GLA is an essential fatty acid used in the treatment of a variety of inflammatory conditions. What are the health benefits of GLA and is this supplement safe?
Evening primrose oil and borage oil are popular supplements for treating various conditions. These oils contain an essential fatty acid known as gamma-linolenic acid or GLA. GLA has a long history of being used to treat a variety of conditions, primarily ones associated with inflammation. What are the health benefits of GLA?
What is GLA?
GLA is an essential, omega-6 plant-based fatty acid. It’s unique in that it reduces inflammation in the body whereas most omega-6’s have pro-inflammatory effects. For this reason, GLA is commonly used as a supplement to treat inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also a popular supplement for relieving PMS symptoms in young women and hot flashes in older women.
What Are the Best Sources of GLA?
The typical American diet contains little GLA. GLA is primarily derived from borage oil, blackcurrant seed oil, evening primrose oil, and hemp seed oil, all of which are available at most health food stores. Blue-green algae is another good source. Although GLA can be produced by the body from another omega-6 fatty acid, this conversion is not very efficient and becomes less so as a person ages.
What are the Health Benefits of GLA?
Because GLA has anti-inflammatory properties, it’s often recommended as a treatment for eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions. Unfortunately, it’s effectiveness for treating these conditions was called into question in a 2003 study that showed it had no benefit for relieving the symptoms of eczema. GLA benefits look more positive when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis. Supplementing with GLA was shown to be effective in reducing joint pain and stiffness in arthritic patients without causing significant side effects. It was hoped that GLA might be effective for reducing the symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome in young women, although several small studies showed little benefit. It’s also proven to be disappointing in the treatment of hot flashes in post-menopausal women.
Other Health Benefits of GLA
GLA slows down the rate of cancer cell growth in the laboratory setting and has shown some promise for reducing blood pressure in animals. Human studies are needed to confirm both of these findings. One are of great promise is the use of GLA to reduce the nerve damage or neuropathy that diabetics often experience. Several small studies have shown GLA to be beneficial for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy. It’s also shown some potential for reducing breast pain associated with fibrocystic breast syndrome.
The Bottom Line
GLA shows promise in treating both the joint discomfort associated with rheumatoid arthritis and nerve damage associated with diabetes. Overall, it appears to be safe for use in these conditions. Could it also prevent cancer and lower blood pressure? Hopefully, future studies will clarify this issue.