Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is an edible and medicinal plant known for its beautiful white and yellow flowers, which bloom at night. Historically, Native Americans have used all parts of the plant to treat wounds, sore throats, and digestion problems.
Evening primrose oil (EPO) is extracted from the seeds of the plant and is likely available at your nearest pharmacy. You can purchase it in its pure oil form to apply topically or in capsules for easy ingestion.
Although there isn't sufficient medical research that supports all of EPO's benefits, many women, midwives, and alternative health practitioners have recognized the powerful healing properties of this oil and have shared many stories of its success in pregnancy and a variety of health conditions. Curious if EPO could work for you?
This article will answer the following questions:
- How do you use EPO to induce labor?
- How does it work and is it effective?
- Is it safe to take EPO during pregnancy?
- What other risks are there?
- What's so special about this supplement?
- What are some of its health benefits?
- What health conditions may EPO alleviate?
- How much should you take?
How to Use Evening Primrose Oil to Induce Labor Naturally
Please note that you should not take EPO before the 38th week of pregnancy.
1. Consult your doctor before beginning.
Although this supplement is considered safe for short-term use, there are some general risks involved that you should discuss with your doctor or midwife before proceeding. They may also give you more specific instructions on proper use and dosage, especially for inserting the capsules vaginally.
2. Start taking the supplement orally.
As soon as you get the green light from your doctor, you can start taking evening primrose oil supplements during your 38th week. Start with a low dose of 500 mg daily and gradually increase the dose up to 2000 mg per day as you get closer to your due date. This should only be performed during the last two weeks of your pregnancy. Reduce the dose if you start experiencing side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, or upset stomach. Discontinue treatment if the symptoms persist.
3. Insert capsules vaginally.
In addition to ingesting the supplement orally, you may also insert capsules directly into your vagina once you are in the last two weeks of pregnancy. Inserting one capsule each night before bedtime will do. As a precaution, make sure you properly wash and sanitize your hands, especially your fingers, before you do this to prevent bacterial infection. The capsule will melt within a few minutes, and the oil will leak into the cervix and help to soften it. This is an important contribution to labor induction and easier delivery. Using liquid evening primrose oil as a lubricant for perineal massage may also help.
As soon as you get the green light from your doctor, you can start taking evening primrose oil supplements during your 38th week. Start with a low dose of 500 mg daily and gradually increase the dose up to 2000 mg per day as you get closer to your due date.
Does Evening Primrose Oil Really Induce Labor?
This common question stems from the confusion between labor induction and cervical ripening.
While evening primrose oil does not start or shorten labor, it is believed to initiate cervical ripening—the softening and thinning of the cervix in preparation for labor and delivery. This is because EPO contains gamma linolenic acid (GLA) which stimulates the body's production of prostaglandins, a natural chemical that promotes uterine contractions and cervical dilation.
The cervix will normally efface on its own when labor is about to start, but sometimes this process requires medical assistance. In cases where a Bishop score (the assessment of cervical ripeness) is less than 6, an herbal ripening agent such as evening primrose oil may be used to ease labor and delivery.
Does It Actually Work?
While evening primrose is one of the most common herbal supplements used by midwives, and hundreds of women have claimed it has worked for them, there isn't enough scientific evidence to prove the efficacy of EPO in labor induction. It's possible that the supplement may only cause Braxton Hicks contractions, rather than productive labor, and may even be associated with other delivery complications.
Anecdotal support of EPO's effectiveness is also hard to verify since it's often used alongside other natural methods of labor induction such as nipple stimulation, red raspberry leaf tea, and castor oil.
Despite inconclusive research, evening primrose oil has been prescribed by doulas for generations and continues to be widely used today.
Read on for more information about the risks of using this supplement and always consult your doctor before attempting self-treatment.
Is Evening Primrose Oil Safe to Use?
While evening primrose is considered safe for short-term use, always consult with your doctor before use and take the following risks into account:
Possible Side Effects
- upset stomach
Risks for Use During Pregnancy
- There are general risks involved with any attempt to induce labor.
- According to the American Family Physician, it is possible that EPO may contribute to bleeding complications during a Cesarean section, postpartum hemorrhaging, increased chance of premature rupture of membranes, arrest of descent, oxytocin (Pitocin) administration, and vacuum extraction.
