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Ask the Diet Doctor: Evening Primrose and PMS

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woman with pms

Q: Will evening primrose oil help ease PMS?

A: Evening primrose oil can be good for something, but treating the symptoms of PMS isn't one of them.

Evening primrose oil is high in a rare omega-6 fat called gamma linolenic acid (GLA). I called GLA rare because it is not readily found in any of the foods we eat, as most people don’t use evening primrose, borage, and black currant oils to dress salads or saute vegetables. If you are going to get a significant dose of GLA in your diet, then supplementation is necessary, the two most popular ways being via evening primrose and borage seed oil supplements.

Although GLA is an omega-6 fat and we have been told all of these fatty acids are inflammatory, this is not the case here. GLA is converted into a compound called PGE1, which is a short-lived yet powerful anti-inflammatory compound. This is one of the reasons why supplementation with GLA seems to help with arthritis pain. However, GLA and evening primrose oil will not treat the symptoms of PMS.

Excessive levels of the hormone prolactin may be responsible for many of the symptoms associated with PMS, although this is not the case for all women who suffer at that time of the month. PGE1 has been shown to reduce the effects of prolactin. Using this line of thinking, it has previously been thought that some women suffering from PMS do so because their body is not producing enough PGE1.

RELATED: 10 Moves to Ease Symptoms of PMS

If this were the case, the nutrition solution to this problem seems simple: Supplement with GLA (or evening primrose oil) in order to boost blood GLA levels, thus boosting PGE1 production and alleviating PMS symptoms. However clinical trials looking at the efficacy of GLA supplementation in relieving symptoms of PMS show it to be just as useful as a placebo. Despite this fact, evening primrose oil and GLA are continually touted as a key “cure” for symptoms of PMS.

Bottom line: If you are looking for an extra anti-inflammatory edge, GLA in concert with fish oil makes sense. If you are looking for a alleviate PMS woes, however, you’ll need to unfortunately keep looking.

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