Evening primrose is a tiny, yellow wildflower that grows in North America, Europe and parts of Asia.

While this flower may not be as romantic or regal as the rose, it certainly makes up for its lack of glamour with the numerous health benefits that it offers.

The oil extracted from the seeds of primrose is rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid which contributes to the structure and functions of cell membranes and plays an essential role in the regulation of gene activity inside the cell (1).

Evening primrose oil helps treat a variety of conditions like hormonal imbalance, eczema, nerve pain, and osteoporosis.

Read on to learn about the various health benefits of evening primrose oil.

What is evening primrose oil?

Evening primrose oil (EPA) is extracted from the seeds of evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) plant.

The evening primrose plant is native to North America, but it grows in Europe and parts of the southern hemisphere as well. This plant has yellow flowers that bloom in the evening.

The evening primrose oil is used to treat skin disorders like eczema, acne, and psoriasis.

It is also used for arthritis, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, high cholesterol, heart disease.

Women use evening primrose oil for premenstrual syndrome, breast pain, preventing high blood pressure during pregnancy and easing symptoms of menopause.

The healing benefits of evening primrose oil come from its gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) content.

These fatty acids help provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormone and hormone-like substances. They also help decrease inflammation.

History of evening primrose oil

Native Americans first used evening primrose. They used the leaves and roots of this plant for food.

The made poultices from the plant to speed up wound healing. They also used this plant as an infusion for its astringent and sedative properties.

The Cherokee Indians heated the plant’s roots and applied it to hemorrhoids, while the Iroquois Indians used it as a salve for skin issues.

They also used the leaves to treat minor wounds, gastrointestinal problems, and sore throats.

Evening primrose was introduced to the Europeans in the 17th century. Here the Europeans used primrose to treat asthma, psoriasis, eczema, whooping cough, premenstrual syndrome, Raynaud’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and mastalgia.

The seeds of the evening primrose were used as a coffee substitute because of food rationing during World War II.

Evening primrose has been sold commercially since the 1970s. It is most commonly sold as oil, although its capsules and tablets are also available.

Benefits of evening primrose oil

1. Relieves premenstrual syndrome symptoms

Evening primrose oil (EPO) is very effective in treating the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome like depression, irritability and bloating.

According to researchers, women experience PMS because they are sensitive to normal prolactin levels in the body. Gamma linolenic acid converts to prostaglandin E1 in the body, and this prevents prolactin from triggering PMS.

Since EPO is rich in GLA, taking EPO supplements can help relieve the symptoms.

According to a study when women with PMS symptoms took a supplement containing vitamin B6, vitamin E and evening primrose oil, it helped relieve symptoms of PMS (2).

2. Lowers menopause symptoms

EPO helps to balance hormones and reduce the severity of menopause symptoms like hot flashes. During a 6-week randomized clinical trial, 56 menopausal women took two capsules per day of placebo or evening primrose (500 mg).

The results showed that the severity, frequency, and duration of hot flashes in the EPO were lower as compared to the placebo group (3).

These women also improved in their social activity, relationship with others and sexuality thanks to the lower intensity of these attacks.

3. Diminishes acne breakouts

Fluctuating hormones during teenage years can lead to acne. Hormonal imbalance in adults also can cause acne breakouts. Using primrose oil, both externally and internally, can treat acne.

High amounts of fatty acids in EPO are useful in diluting sebum, which can clog skin pores.

The gamma linolenic acid(GLA) in evening primrose oil also reduces skin inflammation, which helps in reducing acne. According to a 2014 study, GLA helped reduce both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions (4).

4. Treats psoriasis

Psoriasis is a condition that speeds up the life cycle of skin cells. It is characterized by

patches of abnormal skin that is dry, inflamed and itchy.

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, evening primrose oil can help alleviate mild symptoms of psoriasis.

Psoriasis is often linked to leaky gut, a condition in which toxins penetrate the lining of the gut and enter the bloodstream. The GLA in evening primrose oil can lower the inflammation in the gut and repair leaky gut.

