11 Surprising Benefits of Borage Oil

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Borage seed oil is a natural health supplement that has tremendous benefits for your body, both inside and out. This nourishing oil will improve your general health and can also help treat some specific conditions.

What is Borage Seed Oil?

Borage, (Borago officinalis) is a leafy green herb more commonly known as the starflower, thanks to its bright blue star-shaped blooms. The edible plant is native to Syria but is now found in many parts of the world.

With a mild cucumber-like flavor, borage leaves are often enjoyed in salads, but the real bounty of this plant is found in its seeds.

Natural borage seed oil is a little known skin care secret, and as a traditional remedy, borage seed oil has been used medicinally for over 1,500 years.

The great value of borage oil is that it is the richest known source of gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA), a fatty acid essential for human health.  Another well known supplement ,evening primrose oil, also contains GLA, but only has around 10% GLA, compared to the whopping 24% found in borage seed oil.

Used topically, borage oil can help treat spots and acne, as well as provide relief from chronic skin conditions like dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis.

The benefits of borage oil aren’t limited to skincare though!

When taken internally, borage oil can help with arthritis, PMS, menopause, gingivitis, inflammation, metabolism, sore throats, stress, and high blood pressure. In fact, since most chronic diseases experienced today have an inflammatory component, anti-inflammatory borage oil can be a potent ally in restoring good health.

Borage seed extract has a golden-yellow color and a faint, pleasant aroma, it’s available in capsules or liquid form.

What Is GLA and Why Is It Important?

Gamma Linolenic Acid is an essential fatty acid.

Our body is capable of synthesizing (producing) GLA, it does this by converting Linoleic Acid (LA), however this production depends on adequate consumption of Linoleic Acid and the nutrients necessary to enable the conversion.

Linoleic Acid, the base material of GLA, cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from the diet.

Most modern diets contain plenty of Linoleic Acid (too much in fact) as it’s found in almost all vegetable oils, but Linoleic Acid is actually a pro-inflammatory substance, and the more Linoleic Acid your diet contains, the higher your disease causing inflammation levels will be.

While Linoleic Acid is pro-inflammatory, the GLA derived from LA is a powerful anti-inflammatory.

LA is acted upon by Delta-6- Desaturase (D6D), an enzyme which biochemically converts Linoleic Acid into GLA. Without D6D we would be deficient in GLA regardless of how much Linoleic Acid our diets contain.

D6D is often referred to as the lazy enzyme because it can be slow to do its job, and sometimes it’s ineffective. People suffering with disorders like eczema, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis often have higher levels of Linoleic Acid and lower levels of gamma Linolenic Acid. This suggests reduced activity of the D6D enzyme.

Once Linoleic Acid has been converted into GLA, further biochemical processes convert it into a very important compound called Prostaglandin 1 or PG1.

PG1 is a potent anti-inflammatory and is very effective at regulating transdermal water loss and protecting skin from damage.

For GLA to undergo successful conversion into PG1 it depends on good levels of magnesium, zinc and vitamins C, B3, and B6.

A decrease in the synthesis of PG1 may be responsible for the inflammation observed in chronic diseases and for the dry skin and transdermal water loss observed in people with chronic skin conditions.

It’s important to understand that the effectiveness of the GLA that you take will depend on your overall nutritional state. If you don’t get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet, you may want to think about taking good quality supplements so that GLA can perform properly.

Taking borage seed oil in may help treat the following conditions:

Arthritis

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Arthritis is an inflammatory condition, causing pain and stiffness in the joints. Borage seed oil can ease the symptoms of arthritis without the harmful side effects commonly associated with conventional drug therapies. Because of this ability, it’s often used in conjunction with standard treatments because it allows lower doses of medication to be used.

The standard treatment for arthritis is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, and these drugs are problematic because they significantly increase risk of stroke and heart attack.

If arthritis is mild, borage seed oil may be a sufficient remedy all by itself, and taking a regular dose of borage oil to boost your GLA levels may help you avoid developing this debilitating condition all together.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Several studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of borage oil in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

The most widely referenced of these studies was carried out by a research team at University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The placebo-controlled trial consisted of 56 rheumatoid arthritis patients and was split into two 6 month periods.

During the first stage of the trial, patients received 2.8 g of gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) daily for six months or a placebo (dummy pill).

This was followed by six months with all patients receiving a daily GLA supplement.

The patients receiving GLA in the first six months of the trial showed clinically relevant reductions in the signs and symptoms of their rheumatoid arthritis.

