Borage oil is a natural substance that provides high levels of the fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a strong anti-inflammatory found in certain plant oils.
While gamma-linolenic acid is derived from extracts drawn from the seeds of plants like borage (Borago officinalis) and evening primrose, it’s not found in high amounts in the human diet. Therefore most people turn to supplements to provide its benefits.
What Is Borage Oil Used For?
As a common herbal treatment in traditional medicine practices for hundreds of years, borage oil has numerous uses — ranging from treating skin flare-ups to lowering pain. The most beneficial aspect of using borage oil either topically on the skin or internally in capsule form is it has strong anti-inflammatory effects.
Borage oil is becoming increasingly popular as a natural anti-inflammatory supplement because it has one of the highest amounts of GLA of all seed oils. GLA is one type of omega-6 “essential” fatty acid that the body cannot make on its own, so we must get it from outside sources. While to some degree we’re all able to convert other forms of omega-6s (like the type found in nuts or seeds called conjugated linoleic acid) into GLA, it’s preferable and more effective to consume GLA directly.
While other plants, including black currant or evening primrose oil, also offer GLA and have similar benefits, the roughly 23 percent GLA content in borage oil makes it likely the most effective option (as a comparison, evening primrose oil has about 9 percent). This means that regular use of borage oil supplies higher dose of linolenic acid and also requires less capsules to take daily, with less of an investment and lower risk for side effects.
How Does Borage Oil Work?
Due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, borage oil containing GLA can be helpful for treating a wide range of both short- and long-term illnesses, including:
- PMS symptoms (including breast pain or tenderness, anxiety, and skin breakouts)
- Bone loss and osteoporosis (especially when combined with bone-building supplements like omega-3 fish oils)
- ADHD symptoms
- Skin disorders, including eczema or dermatitis
- Menopause symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats
- Hormonal imbalances, including adrenal insufficiency
- Ongoing fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis pain
- Dealing with stress
- Managing diabetes
- Promoting breast-milk production
- Respiratory distress (ARDS), bronchitis, colds, coughs and fevers
- Inflammation causing pain and swelling
- Preventing heart disease and stroke
Essential fatty acids, including omega-6s from plants (like nuts or seeds) and omega-3 fish oils are long-chain fatty acids that cannot be synthesized by human metabolism. Supplementation with essential fatty acids might prove effective in treating inflammatory disorders because they help correct defective conversions of fatty acids to metabolites such prostaglandin E1, which has circulation-boosting and anti-inflammatory abilities. When the body isn’t able to complete an important metabolic step that keeps anti-inflammatory enzymes at appropriate levels, it’s easier for inflammation, which is the root of most diseases, to dangerously increase over time.
7 Borage Oil Benefits
1. Supplies Anti-Inflammatory Properties
As a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), GLA found in borage oil is known to have a positive effect on inflammation, overall health and anti-aging mechanisms. Omega-3 and omega-6 PUFAs play an important role in fighting disease because they help control the release of molecules that are responsible for the body’s inflammatory responses (some being prostaglandins, leukotrienes and cytokines called interleukins).
GLA is present in very small amounts in some edible plants like green leafy vegetables and certain nuts, but after humans are done being breast-fed (the most significant source of GLA is breast milk), many take in very low doses of beneficial GLA throughout their childhood and into adulthood. Because borage oil is one of the best sources for obtaining more GLA, it helps fill in this deficiency.
On top of controlling immune responses, GLA has positive effects on cell death (apoptosis) for toxic cells. Once it enters the body, GLA is converted to a substance called dihomo-γ-linolenic acid (DGLA). This acts as a precursor to prostaglandins and leukotriene compounds that the immune system produces. DGLA is believed to lower inflammation because it inhibits leukotriene synthesis, which is partly responsible for raising autoimmune reactions and thrombotic effects.
For this reason, borage oil is now used for its role in lowering symptoms of various inflammatory and age-related disorders, including arthritis, atopic eczema and respiratory disorders. People taking anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids along with borage oil treatments seem to have even better results.
2. Has Antioxidant Properties that Fight Cancer
Borage seed oil and GLA have anti-mutagenic properties and antioxidant capabilities that fight the growth of cancerous cells. In laboratory studies, both GLA and borage oil have exhibited cytotoxic activities that significantly shorten the life span of toxic cells while prolonging the life span of the healthy host. Borage oil supplementation is recommended for protecting DNA and treating cancer naturally because of its ability to lower underlying oxidative genetic damage that causes inflammation and disease development.
3. Can Lower Arthritis Symptoms
GLA from borage oil seems to work like a natural remedy for rheumatoid arthritis pain, especially when used in combination with other conventional painkilling or anti-inflammatory medications. There’s evidence that some people notice a decrease in joint pain, swelling and severity of tenderness following as little as six weeks of regular borage oil treatment.