5. Helps ease eczema

Eczema is a common skin condition that is marked by itchy, dry, rough and inflamed skin. It is caused by an overactive immune system that responds aggressively when exposed to irritants.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, primrose oil can help with skin issues like redness, firmness, roughness and fatigue resistance (5).

Studies have shown that people with eczema don’t have the normal ability to process fatty acids, which results in a deficiency of GLA. GLA is effective in reducing inflammation and cell growth.

Studies have shown that primrose oil can help ease many symptoms of eczema like redness, edema, and itchiness.

6. Fertility aid

Evening primrose oil is one of the most popular herbal supplements for female hormonal balance and fertility.

GLA present in primrose oil increases the production of cervical mucus, which is vital for fertility. Cervical fluid is necessary for the sperm to sustain themselves.

The fatty acids of EPO also have a beneficial effect on the uterine cell walls. The essential fatty acids cause contraction and relaxation of the uterine muscle tissue, which helps to tone uterine muscles in preparation for pregnancy.

7. Reduces breast pain

If you experience severe breast pain during your period, taking evening primrose oil may be the answer for you.

According to a study in the Alternative Medicine Review, taking a daily dose of 1,200 IU vitamin E and 3000 mg EPO in combination for six months may decrease the severity of cyclical mastalgia (6).

8. Prevents hair loss

Evening primrose oil has hormone balancing, anti-inflammatory properties that prevent hair loss and encourages hair regrowth.

Applying EPO on the scalp can prevent dryness and inflammation, which in turn boosts hair growth.

9. Eases rheumatoid arthritis pain

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that affects the joints. It can cause warm, swollen and painful joints on both sides of the body.

EPA is rich in omega-6 fatty acids that can help control pain and inflammation. Studies show that EPA is also helpful in easing rheumatoid arthritis pain.

According to a systematic review, gamma-linolenic acid from evening primrose oil helps reduce pain intensity and improves disability in people with rheumatic arthritis (7).

10. Reduces nerve pain

Peripheral neuropathy occurs due to damage to peripheral nerves. It’s often associated with diabetes. Peripheral neuropathy causes weakness, numbness, and pain in hands and feet.

Evening primrose oil can treat nerve pain associated with diabetes. During one study, when 12 patients took linolenic acid in the form of primrose capsules for a period of six months, they showed a significant improvement in their neuropathy symptoms scores (8).

11. Improves bone health

Evening primrose oil, fish oil, and calcium together can decrease bone loss and improve bone density. According to some studies, people who take more fatty acids in their diet have healthier bones as compared to those who do not have enough fatty acids in their food.

According to one study, when senior women with osteoporosis took six grams of a combination of fish oil and EPO per day for three years, they experienced no spinal bone loss in the earlier months and a significant increase in bone mineral density in the last few months.

Side effects of evening primrose oil

  • EPO is considered safe for most people when used in recommended dosages up to a year. This oil can sometimes cause mild side effects which may include upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea, and headache.
  • Don’t take primrose oil during pregnancy as it may induce labor.
  • Too much omega-6 intake can interfere with the production of prostaglandins, which can lead to blood clots, inflammation, high blood pressure, sterility, digestive issues, cell proliferation, cancer, and weight gain.
  • Evening primrose oil can also increase the chance of bruising and bleeding. So people who have bleeding disorder should not take this oil. Stop using EPO for two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
  • People who have epilepsy or a seizure disorder should not take EPO as it can make seizures more likely.

Final thoughts

Evening primrose oil comes from the seeds of evening primrose plant which is native to North America. The healing benefits of evening primrose oil come from its gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) content.

These fatty acids help relieve PMS and menopause symptoms, diminish acne breakouts, ease rheumatoid arthritis pain, improve bone health, and act as a fertility aid.

Though EPA is safe to use, it can cause some mild side effects. Pregnant women, people with epilepsy and bleeding disorders should avoid using evening primrose oil.

The evening primrose oil is used to treat skin disorders like eczema, acne, and psoriasis. It is also used for arthritis, osteoporosis, etc.