Evening Primrose Oil and Menopause

Menopause
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One of the most popular remedies for menopausal symptoms is evening primrose oil (also known as EPO), an oil extracted from the seeds of the evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) plant.

Evening primrose oil is rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid involved in the production of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. By increasing production of prostaglandins, EPO is thought to help counter hormonal changes associated with menopause.

Why Do Women Use Evening Primrose Oil?

EPO is said to help with the following menopause-related changes:

  • Anxiety
  • Hair loss
  • Hot flashes
  • Insomnia
  • Joint pain
  • Mood swings
  • Night sweats
  • Weight gain

Evening primrose oil is one of the most popular remedies for menopausal changes. A report published in Menopause in 2015 surveyed postmenopausal women aged 50 to 65 years and found that 70.4 percent used natural remedies, with evening primrose oil being the most commonly used.

Another survey published in The Medical Journal of Australia in 2015, found that phytoestrogens (like soy) were most commonly used for symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, followed by evening primrose oil.

Research on Evening Primrose Oil for Menopause

Proponents claim that evening primrose oil can offer relief from a number of menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, vaginal dryness, and disturbance in mood.

However, there is little scientific support for the theory that evening primrose oil can help treat menopausal symptoms. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that "there’s not enough evidence to support the use of evening primrose oil for any health condition."

While few studies have tested evening primrose oil's effects on women going through menopause, most of the available research has yielded negative findings.

For instance, in a review published in American Family Physician in 2009, researchers stated that there is insufficient evidence to determine if evening primrose oil is effective for "most clinical indications" (including symptoms associated with menopause).

In a small study published in Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics in 2013, women aged 45 to 59 years who were experiencing menopause-related changes took either an evening primrose oil supplement or a placebo for six weeks. At the study's end, there was improvement in the severity of hot flashes, but not hot flash frequency or duration.

Possible Side Effects and Safety

Evening primrose oil is likely safe for most people, according to the NIH. However, use of evening primrose oil supplements may cause side effects such as upset stomach, headache, nausea, and diarrhea. Stomach pain and loose stools or diarrhea may indicate that the dose is too high. Rarely, other side effects include increased bruising, bleeding, low blood sugar, allergic reactions, or seizures. 

You shouldn't take evening primrose oil if you have bleeding disorders, epilepsy, or another seizure disorder. EPO shouldn't be taken in combination with certain medications (including blood-thinning drugs or supplements, blood pressure medication, schizophrenia drugs, and antidepressants).

It also shouldn't be taken within two weeks of a scheduled surgery. 

If you're considering the use of evening primrose oil for the treatment or prevention of symptoms associated with menopause, consult your health care provider before starting your supplement regimen.

The Takeaway

If you're looking for natural relief of menopausal symptoms, consider lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, following a balanced diet, practicing relaxation techniques, and taking up yoga.

If you're still considering trying evening primrose oil, be sure to discuss it with your health care provider first to best address your concerns and improve your well-being.

Sources:

Farzaneh F, Fatehi S, Sohrabi MR, Alizadeh K. The effect of oral evening primrose oil on menopausal hot flashes: a randomized clinical trial. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2013 Nov;288(5):1075-9.

Gartoulla P, Davis SR, Worsley R, Bell RJ. Use of complementary and alternative medicines for menopausal symptoms in Australian women aged 40-65 years. Med J Aust. 2015 Aug 3;203(3):146, 146e.1-6.

Kelley KW, Carroll DG. Evaluating the evidence for over-the-counter alternatives for relief of hot flashes in menopausal women. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2010 Sep-Oct;50(5):e106-15.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Evening Primrose Oil [NCCIH Herbs at a Glance]. NCCIH Publication No. D341. Updated September 2016.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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