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Borage oil is an extract made from the seeds of the Borago officinalis plant.

Borage oil is prized for its high gamma linoleic acid (GLA) content. It’s thought that this fatty acid can help reduce inflammation tied to many diseases.

Read on to learn more about the oil’s potential benefits, as well as drawbacks and limitations. Discuss these with your doctor before using it to treat any condition.

About the borage plant

Notable for its star-shaped blue flowers, this large plant is indigenous to North Africa and Europe and has since been naturalized to North America. Aptly nicknamed “starflower,” the plant’s herbal parts are edible.

Borage oil has shown promise in clinical research for the following uses:

  • inflammation
  • acne
  • breast pain
  • cardiovascular disease
  • eczema
  • menopause
  • rosacea
  • arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

There is some anecdotal information (not research) about using borage oil for other conditions, including:

  • oil made from the plant’s seeds
  • nutritional supplements in capsule or softgel form, which you take by mouth

All forms of borage oil contain GLA, which is considered the primary “active” ingredient. You can find GLA in other oils, such as evening primrose and black currant.

Choosing the right form of borage oil depends on what you’re using it for. The essential oil and topical products may work best on skin and hair but are not meant to be taken by mouth. Read the labels.

Oral versions may work better for types of inflammation, including in vascular health.

Linolenic acid

As mentioned, borage oil has a high GLA or linolenic acid content. GLA is a type of fatty acid that your body converts to prostaglandin E1 (PGE1), and is also found in other seeds and nuts, as well as vegetable oils.

This substance acts like a hormone in your body, helping reduce inflammation tied to skin diseases and cardiovascular issues. Borage oil has garnered a lot of attention because it’s said to have the highest GLA content compared with other essential oils.

Though more research needs to be done, there are studies on borage oil for its GLA content that have backed up some of the anecdotal evidence.

Anti-inflammatory

A 2014 study comparing borage oil, fish oil, and the combination of both, found that taking 1.8 grams borage oil and/or 2.1 grams of fish oil per day helped reduce rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms in 74 participants who were observed for 18 months.

The study concluded that these oils may be able to replace nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for some people, which would avoid some of the side effects of continuously taking NSAIDs.

The study also noted that people may be able to reduce the amount of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs they’re taking, as well.

Skin barrier

Research on borage oil’s effects on eczema are mixed.

A review of studies using borage oil topically, and other GLA-containing essential oils, found borage oil has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can be beneficial for people with atopic dermatitis.

In a separate 2013 review of the effect of borage oil taken by mouth, researchers concluded that borage oil showed no more benefits for people with eczema than placebos, based on an analysis of 19 related studies.

Thus, clinical research is showing more promise with topical borage oil for skin diseases compared with oral versions.

Other uses

Essential oils can cause skin irritation. This is why you must dilute all essential oils in a carrier oil before use.

You should not ingest essential oils. If you want to take borage oil by mouth for inflammation, look for an oral supplement instead.

Common oral supplement side effects

Oral borage oil supplements can still pose the risk of minor side effects. These include:

  • bloating
  • burping
  • headache
  • indigestion
  • gas
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Allergic reaction signs

GLAs and borage oil aren’t supposed to be toxic. However, you should call your doctor if you suspect any signs of an allergic reaction, such as:

  • hives
  • rash
  • swelling
  • breathing difficulties
  • sudden fatigue
  • dizziness

Less common, serious side effects

If you are have liver disease or on medications that effect your liver, or if you are on medication that alter the ability of your blood to clot, talk to your physician before use. Report use or borage to your doctor, especially before any surgery.

Although anecdotal reviews of borage oil have raised concerns over its carcinogenic effects, there are only traces of pyrrolizidine alkaloid compounds after processing.

Some formulas of borage oil may still pose liver health effects, so be sure that any products you ingest are certified as “hepatotoxic PA-free.”

Additionally, there have been documented cases of seizures related to excess borage oil consumption.

In one case a woman’s sudden status epilepticus seizures were connected with her consumption of 1,500 to 3,000 milligrams of borage oil every day for a week. This condition is marked by several seizures that last at least five minutes at a time, back-to-back.

While this case alone doesn’t definitively mean that oral borage oil causes seizures, it doesprovide an example of why you ought to use caution when taking herbs, especially by mouth. There isn’t enough research to say these are safe.

Topical borage oil must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying to your skin.

  • You can mix up to 12 drops per one ounce of almond, jojoba, or olive oil before use.
  • Apply the oil to the affected area in a thin layer twice a day.
  • Another option is to coat or spot-dob an undershirt with the oil and wear the shirt close to your skin. This can be useful for areas on the back.

Based on clinical research, it may take several weeks or months for the oil to take full effect, so be patient and apply the product consistently for desired results.

Patch test

It’s also a good idea to do a patch test before using diluted borage oil on a large part of your skin, especially an eczema rash. If you don’t notice any signs of irritation or allergic reaction on a small part of your skin within 48 hours, then diluted borage oil is likely safe for more widespread use.

Purchase borage oil online.

Dosages

The instructions for taking borage oil by mouth for your skin aren’t so clear-cut. While you might lack GLA in your body as you age, there isn’t a recommended dosage of this fatty acid.

In one small 2000 study, 40 breastfeeding women were given 230 to 460 mg of GLA daily. Another study that same year suggested that 360 mg to 720 mg of GLA may be effective for improving skin health in adults over age 65.

If you buy oral supplements of borage oil, follow the manufacturer’s instructions as there may not be universal standards of dosage.

Purchase borage oil supplements online.

Also, if you’re deficient in vitamin C and other micronutrients like zinc and magnesium, your body may not be able to absorb borage oil and other sources of GLA.

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Borage oil shows a great deal of promise in reducing inflammation throughout your body. Inflammation is one of the underlying causes of numerous conditions, including eczema and cardiovascular disease.

Such effects, however, aren’t entirely conclusive. Use caution with borage oil and speak to a doctor or pharmacist before use.