Borage Oil Does Not Help People with Eczema
Borage oil does not improve the condition of the skin in people with eczema (atopic dermatitis), according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal (2003;327:1385–8).
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are defined as those required for normal cellular function which, because they are not made in the body, must be obtained through the diet. There are two categories of EFAs: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Both are used by the body to produce prostaglandins that are anti-inflammatory. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid that is more efficiently converted to an anti-inflammatory prostaglandin than are other omega-6 fatty acids. Oils rich in GLA include evening primrose, with 8 to 10% of GLA in its fatty acid composition, and borage, with 20 to 26% GLA. These oils have been studied for their effect on inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, asthma, and atopic dermatitis.
Atopic dermatitis is an inflammatory condition of the skin marked by skin redness, peeling, cracking, and often itching. The standard medical treatment for atopic dermatitis is the application of steroid creams. Identifying and removing allergenic foods from the diet can also benefit people with atopic dermatitis. A number of studies have looked at the effect of supplementing with GLA-rich oils on atopic dermatitis, and many have observed benefits; however, the research methodology and results of these studies have been inconsistent.
One hundred forty people, including 69 children, with atopic dermatitis participated in the current study. All were randomly assigned to receive capsules of borage oil or a placebo for 12 weeks. The amount of borage oil used (four 500-mg capsules twice per day for the adults; half as much for the children) provided approximately 920 mg of GLA daily to adult participants and 460 mg to children. Skin was assessed at the beginning and end of the study for redness, dryness, cracking, thickening, pus, and evidence of scratching. Participants also provided self-reports of itching, sleep disturbance, irritability, and overall improvement. None of the changes in symptom scores were significantly different in people receiving borage oil compared with people receiving placebo. Furthermore, overall improvement ratings by the participants were not significantly different.
The results of this study suggest that borage oil is not beneficial in the treatment of atopic dermatitis. Although these results conflict with the findings of several preliminary trials, they are consistent with those from one other controlled study. Controlled trials of evening primrose oil have had more consistently positive results, although one study found no benefit. It is reasonable to conclude at this point that borage oil is not useful in the treatment of atopic dermatitis.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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