Borage oil is derived from a wildflower known as borage, or “starflower.” It has a long history of both medicinal and culinary use that dates back hundreds of years. The oil is best known for providing a high level of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid with strong anti-inflammatory properties. Of the three oils that are good sources of GLA, blackcurrant seed, evening primrose and borage oil, borage has the highest concentration of 17 to 25 percent. GLA is best known for helping to keep the joints and skin healthy.
Borage is also loaded with macronutrients, including vitamins A and C, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and choline, and also contains proteins, fiber, minerals and other plant compounds.
While it’s usually taken internally in a capsule, it can also be applied topically. Used in aromatherapy, the oil can also be inhaled or vaporized, or blended with a carrier oil like sweet almond or jojoba oil.
As a common herbal treatment in traditional medicine practices for centuries, this oil has a multitude of uses that range from supporting optimal brain functioning to relieving pain and treating skin conditions.
Here’s a closer look at the many benefits borage oil can offer you.
1. Relieving rheumatoid arthritis pain
Borage oil may best be known for helping to relieve the symptoms of autoimmune disorders, but recent research focused on borage oil and rheumatoid arthritis have shown the most promise. The authors of a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzed data from numerous different trials, including their own, and concluded that GLA in oils like borage could provide symptom relief and possibly reduce the need for painkillers.
Another study, published in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in which participants were given borage oil capsules three times a day found that borage oil relieved inflammation, lessened swelling, and tenderness and decreased joint pain. The GLA from borage oil is an especially effective natural remedy when used in combination with conventional anti-inflammatory medications.
2. Improving skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, acne and seborrheic dermatitis
Borage oil, taken internally and used topically, has been used to improve inflammatory skin conditions, including seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema and even acne. In fact, it’s one of the most well-researched benefits of borage oil. Healthy skin depends on adequate amounts of lipids for moisture, suppleness, and smoothness as well as to prevent skin disorders. The most important polyunsaturated fatty acids for maintenance of healthy skin and for the alleviation of skin disorders are the essential fatty acids of the omega-6 family, namely GLA.
GLA has been found in studies to improve deficiencies in skin oils – when the skin is unable to produce enough protective oils or lipids, it results in a dysregulation of the immune system and increased inflammation, resulting in problems like eczema. If you’re lacking essential fatty acids in your diet that are essential for skin health, borage oil may be a good natural remedy, although study results have been mixed – it seems that some experience very positive results while others notice a little improvement. Still, it is worth trying as there are virtually no side effects. Some research has demonstrated that those taking up to 720 milligrams of GLA each day for two months found significant improvements in skin health.
Dermatitis, a skin condition in which there is scaling, itching of the skin, typically found on the face, arms, elbows and the knees, can also be improved. A 2009 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition also found that women who had skin conditions that caused irritation and reddening found relief after taking flaxseed or borage oil.
3. Improving periodontitis (gum disease)
Preliminary evidence has suggested that borage oil’s anti-inflammatory effects may be beneficial for treating periodontitis, better known as gum disease. Reports on a study published in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids showed that people who took borage oil supplements had better gum health and reduced periodontitis-related gingivitis.
4. Battling certain cancers
Borage seed oil and GLA both have antioxidant and anti-mutagenic properties that can battle the growth of cancer cells. In lab studies, both have been shown to exhibit cytotoxic activities that can dramatically shorten the lifespan of toxic cells while also prolonging the lifespan of the healthy host at the same time. Taking a borage oil supplement has been recommended for protecting DNA as well as for a natural cancer treatment thanks to its ability to reduce the underlying oxidative genetic damage that leads to excess inflammation and the development of a disease.
A combination of omega-3s and GLA was shown in a 2012 study out of Ireland to reduce levels of multiple inflammatory cytokines in patients with colon cancer, one of many cancers that relies on inflammation to stimulate its growth. Prostate cancer growth has also been found to slow after taking GLA. In a 1995 study out of Argentina, human lung cancer was implanted in mice who were fed a GLA-enriched diet, and the researchers found that the cancer was inhibited by 56% – in fact, DNA synthesis (necessary for continued growth of cancer) was halted after GLA treatment. GLA supplements may have promise for other cancers too, including breast cancer and pancreatic cancer.
5. Alzheimer’s disease
GLA has the ability to boost the transmission of nerve impulses, which experts believe make borage oil potentially valuable for treating the memory deficiencies that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
6. Supporting lung health and treating respiratory infections
Borage oil has also been shown to support lung health, improving functioning as well as treating respiratory disorders, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, as well as coughs and sore throats. In fact, it’s long been used to treat these conditions – and even speed the healing time of the common cold and flu, decreased the need to take medications and halt inflammation that can lead to worsened respiratory symptoms.
A study out of Ohio State University showed that patients with acute breathing problems needed fewer days on ventilation after taking a combination of borage oil and fish oil, as compared to those who went without supplements.
7. Encouraging weight and fat loss
For those struggling to lose weight, borage oil may be able to help as research has found that GLA-rich borage oil tends to cause less body fat accumulation as compared to more refined vegetable oils. Those who are leaner tend to have more brown fat than people who are obese or overweight and taking GLA can result in more brown fat accumulation and less white fat accumulation. That’s good news because the experts believe that brown fat may act more like a muscle, meaning it can keep your metabolism revved up.
In a study out of Ibaraki, Japan’s Laboratory of Nutrition Biochemistry conducted in 2000, when rats were fed either a diet containing 20 percent fat from borage oil with 25 percent GLA or 20 percent borage oil-containing 47 percent GLA, or a diet that contained 20 percent fat from safflower oil, the group that was on the high safflower diet had dramatic increases in white fat cells. The researchers also noted that GLA seemed to have protective effects on the accumulation of white fat. The results, they say, suggest that taking GLA supplements can reduce body fat accumulation overall.
8. Reducing high blood pressure
Research on animals has suggested that borage oil may protect against hypertension or high blood pressure. While more studies need to be conducted in humans, one small study on male adults who faced stressful situations was found to have limited jumps in both blood pressure and heart rate after taking GLA supplements. By relieving stress and tension, it was also said that performing day-to-day tasks was easier too.
9. Remedying male impotence and improving fertility
GLA is known to help stimulate blood flow, which is why some experts believe that it may help remedy one of the main reasons for male impotence. It can also help women who are unable to conceive by improving uterine function.
10. Supporting healthier babies and less painful labors
There has also been some evidence that premature babies and infants that are given borage oil supplements have better rates of growth and development. Both GLA from borage oil and omega-3 fatty acid supplements can support the development of the central nervous systems as well as decrease the risks linked to premature births.
In a 2012 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, researchers demonstrated that rats who were fed borage oil for 90 days grew faster than those who didn’t receive borage oil.
Additionally, borage oil has been helpful in achieving less painful labors for women. In fact, it’s commonly used during late pregnancy for cervical ripening, a process that occurs naturally as the uterus readies for labor and delivery. During cervical ripening, the cervix becomes shorter and softer – without that process, labor and delivery can be a lot more painful and difficult. Some practitioners use borage oil as an alternative to medications that are prescribed when natural cervical ripening needs to be enhanced in order to ease the expectant mother’s way into labor.