Oil of Evening Primrose

An all-in-one remedy for hangovers, aging, overweight, skin trouble and premenstrual tension? LESLIE KENTON prescribes a new and natural remedy — Oil of Evening Primrose.

Three times so far this century man has discovered a natural substance which is capable of profoundly improving the health of vast numbers of people. Penicillin was such a find. So was vitamin C and then, more recently, interferon. Now another "wonder" substance is just emerging from the dark corridors of scientific research. It is known as gamma-linolenic acid or GLA. GLA appears capable of alleviating so many problems of the human body and mind that one is tempted to view it with the suspicion usually reserved for the surveyor of make-remedies at carnival shows. "At least," as one woman whose doctor recently gave it to her to treat premenstrual tension says. "you try it for yourself."

GLA is currently being credited with a great diversity of bene fits from lowering blood cholesterol as effectively as any drug to curing high blood pressure and helping "hopelessly" fat people lose weight. I t has been known to banish premenstrual tension. bloating and blues, to cure acne and eliminate hyperactivity in some children. It is also being used to treat such serious illnesses as multiple sclerosis. schizophrenia and alcoholism, as well as to ameliorate simple problems like splitting nails and nasty hangovers. Finally. some gerontologists believe that it may be useful in staving off the inevitable processes of aging.

GLA is a substance which is natural to the human body — an essential fatty acid. For the past 50 years, nutritionists have recognized that. like vitamins and minerals, essential fatty acids are necessary for life and growth. Many are present in the foods we eat. Few people have heard much about these particular fats, although almost everybody knows that the "polyunsaturates" are supposed to help protect against heart disease. In fact. the term poly unsaturate covers an enormous number of compounds. only a few of which are really valuable for health, and some of which are positively harmful. The essential fatty acids, of which GLA is one, are among these valuable compounds.

Essential fatty acids are important for two main reasons. Firstly. all the cell membranes in the body and the brain are made of them. These cell walls are the doors through which nutrients flow and wastes are eliminated. Unless they are kept intact and healthy by adequate supplies of essential fatty acids. the cells cannot function to optimum capacity. Secondly, essential fatty acids are needed so that the body can convert them into prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are fascinating chemicals which have only recently be researched. Present in every organ of the body. they play a vital role in controlling how the organs work. They can also he important in determining mood — whether you are feeling cheerful and full of life or depressed and discouraged. About 30 prostaglandins have been discovered so far.

Because almost all vegetable oils are good sources of essential fatty acids, and because all of us get vegetable oils in our diets, we might assume that we should have no problems getting enough essential fatty acids to care for cell membranes and make prostaglandins. Indeed it is just this assumption that, until recently, has kept doctors from considering that certain illnesses might be caused by an essential fatty-acid deficiency and might respond to a supplement such as GLA. Now, thanks to the research of a number of scientists including neurophysiologist David Horrobin. an Englishman who was until recently Professor of Medicine at the University of Montreal. there are strong indications that they were wrong. Many of us — some experts claim a figure of 50 percent — are probably deficient in essential fatty acids and as a result are generally under par, aging more rapidly than we should, suffering mental symptoms which are biochemical in origin or even, in some cases, experiencing serious illness.

Almost all the essential fatty acids in our foods come in the form of a substance called linoleic acid. W hat Horrobin and others have found is that this linoleic acid is of little value to health until it is converted in the body into GLA — rather in the same way that carotene from vegetables is of no use until the body converts it into vitamin A. The problem is that although we get plenty of linoleic acid in our diets, we also get, from polyunsaturates, trans-fatty acids, which are had for us because they block its conversion into GLA.

These are found in breakfast cereals. margarines, frozen vegetables. biscuits and other baking, sauces and even processed vegetable oils. Trans-fatty acids are not the only substances which interfere with the important conversion of linoleic acid to GLA in the body. Infections, toxo much alcohol and too much animal fat can be just as detrimental. Also, some people who have metabolic disturbances such as diabetes or food allergies are unable to convert linoleic acid to the usable GLA form. Finally, experiments with animals have shown that aging itself decreases an organism's ability to convert. For all these reasons. many people cannot make proper use of the linoleic acid in their foods. And it is they. says Horrobin, who respond so dramatically to GLA supplements in their diets for a direct supply provides the body with the ready-made substance and thus bypasses the conversion step.

There are two substantial sources of GLA in foods. The first is human milk, where it is essential to the full development of the brain of the infant. The second is the seed of a plant which grows wild in Europe and America — the evening primrose. In the United States this plant has been used for 500 years by the Indians as part of their pharmacopoeia in the treatment of many illnesses. The seeds from which the oil is extracted are as tiny as mustard seeds and as they have to be harvested by hand the oil is expensive. It can be bought from health-food stores and used along with any other vitamins or minerals you may already be taking. In fact, in order to make full use of GLA's health-giving properties, researchers insist it is best taken together with vitamins B and C and zinc.

A few dermatologists are now using evening primrose oil supplements along with these two vitamins to treat acne and so far have had excellent results. Gynecologists are experimenting with it as a treatment for premenstrual disorders. Dr. Michael Bush at the PMT Clinic at St. Thomas's Hospital in London has discovered that more than two-thirds of his women patients show remarkable improvement when they take two to four grams of evening primrose oil a day. At Erasmus University in Rotterdam, a group of doctors in a five-year study have found that the diseases of the heart. eyes and kidneys to which diabetics are prone are greatly reduced.

Through other research at Bristol University, evening primrose has been found beneficial in the treatment of infant eczema. Many researchers believe this problem is a kind of genetic maladaption, technically known as atopy which could be the result of faulty prostaglandin metabolism. People with atopy are prone to eczema, asthma, and other allergic symptoms. Horrobin thinks that many genetic problems can be minimized. if not eliminated. with evening primrose supplements. Certainly a number of these allergic troubles respond well to GLA supplements.

Evening primrose oil is even being used in the manufacture of cosmetics. since it is rapidly absorbed by the skin, where it helps it retain its important moisture content and strengthens cell walls. Some European cosmetic scientists also believe it may be important in protecting the skin against premature aging. Rochas uses it in their treatment creams and even in their skin soap.

Perhaps the most interesting of the new GLA research relates to its potential for making prostaglandins and thus treating illnesses which may result from a defect in prostaglandin metabolism. Researchers investigating manic depression. the mental illness in which "highs" alternate with "lows", discovered that during their high phase subjects have a lot of prostaglandin El (PGE) in their blood, while during the low state the level drops catastrophically. Others, studying the effects of alcohol, found that too can temporarily raise PGEI levels, which is why you get a great happy buzz after the first couple of drinks — and later a hangover, when PGE I levels come crashing down. Could the craving for the PGEI high he the cause behind the alcoholic's addiction? And could it, at least in part. result from a biochemical defect inessential fatty acid or prostaglandin metabolism? Some scientists believe so. They claim to be able to treat alcoholism by supplying GLA in the form of evening primrose oil along with zinc. vitamin C. niacin and vitamin B6, all of which are used in the making of prostaglandins. Less seriously, they claim that evening primrose oil taken "after the party" can do wonders for the traditional hangover.

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