Borage oil supplements contain borage oil, nature’s most highly concentrated source of gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), an essential polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid. The body requires GLA contained in borage oil because it is unable to make its own. Borage oil supplements are thought to improve symptoms of inflammatory conditions like arthritis, premenstrual syndrome, and diabetic neuropathy.
Borago officinalis, or borage, is a wildflower also known as the star flower. Although it has been used by many cultures as a folk medicine for centuries, borage recently has become popular as a source of borage seed oil. Borage oil contains roughly 24 percent GLA, more than either evening primrose oil or black currant oil, two other popular sources of GLA.
Most omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation, while GLA is believed to reduce it. GLA in the body is converted into prostaglandin E, a substance that plays a role in many essential body functions. It may also suppress the production of other prostaglandins that promote inflammation.
According to one study, women who suffer from symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) showed low levels of GLA. This evidence suggests that taking borage oil supplements may help ease symptoms of PMS. Breast tenderness, mood swings, and irritability were the symptoms most relieved. Borage oil supplementation may also help women with polycystic breast disease.
Several studies have shown GLA to have a beneficial effect on rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Some participants in studies received so much relief from symptoms of swelling, stiffness, and pain that they reduced their pain medication as a result. Similar improvements in symptoms of patients with eczema and psoriasis have been reported.
Although research looks promising, it’s important to remember that many of the studies used evening primrose oil as the source of GLA. Very few studies have been performed using borage oil supplements as the source of GLA. Still, because borage seed oil contains more GLA than either evening primrose oil or black currant oil, one might conclude that taking borage oil supplements would provide similar results.
Borage oil supplements are generally safe for most healthy adults but may cause some side effects. The most serious is liver toxicity. Borage seeds, and possibly some borage seed oils, contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are harmful to the liver. The best way to avoid these substances is to purchase borage oil supplements that are certified as PA-free.
Individuals taking blood thinners and pregnant women should avoid taking borage oil supplements. The prostaglandin produced in the body by borage oil can stimulate premature labor. Other minor side effects include bloating, nausea, and headache.