This over-the-counter nutritional supplement is derived from a native North American plant with brightly colored yellow flowers. The oil from evening primrose is a rich source of a fatty acid called gamma linoleic acid (GLA). GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid our bodies produce from linoleic acid, an essential fat found in corn, sunflower and safflower oils.
By providing the body with GLA, evening primrose oil may help ease breast pain and tenderness in two ways. GLA is a polyunsaturated fat, which means it belongs to a class of fats with a different chemical structure than saturated fats (found in meat and dairy products). As a result, they behave differently in the body. Taking evening primrose oil is thought to increase the ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fats in the body. If saturated fats dominate, some experts believe that this causes your body to be overly sensitive to hormones like estrogen. That’s because hormones made from saturated fat are more potent and attach more readily to receptors. What’s more, a diet that’s high in saturated fat is also believed to impair the conversion of dietary linoleic acid to GLA inside the body. Interestingly, research has found abnormally high levels of saturated fatty acids in women with fibrocystic breast conditions.
Supplementing with evening primrose oil may also alter your body’s production of hormonelike compounds called prostaglandins. There are many prostaglandins made in the body. Some are inflammatory and may cause breast pain, and others are considered friendly, as they do not lead to inflammation. GLA produces a special class of friendly prostaglandins called PGE1. These prostaglandins are also thought to reduce the activity of prolactin, a hormone that may be involved in fibrocystic breast conditions.
There is some research to support using evening primrose oil for breast pain and tenderness. Results of studies conducted in 291 women with persistent breast pain have found evening primrose oil to be effective in 45 percent of cases.
Evening primrose oil is very safe; it has been used in many studies without reports of significant side effects. The effective dose is 1.5 to 2 grams taken twice daily. Buy a supplement that is standardized to contain 9 percent GLA. Start by taking three 500 milligram pills at breakfast, and repeat at dinner. Keep in mind that it may take three menstrual cycles before you feel the effects of evening primrose oil, and up to eight months for the supplement to reach its full effect.