What is evening primrose?
Evening primrose is a plant that is naturally found in Europe and North America. The plant can be identified by its distinct yellow flowers with four bilobed petals. It leaves are lanceolate (shaped like lances). It usually blooms late spring to late summer. The fruit of the evening primrose are shaped in the form of capsules and contain numerous red colored seeds. These seeds are an important food source for many birds.
The plant thrives in well-drained soil and full sunlight. It requires very little care as it is resistant to drought and heat. Evening primrose is sometimes considered a weed as it grows in the wild and can damage other plants.
A brief history
Native Americans are known to have used the leaves, roots and seeds of this plant to prepare medicines that were used to treat many conditions like haemorrhoids and skin problems. Cherokee Indians crushed and heated the EPO’s root and applied it to haemorrhoids. Iroquois, meanwhile, used it as a salve for skin disorders. The plant, which has astringent and sedative properties, was also used by then as a poultice to treat wounds.
Europeans discovered it in the 1600s when they first came to the Americas. They started using it to treat many ailments including
- Whooping cough
- Raynaud’s Disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis
People then started selling EPO as a herbal supplement and it had been very popular since the 1970s.
Evening primrose oil
The plant is useful to human as it has a lot of medicinal values. People use the oil derived from evening primrose to make herbal supplements. The oil is rich in GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), an omega-6 fatty acid found in plant oils. In the body, the gamma-linolenic acid is converted into prostaglandin, which has several different functions ranging from blood pressure regulation to the dilation and constriction of blood vessels.
Evening primrose oil is generally obtained by mechanical pressing, followed by extraction with hexane (a chemical made from crude oil).
Facts on evening primrose oil
- During the Second World War, when there was a shortage of coffee, evening primrose seeds were roasted and used as a substitute.
- Flowers of this plant open late in the afternoon before closing at the sunrise. Due to this phenomenon, it is called evening primrose
- A single evening primrose plant can produce 150000 seeds per season.
- Evening primrose was given the name “king’s cure-all” in the 1600s due to it being used in the treatment of many disorders.
Evening primrose oil is usually taken as an oral supplement in the form of capsules or applied topically. This oil is considered to have many benefits, some of which are:
Helps reduce blood pressure
Tests have proved that evening primrose oil helps in lowering blood pressure. Due to this reason, people who have low blood pressure or are taking medications for hypertension should not take this supplement.
Prevents the formation of acne
Omega-6 fatty acid is known to prevent acne formation by lowering sebum production. As EPO is rich in Omega-6 fatty acids, taking it prevents acne formation. If you already have an acne problem, taking EPO may help reduce the inflammation in the affected areas. It also helps by increasing the healing speed and diminishing scars and blemishes.
Prevents other skin problems
EPO is also good for other disorders of the skin like eczema, psoriasis and lichen planus. They can also reduce the chances of infection when the skin is cut. Additionally, it can also prevent wrinkles and other signs of premature skin ageing due to it having antioxidants.
May help control diabetes
Research has shown that EPO lowers blood sugar levels. Omega-6 fatty acid also helps prevent neuropathy (malfunctions of nerves), a common complication in diabetics. Regular use of EPO also helps reverse the symptoms of neuropathy.
EPO is very effective in treating pain resulting from rheumatoid arthritis due to its anti-inflammatory properties. This oil is also used by women who experience breast pain resulting due to various reasons.
Helps with alcohol withdrawal symptoms
New research has pointed out that EPO can help recovering alcoholics by lessening the withdrawal symptoms. EPO can also help normal liver function resume quicker.
Osteoporosis is a condition that results when the body is unable to replace old bone tissues. The body constantly absorbs old bone tissue and creates new ones. Since osteoporosis prevents the creation of new bone tissue, people with this condition have weak bones that are susceptible to fractures. Studies have shown that the regular use of EPO improves bone mineral density, thus lowering the risk of osteoporosis.
Helps in weight loss
Regular use of EPO boosts your metabolism, which in turn helps you lose weight as the body burns off more calories. It can also help you balance your cholesterol levels.
Evening primrose oil reduces the formation of plaque in blood vessels and this leads to improved circulation. This may be particularly helpful for men who have impotency issues due to the lack of blood flow.
