gamma linolenic acid with Tamoxifen as primary therapy in breast cancer. Int J Cancer 2000; 85:643-8.

  5. Schirmer MA, Phinney SD. Gamma-linolenate reduces weight regain in formerly obese humans. J Nutr. Jun 2007;137(6):1430-1435.

  6. De La Cruz JP, Martin-Romero M, Carmona JA, et al. Effect of evening primrose oil on platelet aggregation in rabbits fed an atherogenic diet. Thromb Res. Jul 1 1997;87(1):141-149.

  7. Holman CP, et al. A trial of evening primrose oil in the treatment of chronic schizophrenia. J Orthomolecular Psychiatry 1983;12:302-4.

  8. Newall C. Herbal Medicines, A Guide for Health Care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 1997.

  9. Martens-Lobenhoffer J, Meyer FP. Pharmacokinetic data of gamma-linoleic acid in healthy volunteers after the administration of evening primrose oil (Epogam). Int J Clin Pharmacology Therapeutics 1998;36:363-6.

  10. Wedig KE, Whitsett JA. Down the primrose path: petechiae in a neonate exposed to herbal remedy for parturition. J Pediatr. Jan 2008;152(1):140, 140 e141.

  11. Budeiri D, et al. Is evening primrose oil of value in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome? Control Clin Trials 1996;17:60-8.

  12. Keen H, et al. Treatment of diabetic neuropathy with gamma-linolenic acid. Diabetes Care 1993;16:8-15.

  13. Pye JK, et al. Clinical experience of drug treatment for mastalgia. Lancet 1985;2:373-7.

  14. Senapati S, Banerjee S, Gangopadhyay DN. Evening primrose oil is effective in atopic dermatitis: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2008 Sep-Oct;74(5):447-52.

  15. Platzbecker U, Aul C, Ehninger G, Giagounidis A. Reduction of 5-azacitidine induced skin reactions in MDS patients with evening primrose oil. Ann Hematol. 2010 Apr;89(4):427-8.

  16. Pruthi S, Wahner-Roedler DL, Torkelson CJ, et al. Vitamin E and evening primrose oil for management of cyclical mastalgia: a randomized pilot study. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Apr;15(1):59-67.

  17. Cameron M, Gagnier JJ, Chrubasik S. Herbal therapy for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Feb 16;(2):CD002948.

  18. Dante G, Facchinetti F. Herbal treatments for alleviating premenstrual symptoms: a systematic review. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 2011 Mar;32(1):42-51.

  19. Bamford JT, Ray S, Musekiwa A, et al. Oral evening primrose oil and borage oil for eczema. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Apr 30;4:CD004416. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004416.pub2.

  20. Rabahi MF, Ferreira AA, Madeira JG, Galvao PM, Pinto SA. Lipoid pneumonia secondary to long-term use of evening primrose oil. J Bras Pneumol. 2010 Oct;36(5):657-61.

  21. Chung BY, Kim JH, Cho SI, et al. Dose-dependent effects of evening primrose oil in children and adolescents with atopic dermatitis. Ann Dermatol. Aug 2013;25(3):285-291.

  22. Ohn Mar S, Malhi F, Syed Rahim SH, et al. Use of Alternative Medications for Menopause-Related Symptoms in Three Major Ethnic Groups of Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia. Asia Pac J Public Health. Nov 2015;27(8 Suppl):19s-25s.

  23. Montserrat-de la Paz S, Garcia-Gimenez MD, Angel-Martin M, et al. Long-chain fatty alcohols from evening primrose oil inhibit the inflammatory response in murine peritoneal macrophages. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;151(1):131-136.

  24. Abo-Gresha NM, Abel-Aziz EZ, Greish SM. Evening primrose oil ameliorates platelet aggregation and improves cardiac recovery in myocardial-infarct hypercholesterolemic rats. Int J Physiol Pathophysiol Pharmacol. 2014;6(1):23-36.

  25. Madhok V, Futamura M, Thomas KS, et al. What’s new in atopic eczema? An analysis of systematic reviews published in 2012 and 2013. Part 2. Treatment and prevention. Clin Exp Dermatol. Jun 2015;40(4):349-354; quiz 354-345.

  26. Greenfield SM, Green AT, Teare JP, et al. A randomized controlled study of evening primrose oil and fish oil in ulcerative colitis. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. Apr 1993;7(2):159-166.

  27. Ng SC, Lam YT, Tsoi KK, et al. Systematic review: the efficacy of herbal therapy in inflammatory bowel disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. Oct 2013;38(8):854-863.

  28. Jalbert I. Diet, nutraceuticals and the tear film. Exp Eye Res. Dec 2013;117:138-146.

  29. Kokke KH, Morris JA, Lawrenson JG. Oral omega-6 essential fatty acid treatment in contact lens associated dry eye. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. Jun 2008;31(3):141-146; quiz 170.

  30. Rock E, DeMichele A. Nutritional approaches to late toxicities of adjuvant chemotherapy in breast cancer survivors. J Nutr. Nov 2003;133(11 Suppl 1):3785s-3793s.

  31. Rezapour-Firouzi S, Arefhosseini SR, Ebrahimi-Mamaghani M, et al. Erythrocyte membrane fatty acids in multiple sclerosis patients and hot-nature dietary intervention with co-supplemented hemp-seed and evening-primrose oils. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2013;10(6):519-527.

  32. Rezapour-Firouzi S, Arefhosseini SR, Ebrahimi-Mamaghani M, et al. Activity of liver enzymes in multiple sclerosis patients with Hot-nature diet and co-supplemented hemp seed, evening primrose oils intervention. Complement Ther Med. Dec 2014;22(6):986-993.

  33. Kataria K, Dhar A, Srivastava A, et al. A systematic review of current understanding and management of mastalgia. Indian J Surg. Jun 2014;76(3):217-222.

  34. Farzaneh F, Fatehi S, Sohrabi MR, et al. The effect of oral evening primrose oil on menopausal hot flashes: a randomized clinical trial. Arch Gynecol Obstet. Nov 2013;288(5):1075-1079.

  35. van der Merwe CF, Booyens J, Joubert HF, et al. The effect of gamma-linolenic acid, an in vitro cytostatic substance contained in evening primrose oil, on primary liver cancer. A double-blind placebo controlled trial. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. Jul 1990;40(3):199-202.

  36. Norred CL, Brinker F. Potential coagulation effects of preoperative complementary and alternative medicines. Altern Ther Health Med. Nov-Dec 2001;7(6):58-67.

  37. Dante G, Bellei G, Neri I, et al. Herbal therapies in pregnancy: what works? Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol. Apr 2014;26(2):83-91.

  38. Riaz A, Khan RA, Ahmed SP. Assessment of anticoagulant effect of evening primrose oil. Pak J Pharm Sci. Oct 2009;22(4):355-359.

  39. McCarty CA, Berg RL, Rottscheit CM, et al. The use of dietary supplements and their association with blood pressure in a large Midwestern cohort. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013;13:339.

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