Borage oil is an oil derived from the borage plant, which typically grows year-round in the milder climates of the Mediterranean.
It originates there but has since proven an effective grower in the UK, at least through the months of June and September as the Kingdom has a more temperate climate than what borage is accustomed to.
The plant is edible and oils are extracted for a number of health uses and benefits. We will be going over most in the article to follow, but first, let’s take a look at what you will find in the chemical makeup of borage oil.
Borage Oil Makeup
One of the most commonly asked questions about borage oil is where it falls on the fatty acid spectrum: omega-3 or omega-6? Borage oils contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is a type of omega-6.
It also contains prevalent quantities of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, one of which is carcinogenic and can cause concern for some since carcinogens cause cancer. Fortunately, most borage oil manufacturers produce PA-free products so this is less of a concern to health food consumers. Just check the label for such a marker, and you should be okay.
In the next section, we will be discussing the various beneficial uses of borage oil to health and wellness. Let’s continue!
Borage Oil Benefits and Uses
As you are about to see, the health qualities of borage oil are far-reaching and range anywhere from eye health and brain function to heart and digestion. Research is still pending on just how much of an effect the oil has on these areas, but there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence.
If you are wanting to stick squarely with what the science suggests, then according to WebMD, the best uses are for growth and human development in the very young, improved lung function in critically ill patients, and rheumatoid arthritis.
But don’t be quick to discount some of the other uses as well. Provided you’re not taking prescription medications that interact with borage oil — and provided you’re staying away from blends containing PA — it is a harmless oil millions of users swear by for various reasons.
Here are most of them.
1. Acts as an Anti-Inflammatory
There are numerous diseases associated with inflammation. We’ll go into a little more depth about what those are in a moment and how borage oil can help. But for now, we’ll just say its anti-inflammatory qualities make it a possible treatment for symptoms related to the following conditions: nut allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases, celiac disease, and hepatitis.
Interaction is important, though, so talk to your doctor about whether there are potential conflicts. And if you have a surgery coming up, discontinue use at least two weeks before the scheduled date.
2. Possesses Cancer-Fighting Antioxidant Properties
This may seem contradictory considering that we just told you the borage plant has carcinogens in it, but don’t tune us out just yet.
The reason that many people swear by it for help with the prevention of cancer or the easing of symptoms is that borage oil contains antioxidants, which actually fight various forms of cancer. And remember: a borage oil that is PA-free does not contain any pro-cancer properties to worry about
3. Helps with Arthritis Symptoms
Arthritis is another form of inflammation that affects the joints. It manifests through swelling around the joints and exacerbates aches and pains around various connections where bone-meets-bone.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a particularly vicious form of arthritis that can make the sufferer feel like their joints are surrounded by tiny hot burning knives (experience here, unfortunately).
This greatly detracts from the quality-of-life without appropriate anti-inflammation protocols in place. Borage oil is an effective one for many.
4. Attacks on Psoriasis and Other Skin Conditions
Borage oil has a number of skin care properties that make it a natural for use in soap, shampoo, lotion, and cosmetics. It’s especially good for acne because it helps to unclog pores. Many use it topically as well to deal with skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis.
It’s also used to help treat ringworm. And a number of moms use it to help ease the symptoms of cradle cap in their infants, a cosmetically unappealing and itchy condition that produces something like scaly, out-of-control dandruff.
This can be a great source of discomfort for children who are helpless to do anything about it, and it can contribute to fussiness and agitation.
5. Improves the Quality of Hair and Nails
As an extension of skin care, borage oil also is good at strengthening hair and nails. That’s why many companies will use it in their hair care products.
Since the nails are integral to hair care — and like hair, they’re also skin cells — products featuring borage oil can give a boost to brittle hair and nails. The active ingredient here is GLA.
6. Assists in Clearing Infections of the Respiratory System
As previously mentioned at the start of this section, science largely backs the effectiveness of borage oil when it comes to healing respiratory infections such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
It also may produce benefits to less serious respiratory conditions such as cold or flu. Doctors have used it to shorten the length of time a patient spends in intensive care. Much of its usefulness is owed to GLA as well.
7. Promotes Human Growth and Development
While we wouldn’t recommend using borage oil through pregnancy — at least not without an extreme amount of caution — we are fans of it in its PA-free form when it comes to the growth and development of children, particularly vulnerable children who were born prior to their due dates.
Speak with your doctor first, but the evidence suggests it may be beneficial in helping children “catch up” to where they need to be on the developmental scale.
8. Guards Against Fat Buildup and Obesity
As one of the “essential” fatty acids that the body cannot produce on its own, omega-6 helps guard against fat buildup, which can create that unsightly look of belly fat.
