Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid which is considered to be an “essential” fatty acid because the body needs it for good health. Omega-6 fatty acids work along with omega-3 fatty acids in the body to promote good brain function as well as normal growth and development.
Our bodies do not make omega-6 fatty acids, which means they must come from the foods we eat. In addition to GLA, there are several other omega-6 fatty acids. Most, including linoleic acid (LA), come from vegetable oils or egg yolks. Linoleic acid can be converted in the body to produce GLA. GLA can also be found in oils from certain plants including primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant seed oil.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids appear to balance each other in a healthy diet. While omega-3's tend to reduce inflammation, some omega-6 fatty acids can cause or promote inflammation. So it is important to have a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Most people get substantial doses of omega-6 fatty acids in their regular diet and therefore do not need to take GLA supplements. Unfortunately, most of these omega-6's come from less-healthful sources that may promote inflammation.
Why gamma linolenic acid is used
GLA is sometimes promoted as helping relieve rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms because it is one of the omega-6 fatty acids that may help reduce inflammation. Some studies indicate GLA can help relieve stiffness and joint pain associated with RA which may decrease the need for NSAID pain relievers.
GLA is also used by the body to produce prostaglandins, which are substances similar to hormones. Prostaglandins contribute to many functions in the body, including regulating the immune system. Some studies suggest that GLA may stop or slow the growth of cancer cells, but research is not conclusive. Other studies show that breast cancer patients who took GLA along with the cancer drug tamoxifen received more benefits from the tamoxifen than patients who took the drug alone.
Although GLA has not been proven effective for any of these conditions, it is believed by some to help with the following:
• Diabetic neuropathy
• Acute respiratory distress syndrome
• ADHD (attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder)
• High blood pressure
• Menopause and hot flashes
• Breast pain
How gamma linolenic acid is used
GLA is available as a supplement as a liquid or in a capsule. GLA is found in varying concentrations in black currant oil, borage oil, and evening primrose oil. Most studies involving GLA have used evening primrose oil, which contains approximately 10 percent GLA along with other substances. For this reason, scientists are hesitant to attribute the benefits of evening primrose or other oils specifically to GLA in the oil.
Because most people get more than the recommended dose of omega-6 fatty acids from their diets, GLA supplements are not recommended unless a deficiency is noted.
Cautions for gamma linolenic acid
GLA is believed to be generally safe and nontoxic. However, taking a large dose or taking the supplement for an extended time (over 18 months) may lead to changes in the blood and may cause difficulty with blood clotting. Other cautions for GLA include:
• Side effects – GLA can cause upset stomach, bloated stomach, soft bowel movements, nausea, and vomiting.
• Seizures – Do not take GLA if you have a seizure disorder.
• Surgery – Stop taking GLA two weeks before you are scheduled for surgery if you will be receiving anesthesia.
• Pregnancy– GLA is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. There is not enough research to determine whether or not GLA is safe in these situations.
• Bleeding – GLA can interact with other medications to increase the risk of bleeding. Talk to your doctor before taking GLA if you take aspirin, blood thinners, anti-platelet drugs, or NSAIDs including ibuprofen or naproxen.
• Antibiotics – GLA may interact with some antibiotics and may alter their effectiveness.
• Cancer treatments – GLA may interact with some cancer medications. GLA is not known to be a cure for cancer. Do not try to substitute GLA for other treatments for cancer.
Talk to your health care provider about all supplements you chose to take, including gamma linolenic acid.