Vitamins, Minerals and Dietary Supplements
What is borage oil? Why do we need it?
Borage oil comes from the seeds of the borage plant. Large, with blue, star-shaped flowers, the borage grows naturally throughout Europe and North Africa; it is also cultivated commercially in the United States. The seeds are removed from the plant, then pressed or processed to obtain their oil.
Borage oil's main ingredient is gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid that the body converts to prostaglandin E1, or PGE1. PGE1 reduces inflammation, helps to dilate blood vessels, and may act as a blood thinner.
In scientific studies, long-term use of borage oil has been shown to reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Borage oil may also be effective in treating a variety of skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, scaly skin, dryness, and skin rashes. Infant studies show that borage oil applied to the skin can reduce skin lesions and seborrheic dermatitis, without producing any adverse side-effects.
How much borage oil should I take?
The amount of borage oil to be taken depends on the condition being treated. Internally, most studies have used doses ranging from between 360 milligrams to 2.8 grams daily. Larger amounts may be used if borage oil is being applied topically. Many people in Western societies may have deficiencies of GLA due to a variety of factors, including aging, glucose intolerance, and dietary fat intake. Certain medical conditions may also prevent the body from making GLA, including premenstrual syndrome, diabetes, and some skin conditions.
What forms of borage oil are available?
Borage oil is found primarily in supplement form. Its main ingredient, gamma linolenic acid, is also available in black currant seed oil and evening primrose oil.
What can happen if I take too much borage oil? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?
Borage seeds contain small amounts of substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which may cause liver damage. However, scientific studies have not shown that pyrrolizidine alkaloids are present in borage oil. Some minor side-effects may be associated with high borage oil intake, such as nausea, indigestion and headache. As of this writing, there are no well-known drug interactions associated with borage oil. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking borage oil or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.
- Borreck S, Hildebrandt A, Forster J. Borage seed oil and atopic dermatitis. Klinische Pediatrie 1997;203:100-4.
- Horrobin DF. The importance of gamma-linolenic acid and prostaglandin E1 in human nutrition and medicine. J Holistic Med 1981;3:118-39.
- 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.
- Tolleson A, Frithz A. Borage oil, an effective new treatment for infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis. Br J Dermatol 1993;25:95.
- 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.