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ADHD Herbal Remedies: Primrose Oil

In 1996, researchers from Purdue University discovered that boys with low levels of essential fatty acids were more likely to display behavioral problems, learning problems, and other symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than boys who had normal levels.   Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are crucial for various brain functions, and it is not surprising that a deficiency can lead to behavioral and cognitive problems such as impairment of working memory, reason, and verbal recall.  These fatty acids are called “essential” because the body cannot manufacture them; we need to get them from our diet. Unfortunately, it is a well-known and established fact that our modern diet is highly deficient in essential fatty acids of the omega -3 family. 

Evening primrose oil is derived from a plant called oenothera biennis, whose seed contains an active ingredient called gamma linolenic acid or GLA. GLA is a rare fatty acid only found in primrose oil and human breast milk.  When broken down, GLA is converted into prostaglandin E1, which is needed by the body to regulate important biological functions.  For this reason, primrose oil is used to treat many disorders and illnesses such as breast cysts, eczema, heart disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension, chronic fatigue syndrome, and asthma.

GLA is actually part of a group of fatty acids called omega-6 fatty acids. Excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids leads to an increase in inflammation and prevents the body from utilizing omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike other omega-6 fatty acids, GLA has anti-inflammatory effects. Like other EFAs, GLA needs nutrients like zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, and B-vitamins B3 and B6 to be properly metabolized by the body.

A few studies have evaluated the efficacy of primrose oil on children with ADHD, with promising results. One study showed significant improvements in performance tasks and attention ratings. In these studies, however, primrose oil was used together with omega-3 oils, making it difficult to determine which of the two substances actually caused the improvements.  

We do know that primrose oil is generally safe for children, and has minimal side effects as long as it is used within the recommended dosage. The daily dosage for children is a capsule containing 2-4 grams, standardized to have 8% GLA content.  Higher doses are needed for more severe symptoms.  Ask your holistic health care practitioner for advice on proper dosage before putting your child on an evening primrose oil regimen.  Omega-6 supplements like primrose oil and GLA should not be taken without supervision if your child has a seizure disorder.