- Do not take evening primrose oil if you have epilepsy, schizophrenia, or a bleeding disorder, or if you are about to have surgery. EPO may increase the risk of seizures and bleeding complications.
- EPO interacts with several medications, so consult your doctor before using.
- Since there is not enough medically-supported information about EPO, proper dosing is uncertain. Always start with a low dose and reduce or discontinue use if you experience negative side effects.
What Does EPO Consist Of?
The secret to evening primrose oil's health benefits are the following compounds:
Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA)
The body naturally converts GLA from linolenic acid, but this process is very slow and requires the enzyme delta-6-desaturase, which may be inhibited by the factors listed below.
GLA supplementation may alleviate deficiencies caused by:
- alcohol use
- excess intake of saturated and trans-fats
- deficiencies of vitamin B6, magnesium, and zinc
The body converts GLA into hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins. These lipids are responsible for many of the body's vital processes such as hormone regulation, labor induction, proper cell growth, formation of blood clots, blood circulation, tissue repair, and protection against inflammation and infection. The production of prostaglandins is also what makes EPO so effective in treating several health conditions such as PMS, arthritis, and skin problems.
Evening primrose oil also contains phenylalanine, an amino acid that converts to tyrosine and then to dopamine and other neurotransmitters that may regulate mood and ease anxiety and depression. Phenylalanine may also be used in treatment for ADHD, Parkinson's disease, and vitiligo, and as a pain reliever for menstrual cramps, arthritis, and migraines.
EPO products may also contain vitamin E, an antioxidant that promotes healthy skin, hair, vision, and immunity. When combined with evening primrose, it may reduce cyclical mastalgia (breast pain related to the menstrual cycle).
Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that function similarly to real estrogen. While their risks and effects are not yet fully understood, some research suggests that these natural hormones may ease hot flashes, osteoporosis, menstrual irregularity, and acne.
Another omega-6 fatty acid found in evening primrose oil is arachidonic acid (AA) which is a popular component of bodybuilding supplements due to its inflammatory effects on muscle and tissue repair. However, consuming too much AA may be harmful to those with conditions that already cause inflammation.
Possible Health Benefits of Evening Primrose
Although the majority of medical research on evening primrose oil is conflicting and inconclusive, some studies show a possibility that EPO may be beneficial for the following conditions:
PMS and Breast Pain
GLA and it's subsequent production of prostaglandins minimizes the effect of prolactin—the hormone responsible for production of breast milk. One study found that EPO is highly effective in minimizing symptoms of depression and irritability, breast pain and tenderness, and bloating caused by premenstrual syndrome. These benefits may be boosted by taking EPO alongside magnesium, zinc, and niacin which increase the conversion of GLA to prostaglandins.
Participants of this study reported significant improvement in frequency, duration, and severity of hot flashes after taking EPO for six weeks. In a follow-up survey, the subjects reported that the reduced hot flashes also improved their relationships, social life, and sexuality.
Acne and Eczema
One study has shown that GLA reduces acne due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Another study resulted in 96% of participants reporting decreased itching caused by eczema. GLA may also help the skin retain moisture, elasticity, and firmness overall.
A popular EPO product is evening primrose shampoo. This is believed to prevent hair loss due to its natural components. Phytoestrogens may relieve hormone-related and menopausal hair loss, arachidonic acid may stimulate new hair growth, and vitamin E may relieve oxidative stress and protect hair follicles.
So far, a study on rats has shown that EPO may reduce blood cholesterol and inflammation related to heart disease.
Diabetic Nerve Damage
The linolenic acid found in EPO has been shown to alleviate symptoms of diabetic nerve damage such as weakness, numbness, and tingling.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoporosis
This review supported evidence from seven studies that suggest EPO improves pain and function in rheumatoid arthritis. Some people also take EPO in combination with calcium and fish oil to decrease bone loss and increase bone density.
After this study showed an improvement in eye dryness caused by wearing contacts, many eye doctors have started recommending EPO as a supplement. Dr. Kaushal M. Kulkarni, a board-certified ophthalmologist, recommends evening primrose to all his patients with dry eye.
