That little feature Amazon has, “You might also like,” suggested a book for me early on in my MS journey – in the early 2000s, not long after I was diagnosed – entitled “Multiple Sclerosis: A Self-Help Guide to Its Management.” The author, Judy Graham, is an English woman who had had MS for 20 years at the time of its writing, and she kept going back to the importance of taking evening primrose oil in her personal treatment of her MS.
The evening primrose plant is named for its yellow flowers that bloom in the evening. Its oil is extracted from the seeds, and the oil is an excellent source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is an omega-6 essential fatty acid. A quick internet search will tell you that it is used as an alternative treatment for everything from arthritis to PMS, and from eczema to diabetes.
Studies have found that people with MS who take omega-6 supplements such as evening primrose oil have fewer MS exacerbations than those who don’t. These studies tend to be smaller and have a more alternative-medicine approach, so that is why it is still considered “experimental.”
What Are Essential Fatty Acids?
The two essential fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6, and they are the two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids the body needs that it does not naturally produce. Plus, it is widely agreed that these are the most important fats which the body needs. That is also why they are called “essential,” because the body needs them from external sources. However, experts who do not have MS (that part is important!) sometimes are naysayers about whether omega-6 actually produces benefits in people with multiple sclerosis. They tend to be quick to point to omega-3 essential fatty acids as being better.
But those of us with MS have to be our own health problem-solvers in a sense. We are well aware of the fact that everyone with MS has a different body chemistry even as compared to others with MS, so it’s a trial-and-error game especially in the beginning, after diagnosis.
Medical Practitioners and Evening Primrose Oil
In my book “Game Over, MS,” I talk about the fact that the two main facets of the medical profession don’t yet usually collaborate with each other. On the contrary, they’re often resistant to the other side’s approaches: Medical doctors advocate traditional medicine and tend to pooh-pooh alternative methods, and naturopaths and other alternative medical practitioners tend to pooh-pooh traditional medicine.
One physician who himself has MS wrote an article about how interesting it has been since his MS diagnosis to observe his own behavior in this regard. He said it was surprising for him to personally experience a curious thing that he has observed in his patients, notably that he takes evening primrose oil tablets as part of his overall MS treatment, even though it has minimal proof that it works.
He said that he is afraid to stop taking evening primrose oil for fear of his MS becoming worse if he does, so he keeps taking it! Yes – welcome to our world, doctor.
It is particularly important to take an omega-6 supplement like evening primrose oil since those of us with MS are not supposed to take multivitamins. Most multivitamins have things like vitamin B-6 and vitamin C, which are immune system enhancers – and if you have MS, you want to avoid giving your immune system any more proverbial juice. It is already overly active in a sense, so we have to be careful.
We get enough of those nutrients in our normal diet, according to my own neurologist. If I’m starting to fight a cold, I do take extra vitamin C – but that’s the only time I take vitamin C. My body doesn’t have to process extra vitamin C again until the next time I’m fighting a cold, which thankfully isn’t very often anymore! That’s part of the irony we learn, too, is that our immune systems become better as we get older, simply because we’ve been exposed to more germs and bacteria – so we’re naturally able to fight off colds better as we get older. And that’s a good thing.
Should I Take Evening Primrose Oil for My MS?
Talk to your doctor to find out more information about how any supplements you take may have contraindications with your current MS medication. If your doctor doesn’t give you definitive answers and opinions, find another neurologist who will. MS is a health condition that we’re quickly figuring out, and many of us with MS take evening primrose oil as part of that overall solution to stifle it for good.