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Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA)
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA)?

GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) is one of the two main types of essential fatty acids. These are "good" fats that are as necessary for your health as vitamins. Specifically, GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid. (For more information on the other major category of essential fatty acids, omega-3, see the article on fish oil .)

The body uses essential fatty acids to make various prostaglandins and leukotrienes. These substances influence inflammation and pain; some of them increase symptoms, while others decrease them. Taking GLA may swing the balance over to the more favorable prostaglandins and leukotrienes, making it helpful for diseases that involve inflammation.

There is some evidence that GLA may be helpful for diabetic neuropathy . The supplement is widely used in the UK and...

GLA has shown some promise for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy , 1 a complication of diabetes . This condition consists of pain and/or numbness due to progressive nerve damage. However, supporting evidence that GLA is effective for this use is quite limited.

Perhaps the most common use of GLA has been as a treatment for eczema . It was once widely dispensed for this purpose by the British healthcare system, but the balance of the evidence indicates that for eczema, GLA is just a placebo treatment. 2 GLA is also a popular treatment for cyclic mastalgia (breast pain that cycles with the menstrual period), but the evidence regarding its effectiveness is more negative than positive. 3 GLA is additionally said to be useful for general premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms,...

Safety Issues

Most of the safety information we have regarding GLA comes from experience with evening primrose oil.

Animal studies suggest that evening primrose oil is completely nontoxic and noncarcinogenic. 4 More than 4,000 people have taken GLA or evening primrose oil in scientific studies, and no significant adverse effects have ever been noted.

Early reports suggested the possibility that GLA might worsen temporal lobe epilepsy, but there has been no later confirmation. 5 The maximum safe dosage of GLA for young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.