Evening primrose has been used for hundreds of years to increase fertility via the production of egg white cervical mucus. An increase in thickness and quantity of this mucus allows a greater possibility for sperm to reach the cervix.
I recommend evening primrose oil as a natural supplement to all of my patients with dry eye. The omega-6 fatty acids have been shown in studies to improve symptoms of dry eye, a condition which can be difficult to treat.
— Dr. Kaushal M. Kulkarni (MD)
Some People Use Evening Primrose Oil for:
chronic fatigue syndrome
diabetic nerve damage
obesity and weight loss
irritable bowel syndrome
peptic ulcer disease
high blood sugar
menopausal hot flashes
How Much Should You Take?
While there is not enough medical research to determine an appropriate dosage, alternative health practitioners commonly prescribe this supplement for a variety of conditions.
The following dosages are recommended by Whole Health Chicago. As always, consult with your doctor before use and start with a low dose.
Recommended Evening Primrose Oil Dosage
three times daily
three times daily
three times daily
fibrocystic breast changes
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Blessing Uche on May 09, 2020:
Please am I supposed to take the Evening primrose oil one in the morning and the other one the evening or to take the two tablets at once
Katie on September 11, 2019:
Evening primrose Oil is used to soften the cervix, it doesn’t make you go into labor. I used it with my first and now with my current pregnancy. Doctor said to start it vaginally at 36 Weeks.
Jody on June 07, 2018:
I was having joints pain in both hands inside and outside and muscle weakness due to multiple sclerosis (MS). I was falling a lot, I had headaches and lightheadedness. I couldn’t keep myself balanced, and walk with a tremor like I cannot control my steps. The amantadine hydrochloride (Symmetrel®) and modafinil (Provigil®) did very little to help me. I still didn't feel any better, Since the original diagnosis, My stiffness has slowly increased. October 2017 my brother in-law told us about Natural Herbal Gardens where he ordered herbs that effectively treated his Parkinson’s. We ordered their multiple sclerosis herbal treatment after reading alot of positive reviews, i am happy to report this multiple sclerosis herbal treatment reversed my (MS) condition. My quality of life has greatly improved and every one of my symptoms including muscle weakness and tremors are gone. Their official web official website is ww w. naturalherbalgardens. c om. I can now go about my daily activities, I will be 64 soon.
Kayla on May 23, 2018:
Hey I'm 35 weeks and I wanna start using primrose oil but I'm afraid that it might hurt my baby does it cause any effects to the unborn child?
portia on March 14, 2018:
I HAVE BEEN TAKING EVENING PRIMROSE FOR FIVE OF MY PREGNANCIES AND THIS VITAMIN HAS WORKED MIRACLES MY CHILDREN HAVE ALL BEEN EASY DELIVERIES UNDER 4HRS NO WRINKLES HAIR GLISTENING THE WHOLE WORKS I AM ON MY SIXTH CHILD AND WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO THINK ABOUT GIVING BIRTH W/O EVENINGPRIMROSE.I HAVE RECCOMENDED THESE PILLS TO EVERYONE AND GIVE THEM TO WOMEN FOR BABYSHOWER GIFTS.I AM UR SPONSOR
Julia on December 30, 2017:
I’m alittle confused about something. Evening primrose oil increases progesterone. Progesterone is used to stop PREMATURE labor. So how would taking an oil that prevents premature labor, help me go into labor?
Kayla on January 12, 2015:
EPO has helped me a lot in pregnacy, when I went to the doctor she was amazed that I was already dilated at 38 weeks considering it's my first pregnacy. Also, has help ease the pain from my stomach disease at the same time! (Ulceractive colitis) it's great!
healthcarepro (author) from Somewhere on Earth on May 26, 2014:
Thank you DDE and kidscrafts for your encouraging comments. you're right sesame oil is also helpful..
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 08, 2014:
Primrose oil sounds a wonder oil with such useful benefits and an interesting insight to this oil makes me want to use it. An informative helpful hub.
kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on March 07, 2014:
I don't need that anymore as I will have no more children but it's always interesting. In fact I would not have needed anyway as I had speedy labors in both cases :-) Someone told me that sesame seed oil is good to help for labor too.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge! Enjoy your weekend!