The Health Benefits of Borage Oil

The Essential Fatty Acid That May Ease Inflammation

borage seed oil
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Borage oil is pressed from the seeds of the Borago officinalis plant, which is found throughout the United States and Europe. Also referred to as "borage seed oil," borage oil is rich in gamma-linoleic acid, a type of essential fatty acid.

When borage oil is consumed, much of the gamma-linoleic acid in borage oil is converted to dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid. Like the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil and flaxseed, gamma-linoleic acid and dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid may help reduce inflammation. However, both substances are classified as omega-6 fatty acids.

Health Benefits

In herbal medicine, borage oil is typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, chest congestion, coughdepression, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and menopausal symptoms. It is often used for hair and skin conditions such as hair loss, eczema, and acne.

To date, few studies have explored the health benefits of borage oil. Here's a look at the research related to borage oil's effectiveness for health conditions:

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Borage oil shows promise in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder marked by inflammation in the lining of the joints, according to a research review published in 2000. Although most of the data on borage oil's effectiveness come from test-tube and animal research, several small studies indicate that borage oil may ease tenderness and swelling in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Eczema

In a 2003 study of 140 adults and children with eczema, researchers found no significant difference between those who took borage oil supplements for 12 weeks and those who took a placebo capsule for the same amount of time. An earlier study of 160 patients found that 24 weeks of treatment with borage oil supplements failed to have a significant effect on eczema.

Growth in Premature Infants

There is some evidence that infant formula supplemented with borage oil might help the growth and development of premature infants, especially boys. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics showed that preterm infants given formula that included borage oil and fish oils showed greater improvement than those given standard formula.

Lung Function in ARDS Patients

Borage oil might reduce the number of days that patients with (or at risk for) acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) might spend in intensive care. A study conducted on 146 patients in teaching hospitals across the US found that those who were tube fed an EPA+GLA diet showed greater improvements and shorter ICU stays than patients fed a standard diet.

Possible Side Effects

The borage plant (including the leaves, flowers, and seeds) can contain potentially harmful chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which in humans can damage the liver or be carcinogenic, particularly when used regularly or in high doses. Although some products claim to be free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, keep in mind that supplements are not regulated in most countries.

Borage oil may cause constipation in some individuals. It may prolong bleeding time and increase the risk of bleeding, particularly in people with bleeding disorders and those taking medications that slow blood clotting (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and warfarin).

Pregnant and nursing women should avoid borage seed oil. One review suggests that it should be contraindicated during pregnancy given the labor-inducing and teratogenic effects of prostaglandin E agonists.

Dosage and Preparation

While there is no standard dose of borage oil, different doses have been studied in research.

For studies investigating rheumatoid arthritis, a dose of 4.5-7.2 grams of borage seed oil daily was used for up to 24 weeks. For studies investigating the supplement's effect on periodontitis a dose of 3 grams daily for 12 weeks has been used.

What to Look For

Borage oil supplements are widely sold online and in health food stores. You'll also see borage oil included in skin creams and other beauty products. It's important to remember that these supplements and products are not regulated the same way that medications are regulated.

Due to the lack of science behind borage oil's effectiveness or safety, it's important to take caution when using borage oil supplements. If you're considering the use of borage oil in the treatment of any health condition, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.

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