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Borage oil is derived from the seeds of the borage (Borago officinalis) plant, a large plant with blue, star-shaped flowers found throughout Europe and North Africa and naturalized to North America.1
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3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
This supplement has been used in connection with the following health conditions:
1.1 to 2.8 grams of GLA daily
Oils containing the omega-6 fatty acid gamma linolenic acid, such as borage oil, have been reported to be effective in treating people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Oils containing the omega-6 fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA)—borage oil,2 , 3 , 4 black currant seed oil,5 and evening primrose oil (EPO)6 , 7—have been reported to be effective in the treatment for people with RA. Although the best effects have been reported with use of borage oil, that may be because more GLA was used in borage oil trials (1.1–2.8 grams per day) compared with trials using black currant seed oil or EPO. The results with EPO have been mixed and confusing, possibly because the placebo used in those trials (olive oil) may have anti-inflammatory activity. In a double-blind trial, positive results were seen when EPO was used in combination with fish oil.8 GLA appears to be effective because it is converted in part to prostaglandin E1, a hormone-like substance known to have anti-inflammatory activity.
5 grams (providing 890 mg of gamma-linolenic acid) per day
In one study, supplementing with borage oil helped reduce the amount of weight regained by obese people who had previously shed pounds.
In a double-blind study of obese people who had previously lost an average of about 66 pounds, supplementation with 5 grams of borage oil per day (providing 890 mg per day of gamma-linolenic acid) significantly reduced the average amount of weight regained over the next 12 months (4.8 pounds versus 19.3 pounds in the placebo group).9 It is believed that borage oil worked by correcting certain abnormalities of essential fatty acid metabolism that are common in people predisposed to obesity.
Refer to label instructions
Topically applied borage oil may improve cradle cap symptoms.
A group of researchers found that infants with cradle cap appeared to have an imbalance of essential fatty acids in their blood that returned to normal when their skin rashes eventually went away.10 In a preliminary trial, these researchers later found that application of 0.5 ml of borage oil twice daily to the affected skin resulted in clinical improvement of cradle cap within two weeks.11
How It Works
How to Use It
For the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, the amounts of GLA from borage used in successful double-blind trials were 1.4–2.8 grams daily for at least two months.12 , 13 Although 360 mg of GLA daily from borage oil has been used to treat people with eczema, controlled research has not supported its use for this condition.14 Topically, 0.5 ml of borage oil may be applied to areas of seborrhea daily for two weeks, and then three times a week until the condition is stable.15
Where to Find It
Borage oil is found primarily in supplements. Its presumed active ingredient, GLA, can also be found in black currant seed oil and evening primrose oil supplements. However, it is not known whether the effects of these three oils in the body, are the same.
Many people in Western societies may be at least partially GLA-deficient as a result of aging, glucose intolerance, dietary fat intake, and other problems, though the exact incidence of deficiency remains unknown. People with deficiencies benefit from supplemental GLA intake from borage oil, black currant seed oil, or evening primrose oil.
Those with premenstrual syndrome,16 diabetes,17 scleroderma,18 Sjogren’s syndrome,19 tardive dyskinesia,20 eczema,21 and other skin conditions22 may have a metabolic block that interferes with the body’s ability to make GLA. However, most clinical trials supplementing GLA for these conditions has used evening primrose oil, and not borage oil.
Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds
Interactions with Medicines
Borageseeds contain small amounts of liver toxins called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA). However, testing has not demonstrated the presence of the alkaloid in the seed oil.23 Most commercially available borage seed oil is, therefore, likely to be PA-free and presents no risk of PA toxicity. Minor side effects from borage oil use can include bloating, nausea, indigestion, and headache.24
1. Wren RC. Potter's New Cyclopedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. Essex, England: C.W. Daniel and Co., 1988, 41.