During the second stage of the trial both groups experienced improvement in their condition.

The researchers concluded that GLA taken at the dosage used in the trial is an effective and well tolerated treatment for active rheumatoid arthritis. However it should be noted that borage oil supplements are typically formulated in lower doses than the supplements used in the study.

Sore Throat

Borage oil has a long history of use as a traditional remedy for sore throats

Borage oil has a long history of use as a traditional remedy for sore throats, coughs and respiratory complaints.

Wherever an infection is present you’ll find inflammation, and it’s the inflammation that causes the discomfort. So if you tackle the inflammation, you can relive the pain and misery of a sore throat and ease the irritation of a cough.

As well as containing anti-inflammatory GLA, borage seed oil also contains a substance called mucilage which soothes irritated mucus membranes and makes it easier to expel mucus.

An Ohio State University study found that patients with breathing difficulties who took borage oil and fish oil supplements spent less time hospital than those who didn’t receive the supplements.

Eczema

Borage oil can help to bring relief to the dry skin and itching caused by eczema. It isn’t an instant solution however, and you should expect to wait around 6 weeks before the benefits become fully apparent.

People with eczema may have lower levels of D6D activity. D6D is the enzyme necessary for the conversion of Linoleic Acid into GLA.

Borage oil will help to restore levels of GLA in the body and boost levels of the resulting anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.

Dry Skin

Borage oil is a rich moisturizer that can help to restore healthy moisture levels to dry skin.

One study with twenty participants measured the effects of creams containing borage oil on dry or damaged skin over 14 days. The subjects were in good general health but had either dry skin or surfactant induced damaged skin.

The results of the study indicated that the cream containing the borage oil was effective at restoring moisture levels and smoothness to dry skin as well as the surfactant damaged skin.

Researchers concluded that their study provided strong evidence for the role that borage oil plays in restoring the moisture barrier of skin that is either chronically dry or subject to environmental damage.

Applying borage oil topically and taking it as a dietary supplement will both work wonders for dry skin.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is the disease that causes gum damage and results in tooth loss. As an inflammatory condition (any disorder ending in ‘itis’ is inflammatory) gingivitis can be helped by increasing the levels of inflammation fighting substances in your system.

Borage seed oil taken as capsules will boost your disease fighting anti-inflammatory levels, while applying borage oil directly to your gums will help to calm the redness and lessen pain.

Many factors are at play when you develop gingivitis, and research has shown that two substances are very important for preventing and treating gingivitis. In addition to following the oral hygiene routine prescribed by your dentist, you may benefit from taking magnesium and vitamin C supplements.

Stress

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Having the right levels of essential fatty acids is an important part of stress reduction. The modern diet delivers high levels of some essential fatty acids and not enough of others.

The most important fatty acids when it comes to lowering stress levels are GLA, EPA, DHA, and ALA.

EPA and DHA are both omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, and ALA is another omega-3 found in flaxseed.

The Linoleic Acid mentioned throughout this article is an omega-6 fatty acid and while it’s essential for good health, we only need small amounts. Consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids is harmful and leads to disease. For good health, omega-6 fats need to be consumed with adequate amounts of omega-3 fats.

An important point to note is that omega-6’s and omega-3’s fight for the same sites on cell receptors, so if you eat lots of products made with vegetable oil – omega-6’s – there will be little room for any omega 3’s that you consume.

The optimal ratio is 1:1, yet many people get very little beneficial omega-3 in their diet and the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is commonly in the region of 10:1 to 20:1. Which is a recipe for a health disaster.

And unfortunately because of the way that food is mass produced, the vegetable oils which are the main source of omega -6 fats in the diet, are damaged during processing making them an even more harmful presence in the body.

Improving your diet so that you consume higher levels of good omega-3 fats and lower levels of bad omega-6 fats is one way that you can make sure your essential fatty acid intake is at the right level to support stress reduction.

Taking borage oil, will make sure that you get plenty of stress busting GLA, and taking a fish oil supplement will take care of your EPA and DHA levels.

But remember, if your receptor sites are clogged up because of all of the omega-6 oils in your diet, then these supplements won’t help as much as they could.

Read this article by Chris Kresser to learn more about the damaging effects of too much omega-6 in your diet.

Cradle Cap

Cradle cap is a form of seborrhoeic dermatitis that affects infants. It causes a crust of dry scales on the scalp, eyelids, and face, and can also appear on the torso.

Borage oil has been used in a clinical study on infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis with good results.