Because it promotes the healthier use of fats, this also aids in the way your body functions and allows you greater ability to work out and maintain a healthy diet plan, which is core to avoiding rapid weight gain and, eventually, obesity.
You are considered obese when you’re 35 pounds overweight or more. That accounts for a significant amount of the population. And as you’re probably aware, obesity puts you at a higher risk for life-threatening conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
9. Prevents or Inhibits Gum Disease
Gum disease, or periodontal disease as it’s known scientifically, weakens the gums, makes them overly sensitive, and diminishes the overall dental health of the individual suffering from it.
The harmful effects owe much to inflammation, and we’ve already established borage oil’s role as an anti-inflammatory agent. You might consider taking the oil in capsule form to ensure the proper dosage and distribution.
10. Aids Memory Retention for Alzheimer’s Patients
Alzheimer’s is a horrifying condition that currently affects nearly 6 million Americans. While that’s a relatively small percentage of the population, it doesn’t tell the story of the millions more who live with, care for, and love these individuals.
Any disease that causes fathers not to remember sons, mothers not to remember daughters, and spouses not to remember each other, is impactful far beyond the less than 2% who actually have it.
While borage oil is no cure for Alzheimer’s, many believe it can have a positive effect on memory retention thanks to evidence that it boosts the transmission of nerve impulses throughout the body.
What makes Alzheimer’s so debilitating (and deadly) is the fact that the lack of impulses leads the patient to a deteriorating state of not being able to take care of their physical or emotional needs. Anything that slows that down is a potentially good thing.
11. Reduces Hypertension
As a blood thinning agent, borage oil creates a circulatory environment where the blood can more easily work through the body.
As a result, your organs don’t have to work as hard, and that can ease the effects of high blood pressure. HBP is a contributor to the development of heart disease as well.
12. Counterbalances High Cholesterol and Supports Heart Disease Prevention
The other major contributor to heart disease: high cholesterol. You’ll want to manage this through a healthy diet and exercise and, if necessary, a prescription medication like simvastatin.
But borage oil capsules can help as well because, again, it promotes healthy circulation throughout the body. Cholesterol is fat in the bloodstream. A buildup of it can clog your arteries and lead to heart attack and stroke.
13. Betters Sexual Health for Men and Women
Piggybacking on the heart and blood flow elements, it’s worth noting here that men have turned to borage oil as a healthy supplement for addressing male impotence.
Few things are more embarrassing or demoralizing for guys as not being able to get or maintain an erection or not being able to perform when the moment is right. Borage oil’s blood flow effects make it easier to get circulation when the moment calls for it.
The omega-6 fats contained in borage oil also may assist in a woman’s ability to get pregnant. Careful using it during the actual pregnancy, though, as we’ll discuss in the section on side effects.
14. Relieves PMS Symptoms, Promotes Women’s Health
Another area where borage oil is effective for women’s health is when dealing with hormonal imbalances such as those that come with menstruation.
Many women have gone exclusively to borage for help with easing the symptoms of PMS, and it has served to regulate the shifts that occur with menopause, a condition that occurs usually in older women when the body’s estrogen production capabilities cease to function.
It’s possible that borage oil may be helpful with slowing or shrinking ovarian cysts and in combatting Candida (e.g., yeast infections).
15. Eases ADHD
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), five percent of children in the US have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) see the numbers as twice that.
Regardless of where the truth lies, it can affect the mental health and development of a child during some of their most impressionable years.
Because borage oil acts as a neurotransmitter, it’s able to better regulate brain behaviors. That can prove beneficial to treating ADHD as well as a number of other conditions from the small to the serious.
16. Functions As a Hangover Remedy
You’ve noticed that it can have positive effects on long-term disorders such as Alzheimer’s and ADHD. But there is something to be gained from borage oil with short-term benefits as well. One of the most common: hangover remedy.
The GLA content of borage oil has shown in lab tests to be effective at improving the function of the liver after overindulgence on alcohol.
In proper doses and through the appropriate delivery channels — capsules or supplements recommended — you can see an almost-immediate bounceback from a night of heavy drinking.
17. Helps Support People Suffering from Alcoholism
The nerve transmitter qualities of borage also make it a helpful agent in the fight against alcoholism. But it should be noted that alcoholism has a strong correlation to genetics, and the best course of action is to avoid it altogether.
That said — and this is another item we’ll get into in a moment — the fallout from alcoholism may also be positively impacted through the regular use of borage oil.
18. Eases Symptoms of OCD
OCD, or “obsessive-compulsive disorder,” is another condition that could see some benefit from borage oil use.