2. Pullman-Mooar S, Laposata M, Lem D, et al. Alteration of the cellular fatty acid profile and the production of eicosanoids in human monocytes by gamma-linolenic acid. Arthritis Rheum 1990;33:1526-33.
3. Leventhal LJ, Boyce EG, Zurier RB. Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with gammalinolenic acid. Ann Intern Med 1993;119:867-73.
4. Zurier RB, Rossetti RG, Jacobson EW, et al. Gamma-linolenic acid treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Arthritis Rheum 1996;39:1808-17.
5. Leventahn LJ, Boyce EG, Zuerier RB. Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with black currant seed oil. Br J Rheumatol 1994;33:847-52.
6. Brzeski M, Madhok R, Capell HA. Evening primrose oil in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and sideeffects of nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs. Brit J Rheumatol 1991;30:370-2.
7. Jantti J, Seppala E, Vapaatalo H, Isomaki H. Evening primrose oil and olive oil in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Clin Rheumatol 1989;8:238-44.
8. Belch JJ, Ansell D, Madhok R, et al. Effects of altering dietary essential fatty acids on requirements for nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a double blind placebo controlled study. Ann Rheum Dis 1988;47:96-104.
9. Schirmer MA, Phinney SD. Gamma-linolenate reduces weight regain in formerly obese humans. J Nutr 2007;137:1430-35.
10. Tollesson A, Frithz A, Berg A, Karlman G. Essential fatty acids in infantile seborrheic dermatitis. J Am Acad Dermatol 1993;28:957-61.
11. Tollesson A, Frithz A. Borage oil, an effective new treatment for infantile seborrheic dermatitis. Br J Dermatol 1993;129:95 [letter].
12. Leventhal LJ, Boyce EG, Zurier RB. Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with gammalinolenic acid. Ann Intern Med 1993;119:867-73.
13. Zurier RB, Rossetti RG, Jacobson EW, et al. Gamma-linolenic acid treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Arthritis Rheum 1996;39:1808-17.
14. Landi G. Oral administration of borage oil in atopic dermatitis. J Appl Cosmetology 1993;11:115-20.
15. Tollesson A, Frithz A. Borage oil, an effective new treatment for infantile seborrheic dermatitis. Br J Dermatol 1993;129:95 [letter].
16. Horrobin DF, Manku M, Brush M, et al. Abnormalities in plasma essential fatty acid levels in women with pre-menstrual syndrome and with non-malignant breast disease. J Nutr Med 1991;2:259-64.
17. Keen H, Payan J, Allawi J, et al. Treatment of diabetic neuropathy with gamma-linolenic acid. Diabetes Care 1993;16:8-15.
18. Horrobin DF. Essential fatty acid metabolism in diseases of connective tissue with special reference to scleroderma and to Sjogren's syndrome. Med Hypotheses 1984;14:233-47.
19. Horrobin DF, Campbell A. Sjogren's syndrome and the sicca syndrome: the role of prostaglandin E1 deficiency. Treatment with essential fatty acids and vitamin C. Med Hypotheses 1980;6:225-32.
20. Vaddadi KS, Gilleard CJ. Essential fatty acids, tardive dyskinesia, and schizophrenia. In Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids: Pathophysiology and Roles in Clinical Medicine. Horrobin DF (ed). New York: Alan R Liss, 1990, 333-43.
21. Manku MS, Horrobin DF, Morse NL, et al. Essential fatty acids in the plasma phospholipids of patients with atopic eczema. Br J Dermatol 1984;110:643-8.
22. Horrobin DF. Essential fatty acids in clinical dermatology. J Am Acad Dermatol 1989;20:1045-53.
23. Parvais O, Vander Stricht B, Vanhaelen-Fastré R,Vanhaelen M. TLC detection of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in oil extracted from the seeds of Borago officinalis. J Planar Chromatography 1994;7:80-2.
24. Awang DVC. Borage. Can Pharm J 1990;123:121-3.
Last Review: 01-20-2015
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2016.