When forty eight infants with the condition were treated with borage oil applied topically to their skin twice a day, the dermatitis disappeared within two weeks. Upon stopping the treatment the symptoms returned within 1 week. When the treatment was continued for 7 months, the symptoms didn’t come back.

The borage oil was absorbed through the skin and became an available source of the gamma Linolenic Acid necessary for the biosynthesis of Prostaglandin 1.

The researchers hypothesized that the babies were born with an immature D6D enzyme system and were therefore unable to produce enough GLA on their own. By administering borage oil, a supply of GLA was maintained until infant’s own enzyme system matured.

High Blood Pressure

The prostaglandins manufactured in the body from GLA help to maintain healthy blood flow and maintain the flexibility of arterial walls. Both are important factors in healthy blood pressure levels.

GLA is also beneficial when stress is the cause of an increase in blood pressure.

Studies have shown that GLA lowers stress-related high blood pressure. A study published in The Journal of Human Hypertension, revealed that patients who received 1 gram of GLA every day for 8 weeks were protected from harmful blood pressure increases during stress tests.

The blood pressure in these patients showed smaller increases (40% less) than those undertaking the same stress tests after taking a placebo.

Another earlier study also showed that GLA supplementation reduced the hypertensive response of those exposed to experimental stress, and improved their accuracy, suggesting that GLA may enhance the ability to focus in stressful situations.

Acne and Rosacea

These common skin conditions can be significantly improved with both topical application of borage oil and dietary supplementation.

The GLA in borage oil combats the inflammation present in both conditions. Borage oil is particularly beneficial for acne because the fatty acids in the oil dilute the sebum which is characteristically over-secreted in some people with acne.

And crucially, borage oil can also minimize the oxidative damage to the sebum which is a big factor in acne.

PMS and Menopause

The anti-inflammatory properties of borage oil may be able to reduce the discomfort caused by menopause

The anti-inflammatory properties of borage oil may be able to reduce the discomfort caused by menopause and premenstrual syndrome.

Regular supplementation with borage oil may help relieve breast pain, bloating and cramping and mood swings.

The symptoms associated with pms and menopause can be triggered or intensified by poor diet lacking in vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.

If you suffer from these conditions you may find relief if you cut back on your consumption of inflammatory omega-6 fats, and increase your intake of anti-inflammatory omega-3’s and GLA.

Additionally it would be a good idea to take a magnesium supplement because low magnesium levels play a large role in both conditions.

How Much Borage Oil to Take?

Borage oil is considered safe in doses up to 3 grams per day.

The typical dosage of borage oil for treating eczema and other skin conditions is 1-2 grams each day.

Arthritic conditions will benefit from 2-3 g daily.

1 – 2 grams daily can be taken to alleviate symptoms of PMS and menopause.

Not All Borage Oil is Safe to Take

If you decide to try borage seed oil to treat any of the above conditions, you should be aware that some types of borage might contain hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs).

These are a carcinogenic liver toxin and can cause liver damage and increase the risk of cancer. When you shop for borage seed oil always look for brands that certify their oil free of hepatotoxic PAs.

Another consideration when choosing which borage oil supplement to buy, is the manufacturing method. Oils are obtained from seeds in one of two ways, through cold pressing which preserves all of the healthy benefits of seed oils, or via solvent extraction with a chemical called hexane.

Hexane is a poisonous chemical and it’s not worth taking the risk that traces of hexane remain in your seed oils.

For the highest quality borage oil, choose brands that offer cold pressed oil. You’ll also need to make sure that the oil is fresh because as a polyunsaturated fat, borage seed oil is prone to oxidative damage, and oxidative damage destroys the healthy properties of the oil.

To prolong the active life of your borage oil keep it in a cool, dark place.

Side Effects of Borage Seed Oil

Gamma Linolenic Acid is an essential fatty acid

While borage seed oil is a healthy supplement with many benefits for you inside and out, there is the possibility that you may experience some side effects when using this oil.

Rare reports of side effects include nausea, stomach upset, indigestion, bloating, belching, constipation, diarrhea, and rashes.

Borage oil can lower the seizure threshold in some individuals, which increases the chance of a seizure occurring.

Because borage oil acts as a mild blood thinner, it may interact with blood thinning medications like Warfarin, and it’s recommended that you stop taking borage oil or any other rich GLA oi, 2 weeks prior to undergoing surgery or anesthesia.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding you must get your doctor’s approval before you begin taking borage oil.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.