Eczema Aided by Evening Primrose Oil
Research has confirmed that taking evening primrose oil supplements can help improve symptoms of eczema, also called atopic dermatitis.
The concept that taking an oral supplement can help the skin is not new. Skin conditions typically reflect our internal health because the skin is considered an organ.
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What is eczema?
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects between 15 and 30% of children and up to 10% of adults.
Eczema is an irritation of the epidermis layer – the skin’s surface layer. This can come in the form of a rash, redness, patchy pigments, or oozing, weeping boils and papules. These can crust and scale and become itchy.
Types of eczema can range from allergic contact dermatitis to different types of skin irritations. A U.S. population study a decade ago estimated that nearly 18 million people live with ongoing cases of atopic dermatitis – which typically presents as eczema.
Eczema can be a response to a wide range of different environmental factors. But it is often the result of a burdened or weakened immune system.
Environmental factors can include allergens, detergents, soaps, disinfectants, mold, bacteria, mold, viruses, stress, hormones, and a host of different foods – assuming the digestive tract doesn’t digest them properly.
There is often a connection between food sensitivities and eczema. Eczema early in life is linked to food sensitivities later on.
Eczema can occur with an immune response in the skin cells, also considered autoimmunity. This can be described as skin sensitization, and can result in blotchy sores on the skin or discolored skin patches. Skin sensitivity can be a delayed or immediate reaction to any number of environmental immune responses.
Autoimmunity is when the immune system is reacting inappropriately to the body’s own cells.
Eczema or atopic dermatitis can also occur when there is an allergic reaction to something that comes in contact with the skin.
Primrose oil and eczema
A study from Korea’s Hallym University College of Medicine (Chung et al. 2018) tested 50 patients who had mild Atopic dermatitis patients. They were split into two groups. One group received 450 milligrams of Evening primrose oil and the other group were given 450 milligrams of soybean oil in capsules. The placebo and treatment continued for four months.
Before and after the treatment, the researchers tested the Eczema Area Severity Index (EASI) score of each patient. In addition they were tested for skin water loss (TEWL), and skin hydration levels. They were also tested for every month during the treatment.
The Evening primrose oil group had significant improvements in their Eczema Area Severity Index scores. They also had higher skin hydration and less water loss compared to the placebo group.
Another study, this from Switzerland’s University Hospital of Bern (Simon et al. 2014), tested 23 patients with eczema. They gave them 4-6 grams of evening primrose oil in capsules for 12 weeks. After the treatment, the researchers found that 93 percent of the patients had mild symptoms, whereas only 42 percent had mild symptoms before the treatment began.
Also, 7 percent of the patients had moderate symptoms at the end of the treatment, whereas 57 percent had moderate symptoms before the study.
A study from India’s Calcutta National Medical College (Senapati et al. 2008) tested 50 patients with eczema. They randomly divided them into two groups. One group was given 500 milligrams of evening primrose oil each day for five months. The other group was given 300 milligrams of a placebo oil – sunflower oil – in the same capsules.
After the five months, 24 patients from the evening primrose oil group had significant improvement in four symptoms: extent, intensity, itching, and dryness of their eczema.
This compared to only 8 of the 25 patients in the placebo oil group. The researchers concluded:
“Evening primrose oil is a safe and effective medicine in management of AD.”
Why does evening primrose help?
Evening primrose oil contains a type of fatty acid (oil) called gamma-linolenic acid or GLA. The body can convert linolenic acid from the diet to DGLA ( dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid) with an enzyme called delta-6-desaturase.
When delta-6-desaturase isn’t available or doesn’t work properly in the body, there is a shortage of DGLA. Because DGLA is a natural anti-inflammatory, not having enough DGLA can result in skin sensitivity. The immune system over-reacts with inflammation, and the inflammation process runs rampant.
Because GLA effectively replaces DGLA in terms of activity in the body, GLA can slow the inflammatory process with respect to the skin cells, effectively reducing inflammation.
In the Switzerland study mentioned above, the researchers also found that blood levels of anti-inflammatory GLA dramatically increased with the evening primrose oil supplementation. The researchers stated:
“The clinical disease activity under evening primrose oil treatment correlates with the individual increase in plasma GLA levels. ”
Chung BY, Park SY, Jung MJ, Kim HO, Park CW. Effect of Evening Primrose Oil on Korean Patients With Mild Atopic Dermatitis: A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Study. Ann Dermatol. 2018;30(4):409-416. doi:10.5021/ad.2018.30.4.409
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;74(5):447-452. doi:10.4103/0378-6323.42645
Simon D, Eng PA, Borelli S, et al. Gamma-linolenic acid levels correlate with clinical efficacy of evening primrose oil in patients with atopic dermatitis. Adv Ther. 2014;31(2):180-188. doi:10.1007/s12325-014-0093-0
Berke R, Singh A, Guralnick M. Atopic Dermatitis: An Overview. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Jul 1;86(1):35-42.