4. Fights Eczema and Skin Disorders
One of the most well-researched uses for borage oil is treating inflammatory skin disorders like eczema. GLA has been shown to correct deficiencies in skin lipids (oils) that are caused by low levels of delta-6-desaturase activity. When the skin can’t produce enough protective oils, the result is dysregulation of the immune system, increased inflammation and specific immune responses that result in skin flare-ups, including those typical of eczema.
Because human skin can’t synthesize GLA from the precursors linoleic acid or arachidonic acid on its own, supplementing with GLA-rich borage helps act like a natural eczema remedy for people who are already too low in essential fatty acids critical to skin health.
While study results have been mixed and not every study has shown that borage oil can improve eczema in the majority of patients, certain people seem to respond more positively to treatment than others and experience significant improvements when using borage oil instead of steroid creams. Some studies have found that people taking up to 720 milligrams daily of GLA for two months experienced significant improvements in health of the cutaneous skin barrier.
5. Helps Heal Respiratory Infections
Borage oil has been found to help improve the function of the lungs, including in people with inflamed respiratory infections and disorders such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Borage seed oil supplements taken in capsule form can help speed up healing time associated with coughs, the common cold or flu, reduce the length of time spent in the hospital or taking medications, and stop inflammation that can worsen respiratory symptoms.
6. Aids Growth and Development
There’s evidence that infants and premature babies receiving borage oil supplementation have better rates of growth and development. Supplementing with fatty acids from borage oil and beneficial omega-3 supplements helps support development of the central nervous system and reduces risks associated with premature births.
Studies performed published in Food and Chemical Toxicology showed that the GLA in borage oil fed to rats for 90 days helped with growth.
7. Might Help Lower Fat Accumulation and Weight Gain
If you struggle to lose weight, here’s some good news: There’s evidence that GLA in the form of borage oil causes less body fat accumulation compared to more refined vegetable oils. Specifically, GLA results in more brown fat accumulation but less white fat. This is beneficial because scientists now believe that lean people tend to have more brown fat than overweight or obese people, and that brown fat might act more like muscle than like white fat does.
A 2000 study done by the Laboratory of Nutrition Biochemistry in Ibaraki, Japan found that over the course of two weeks, when rats were fed either a low-fat diet containing 20 percent fat from safflower oil, 20 percent fat from borage oil containing 25 percent GLA or 20 percent borage oil containing more potent 47 percent GLA, the high safflower oil diet compared with the other two diets caused significant increases in both epididymal and perirenal white adipose tissue (fat cells).
Energy intake and the growth of animals were the same among all three groups, however the GLA seemed to have protective effects over white fat accumulation. The study suggests that dietary GLA lowers body fat accumulation through an increase in gene expressions that control brown adipose tissue growth compared to white adipose tissue growth.
Borage Oil Dosage and Uses
The appropriate dose of borage oil depends on your medical history and what you’re using it for. The oil is sometimes added to fortified infant formulas in order supply essential fatty acids for growth and is also available over the counter in drug stores, online and in health food shops.
In most cases, for generally healthy adults the typical dosage is usually 500 milligrams to three grams taken once daily. For patients hoping to relieve inflammation and pain caused by conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, a higher dose up to three grams is usually most effective. For anyone new to borage oil and using GLA supplements, a lower dose of around 500 milligrams is a good place to start.
Borage oil is often used along with evening primrose oil supplements to further increase the anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing effects, so you might see these sold together in a joint supplement. Results can take several weeks up to several months to fully kick in, with some people needing up to six months for borage oil’s full pain-reducing benefits to become very noticeable.
When purchasing borage oil or GLA supplements, always look for a high-quality oil brand that is ideally certified organic. Some brands guarantee maximum potency and are tested and verified by a third party. It’s also a good idea to buy capsules that are packaged in light-resistant containers and to store borage oil somewhere dark and cool, since the oil can become rancid when heated and exposed to UV light.
Interactions and Side Effects of Borage Oil
Although it’s considered to be generally safe for both internal and topical use, borage oil does have some interactions and potential side effects to be aware of. Some people experience digestive issues when taking borage oil, especially in larger doses, including soft stool, diarrhea, belching and bloating.
There’s also some debate as to whether or not certain constituents found in borage can be harmful to the liver. In the past, a small percentage of people taking borage oil have experienced toxicity, and all manufactures are now obliged to sell certified “hepatotoxic PA-free” borage oil to avoid even small traces of carcinogens.
Pregnant women shouldn’t use borage oil due to its potential for inducing labor. Borage oil also has the ability to act like a blood thinner, so it’s not suitable for anyone taking medications like aspirin or warfarin. Additionally, if you’ve experienced seizures in the past, it’s important to talk to your doctor before beginning use with borage since it can interact with seizure medications.