While it’s hardly one to be concerned about from a physical health perspective — in fact, OCD sufferers usually excel when it comes to avoiding infections thanks to their commitment to cleanliness — it’s a condition that can create numerous social difficulties and adjustment, and that can serve to exacerbate harmful conditions like depression and anxiety.
19. Calms the Effects of Hemorrhoids
Once again, thank borage oil’s anti-inflammatory properties for this one. Hemorrhoids usually don’t go away without some form of corrective surgery, but they can be shrunk and managed so long as you avoid inflammation of the area.
The GLA content of borage oil does that. Consider a direct application for best results. You can do so by applying the oil to a tissue and dabbing it on the affected area.
20. Pushes Back Against Depression and Anxiety
The World Health Organization reports that more than 300 million people globally suffer from some form of depression or anxiety.
While this can often manifest in forms that are not life-threatening, it can lead, in more extreme cases, to harmful effects like suicide or self-endangerment (and the endangerment of others).
Depression and anxiety can be the condition itself, or they can be symptoms of other issues. Either way, borage oil helps to control the conditions that can worsen symptoms (i.e., inflammation, brain function, etc.).
21. Supports a Higher Quality of Sleep
Thanks to its ability to aid healthy mental and physical development, it’s also effective at helping you sleep for longer periods of time and at a higher quality.
Consider applying a few drops to water in the diffuser of your choice. Then, set it at your bedside, plugin, and let it run through the night.
22. Increases Eye Health
Borage oil’s use as an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergen makes it a natural help when it comes to healthy tear production and eyesight.
In fact, one of its most popular — and well-documented uses — is as a treatment for dry eyes, a condition which affects around 5 million men and women in the US, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Most Commonly Reported Borage Oil Side Effects
At this point, borage oil is probably looking pretty good to you. But we cannot overemphasize the other side of the coin. Like any essential oil, interactions with prescription medications, improper dosing, or a simple lack of understanding can lead to serious health problems. So be on your guard.
Also, talk to a doctor before using the product. You should be scheduling regular checkups and seeing if any alternative health supplement you’re taking — not just borage oil — might have some kind of counterproductive effect for your situation.
With that said, we’ll now examine the 7 most common side effects.
- Stomach Issues: Not common at all, but there are cases where the oil can lead to nausea and bloating. If you have conditions like IBD or ulcerative colitis, speak to your doctor first before incorporating it into your daily management routine.
- Diabetes: Some people will take borage oil for their diabetes, and while it may seem to work for them, we are not going to recommend it here for a simple reason. When you’re a diabetic, you’re likely on a medication to help regulate blood sugar. Borage oil also has properties that help to bring down glucose levels. Doubling up can create a situation where blood sugar becomes too low. As a result, it can be difficult to find the balance again with the two substances working in tandem. The best alternative: stick with a healthy diet and exercise. Supplement with what the doctor prescribes.
- Bleeding: If your blood already is too thin or you have a surgery planned, cease use of borage oil immediately. Excessive bleeding can lead to potentially serious complications.
- Prostate Growth: On occasion, excessive GLA might lead to the growth of prostate tumors and lead to the development of prostate cancer. It’s vital that you use PA-free borage oil, and also speak with your doctor about the connections between borage oil, prostate cancer, and genetic susceptibility.
- Seizures: GLA in concentrated forms may increase the severity of seizures, so if you have a condition such as epilepsy, you’ll want to avoid use unless given the go-ahead by your doctor.
- Pregnancy and Nursing: While the use of borage oil may have a number of benefits for human growth and development in the very young, the wrong kind of borage oil (containing PA) can increase a child’s risk of developing cancer. This is particularly true if the mother is taking borage oil and then passing the material along through breast milk. Some research has suggested a link to premature uterine contractions as well. We recommend steering clear altogether during the pregnancy, and if you do bring it in once the child is born, keep the dosage low and use only the PA-free-labeled products.
- Liver Issues: As established in the section on hangovers, use of borage oil has a short-term benefit to liver function when compared to the overall strain alcohol use places on the liver. But the effects are not long-term, and if you’re already on prescription medications, it may actually interfere with how the organ breaks down chemicals for waste processing. An unhealthy liver colors other areas of the body as well and can lead to a host of digestive issues. Consult with your doctor about a) taking borage oil in conjunction with other medications, and b) the best form of consumption for it if he gives you the go-ahead.
Use of borage oil is expected to climb exponentially by the year 2024, and most of that use will come through the medical community, according to a recent Grand View Research report.
That alone should tell you this isn’t one of those situations where “there’s no there-there.” The evidence is clear this plant has some benefit to our health and well-being, but there’s still a way to go before we know the full extent.
Same goes for side effects. Consider using borage oil for whatever ails you, but stay up-to-date on the research and talk to your doctor about any potential conflicts.