evening primrose the path to PMS relief


Ever Seen that bumper sticker, "Back off: Driver has PMS"? Yeah, the driver — and a lot of other women! Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is an extremely common disorder — up to 85 percent of menstruating women experience some of its symptoms, while 2-10 percent battle with severe symptoms. Widely used by herbalists to ease the emotional and physical symptoms of PMS, evening primrose oil (EPO) is an ideal alternative to conventional PMS therapies, such as and depressants, birth control pills and antianxiety drugs. And although research has been mixed, the supplement remains a favorite among women and holistic doctors.

Case in point: In an Australian study published m the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, EPO was rated as one of the three most helpful treatments for PMS, according to 300 women who had tried various therapies, ranging from increased fluid intake to exercise to painkillers.

A Fat that Fights PMS
Native to North America, evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a 3- to 7-foot-tall member of the willow herb family. The name reflects the fact that its yellow flowers open in the evening. The tiny seeds are harvested and pressed to release the healing oil.

EPO is rich in omega-6 essential fatty acids, one of which — gamma linolenic acid (GLA) — is thought to be the herb's active ingredient.

Under ideal conditions, the body produces GLA from another omega-6 fat called linolenic acid. In turn, GLA is used to produce an anti-inflammatory hormone-like compound (prostaglandin E1, or PGE1). Some women, however, have a "metabolic block" that interferes with the body's process of making GIA resulting in more severe PMS symptoms, such as fluid retention, breast tenderness, irritability and depression. In preliminary research, EPO has helped people with this condition. Unfortunately, the diagnosis can only be made through a blood test. However, EPO should treat the condition if you indeed have it.

EPO may also help women suffering from another female-related disorder: a deficiency of PGE1 in the central nervous system and in other tissue, such as the breasts. Studies demonstrate that GLA supplements have a significant effect on symptoms of PMS, particularly breast tenderness.

According to Tori Hudson, ND, medical director of the institute of Women's Health and Integrative Medicine in Portland, Ore., GLA has been shown to improve PMS symptoms, including headaches, depression, irritability and bloating. It dramatically relieves PMS breast pain and tenderness, she says. (Editor's note: For more information on GLA and PMS, see fatsforhealth.com.)

GLA is especially popular in England for treating breast pain (mastalgia) and has been officially licensed for this use there. Incidentally, some research has found lowered levels of GLA metabolites (a marker for levels of the fat in the body) in patients with mastalgia.

Beyond PMS: Other Uses
The science looks better for many other uses of EPO. Diabetes, scleroderma, Sjogren's syndrome (an autoimmune condition), eczema, and other skin conditions all improve with the anti-inflammatory properties of EPO. In general, essential fatty acids are critically important to keep women healthy and prevent cardiovascular disease, mental disorders, menstrual cramps, abnormal menstrual bleeding, osteoporosis, breast disease, inflammatory arthritis, asthma and some symptoms of menopause.

Dosage Information
Dietary sources of GLA are borage oil (the richest source), black currant oil and evening primrose oil. Studies often employ 3000-6000mg of EPO (with 270-540mg of GLA) per day. The body needs other nutrients along with GLA to make PGE1. Therefore, combine EPO with magnesium, vitamins B6 and C, zinc and niacin.

Evening Primrose Oil Products
Alone or part of a "GLA formula." evening primrose is widely available. Here are four examples:

Health From the Sun EVENING PRIMROSE capsules undergo a cold "expeller press" process without the use of hexane, a chemical solvent.

The wild evening primrose used in Royal Brittany EVENING PRIMROSE OIL is cultivated for more than 15 years to provide the necessary consistency of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and linolenic acid.

Massage NOW Foods EVENING PRIMROSE OIL into the skin to help reduce irritation and dryness.

Source Naturals EVENING PRIMROSE capsules are made from gelatin and have been designed to be hypoallergenic.

Research, although limited, suggests that GLA (found in EPO) may help ease the pain and numbness of diabetic neuropathy, which can lead to permanent nerve damage.

Researchers, who completed a literature review of EPO for the treatment of PMS, had a hard time finding acceptable studies and concluded that EPO was as yet unproven in PMS management. But many women swear by the remedy for relief of monthly symptoms. Are you one of them? Share your thoughts (good or bad!) for an upcoming article on women's health. Email us at editonal@betternutrition.com.


By Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, DN-C, RH

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