Helps with menstrual symptoms
Evening primrose oil inhibits the production of prostaglandins (which promote inflammation, pain, and fever) and this minimises the symptoms menstruation, especially menstrual cramps. It is also useful in minimising the symptoms of menopause, especially hot flashes.
Prevents hair fall
Evening primrose oil helps in maintaining hormonal balance and this may help the body counter the effects of DHT (dihydrotestosterone), which is responsible for male pattern baldness. You can apply EPO directly in your scalp.
Boosts cardiovascular health
As evening primrose oil reduces the formation of plaque in blood vessels, this improves blood circulation and lowers the risk of you developing atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke. However, people who have pre-existing cardiovascular disorders should consult a doctor before taking EPO supplements.
Helps reduce ADHD symptoms
Studies have indicated that children who have ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) have insufficient omega-3 levels in their bodies. When omega-3 supplements are given in combination with gamma-linolenic acid, it is known to improve the symptoms of ADHD.
Is Omega-6 fatty acid present in other foods?
Omega-6 fatty acid is found in a number of food sources (like flaxseed, grape seed, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, acai). However, it is highly concentrated in evening primrose and borage.
Apart from the benefits, evening primrose oil also has many notable side effects. The side effects are mostly seen in people with certain medical conditions. Taking too much EPO is also known to cause problems. Some of the mild side effects are:
- upset stomach
- stomach pain
- soft stools
Some of the more severe side effects are:
May cause pregnancy complications
Some studies have shown that using EPO during pregnancy may extend labor. As a result, pregnant women are advised not to take EPO supplements.
Blood clotting problems
EPO is known to interfere with the blood’s ability to clot. So people who have bleeding disorders should not use this supplement.
May cause hypotension
As mentioned earlier, EPO helps lower blood pressure. However, sometimes this oil may lower the blood pressure to a dangerous level. People who already have hypotension or are on medications to control their blood pressure should not take this supplement.
May cause hypoglycaemia
As EPO also reduces blood sugar levels, it can sometimes cause hypoglycaemia, a state where the blood sugar levels are dangerously low. Some symptoms of hypoglycaemia include lightheadedness, cognitive confusion, weakness, and fatigue. This generally happens when EPO is combined with medications used to control blood sugar levels.
EPO causes allergic reactions in some people especially when it is taken in higher dosages. Symptoms may include.
- skin irritation
- rash, itching
- abdominal pain
- difficulty swallowing
- dry mouth
You should immediately stop using this oil if you experience these symptoms.
May make neurological conditions worse
People who suffer from neurological conditions like epilepsy should always consult a doctor before taking EPO. This is because; this oil may make the symptoms worse by increasing seizures and causing severe migraines.
Interaction with other drugs
You should not take EPO if you are taking:
- Medications for schizophrenia: EPO supplements may react with certain schizophrenia drugs and this may result in the patient having seizures.
- If you are about to get general anaesthesia: If you are scheduled to undergo a surgery that requires general anaesthesia, you should stop taking EPO supplements at least 2 weeks before the procedure. This is because EPO might react with general anaesthesia drugs and cause seizures.
- If you are using blood thinners: You should not take EPO supplements if you are already on blood thinners. This is because EPO may cause side effects when mixed with blood thinners.
Cold pressed evening primrose oil
Cold pressing is a process that uses a hydraulic press to extract oils and juices from fruits, nuts and plants. Cold pressed products are believed to contain more nutrients compared to those extracted using other methods.
Cold pressed evening primrose oil is unrefined and this is believed to have more beneficial chemicals like betulinic, morolic, and oleanolic acid. These compounds have antioxidant properties that fight the effects of free radicals. Cold pressed evening primrose oil was also found to contain pentacyclic triterpene ester, which helps in lowering cholesterol.
How else can evening primrose be consumed?
Apart from it being available in the form of oral supplements and topical creams, the seed of the plant can also be directly consumed. You can do this by simply cooking it or by roasting it for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees. You can use the roasted seeds while baking bread or in salads. The roasted seeds can also be powdered and sprinkled on many dishes. The root and the leaves of evening primrose are also edible and are used as a garnish in the preparation of many dishes.
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