The Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Borage Oil

borage flowers

If there’s one thing you’ll hear me talk about all the time, it’s the need to achieve a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids in your diet.

Our ancestors’ diets—rich in whole, unprocessed plants, game meats, and fish—were naturally high in omega-3s and other anti-inflammatory compounds. As a result, chronic inflammation—and diseases caused by inflammation, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and arthritis—were relatively rare.

But in the early to mid-1900s, with the advent of hydrogenated vegetable oils and processed foods, all that changed. Vegetable oils, such as corn, soy, sunflower, and canola, are extremely high in omega-6s. An overabundance of these particular fatty acids can actually promote inflammation. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: The amount of omega-6s we ate 50 years ago represented about 1.5 percent of our calories. Today, it’s 8–10 percent.

The body converts “short-chain” omega-6s found in vegetable oils and processed foods to “long-chain” omega-6s. Once this happens, two detrimental events can take place, both of which cause inflammation. First, the long-chain omega-6s are converted to messages that signal the body to increase both local and whole-body inflammation. Second, the omega-6s lower the body’s capacity to make protective, anti-inflammatory omega-3s.

For these reasons, you should ramp up your consumption of anti-inflammatory omega-3s and keep your intake of omega-6s to a minimum. But there is one exception to this rule. There’s one particular type of omega-6 that the science shows has very promising benefits because it has been shown to actually lower inflammation and the diseases it affects. That nutrient is borage oil.

Borage Oil—The Anti-Inflammatory Omega-6

Borage oil is derived from the seeds of the Borago officinalis plant. It is the richest source of the omega-6 fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), with concentrations of approximately 20 percent. (Other good sources of GLA are black currant seed and evening primrose oils, but borage is superior.)

Unlike other omega-6s derived from vegetable oils, borage oil, especially when taken with fish oil, exhibits anti-inflammatory activity. Chronic inflammation is initiated in part by substances such as prostaglandins and leukotrienes. Both of these are byproducts formed during the metabolism of arachidonic acid, a pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid found in cell membranes. GLA helps to reduce the formation of prostaglandins and leukotrienes by being rapidly converted to a fatty acid called DGLA that replaces arachidonic acid, and itself is converted to anti-inflammatory mediators.

DGLA also inhibits the actions of destructive, pro-inflammatory enzymes such as COX-2.

Arthritis, Weight, and More

Studies show that, by helping to facilitate a healthy inflammatory response, borage oil can prevent or treat several diseases associated with inflammation, including arthritis.

One compelling 24-week study of 37 patients with rheumatoid arthritis published in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine found that those who supplemented with 1.4 g of GLA from borage seed oil experienced “clinically important reductions in the signs and symptoms of disease activity.” Specifically, the researchers noted significant decreases in the number of tender and swollen joints, compared to the placebo group.

It appears the GLA in borage oil worked at least in part by triggering a sequence of events that leads to the suppression of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). TNF-alpha is a signaling protein involved in chronic inflammation. Inhibitors of TNF-alpha such as Remicade and Humira have been demonstrated to treat a wide variety of autoimmune disorders.

Another study that reviewed various complementary and alternative medicine therapies for arthritis pain concluded, “strong support exists for gamma linolenic acid for pain of rheumatoid arthritis.”

As an added bonus, research also indicates that supplementing with borage oil can help prevent weight regain in people who have lost a substantial amount of weight.

In a trial of 50 formerly obese participants who were given either 5 grams per day of borage oil or olive oil, those who took the borage oil gained back less weight than the control group after one year of supplementation. (The GLA group gained back an average of 2.17 kg, while the control group gained 8.78 kg.) At 50-week follow-up, the benefits persisted even after supplementation stopped.

Getting Your GLA

Because GLA has largely been eliminated from our food supply, the only way to get it is through dietary supplementation. Most studies suggest people should take between 250–500 mg of GLA every day from a botanical oil such as borage.

But there’s a catch.

To truly reap the anti-inflammatory benefits of borage oil, you must make sure you’re getting sufficient omega-3s every day too—either from fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, or an omega-3 supplement. Taken alone, borage oil can cause an increase in blood levels of pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid. But this effect is greatly reduced when borage oil is taken with EPA from fish or omega-3 supplements.

Finally, be sure to take your GLA and omega-3 supplements with meals. If you take them between meals, they won’t be properly digested and you won’t reap the full anti-inflammatory benefits.

Remember, my promise to you is that I will always provide you with accurate information, based on the latest science.

About Author

Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews is the President of Gene Smart and the leader of our Gene Smart team. His mission is to provide supplements to help you control your inflammation, your weight, and your life, based on the latest scientific information.

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