GLA: Fit for a King?

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on December 21, 2016Written by Kirsten Schofield

The king’s cure-all

Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid. It’s most commonly found in the seeds of the evening primrose.

It’s been used for centuries in homeopathic remedies and folk cures. Native Americans used it to reduce swelling, and by the time it made its way to Europe, it was used to treat almost everything. It was eventually nicknamed the “king’s cure-all.”

Many of the purported benefits of GLA haven’t been supported by the most up-to-date research. But some studies suggest it may help treat certain conditions.

Read on to learn more about this essential fatty acid.

What is GLA?

GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid. It’s available in many vegetable-based oils, including evening primrose oil, borage seed oil, and black currant seed oil.

These oils are available in capsule form at most health food stores. But you may get enough GLA from your diet without taking supplements.

GLA is essential for maintaining brain function, skeletal health, reproductive health, and metabolism. It’s also essential for stimulating skin and hair growth.

It’s important to balance omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Scientists think that many people consume too much omega-6 and too little omega-3. Paying attention to that balance can help reduce your risk of many chronic diseases.


Diabetic nephropathy is a type of kidney disease that affects many people with diabetes. Some researchdone on rats suggests that GLA may help treat this condition.

Older studies have found that GLA may also help treat diabetic neuropathy. This is a type of nerve damage that causes tingling and discomfort in the extremities and often affects people with diabetes.

More research is still needed to learn if GLA can help treat this condition and other common complications of diabetes.

Arthritis | Arthritis

It turns out the ancient healers were on to something: GLA can help to decrease inflammation. Some studiesshow that it can improve your symptoms and functionality, and that the risk of side effects is low. If you suffer from arthritis, talk to your doctor about adding a supplement to your diet to help manage your symptoms.

Premenstrual syndrome

Many women around the world take evening primrose oil to relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). However, there’s no conclusive scientific evidence that it works.

Most studies have shown a lack of benefits, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Some people still believe it’s an effective treatment option. If you want to try evening primrose oil or other GLA supplements to treat PMS, it's always best to talk to your doctor first.

Are there side effects?

GLA supplements are well-tolerated by most people, but they can cause side effects. These side effects are usually mild. They include symptoms like headaches, loose stools, and nausea.

Do not take GLA if you have a seizure disorder. You should also avoid taking GLA if you’re going to have surgery soon or if you’re pregnant.

GLA supplements can also interact with certain drugs, including warfarin.

Ask your doctor if GLA supplements are safe for you.

Follow your doctor’s advice

GLA may improve your health, but like many supplements, it carries risks. It’s no substitute for a healthy lifestyle that includes a well-balanced diet and regular exercise.

Talk to your doctor before adding GLA to your daily routine or treatment plan for diabetes, arthritis, or other conditions.

Ask your doctor about the potential benefits and risks, and always follow dosage guidelines.

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