Borage oil for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy - new uses for this source of omega 6 fatty acids

Published on July 27, 2016 by Dr. NavNirat Nibber

Omega6 and Inflammation
As the popularity of fish oils increases it seems that omega6 fatty acids have garnered a bad reputation often referred to as the “inflammatory” fatty acids. This may be due to the fact the omega6 fatty acids such as arachidonic acid (AA) are directly related to an increase in eicosanoids which induce inflammatory pathways. While chronic inflammation can be detrimental, it is very important for the body to have a highly calibrated system in place. Problems arise when the equilibrium is pushed too far to one side. For example, the ratio of omega6/omega3 fatty acids has grown to be almost 20:1 in the North American diet. That being said, not all omega6 fatty acids are created equal. An important omega6, gammalinoleic acid (GLA) is mostly essential, therefore must be obtained through the diet as very little is produced by the body. It has been shown to be less inflammatory and has many clinical studies demonstrating its benefit in a number of conditions from mastitis to brain function.

The body is technically capable of naturally producing GLA, by converting linoleic acid (LA). This is a true essential fatty acid that the body is unable to make and must be ingested as part of the everyday diet. Fortunately, most people get plenty of LA in their daily diet, since it is commonly found in almost all edible vegetable oils. Once LA is ingested, it is acted upon by an enzyme called delta6desaturase (D6D) which biochemically converts LA to GLA. This is how the body gets its daily fix of GLA. Without the effective functioning of D6D, the body is unable to manufacture any GLA no matter how much LA is ingested. Thus, GLA is often supplemented. GLA is further converted via a sequence of biochemical steps into DGLA which goes on to produce prostaglandin 1 (PGE1), a key molecule with numerous biological properties including:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Dermatology (e.g. eczema)
  • Anti-allergy
  • Nerve transmission
  • Secretion from the mucus membrane
  • PMS
  • Steroid production and hormone synthesis

PGE1 blocks the use of AA and creates anti-inflammatory products. Thus, it is beneficial for use in the management of autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. GLA supplementation has also shown benefits in treatment of diabetic neuropathy, post viral fatigue, allergies, ADHD, and acne, and it supports hair growth. Further, it is involved in proper brain development and function.

Amount of GLA in Borage oil
GLA was initially discovered in the oil of evening primrose seeds (where GLA content is 79%). This oil became well known with the public, health professionals, and in health stores. Then GLA
was also discovered in borage and black current in higher amounts, 24% and 17% respectively. Borage is a plant with star shaped, periwinkle-blue flowers. The plant produces a dark, rich oil
with a higher potency and bioavailability of GLA than evening primrose oil.

Diabetic associated neuropathy
A 1 year study observed 111 patients with mild diabetic neuropathy who were treated with 480mg of GLA per day and assessed for 16 parameters including tendon reflexes, muscle strength, hot and cold sensation, etc. For all parameters, the changes were more favorable and statistically significant in the GLA group. The conclusion was that GLA had beneficial effects on the course of diabetic associated neuropathy.

Keen H, Payan J, Allawi J, Walker J, Jamal GA, Weir AI, Henderson LM, Bissessar EA, Watkins PJ, Sampson M, et al. “Treatment of diabetic neuropathy with gammalinolenic
acid. The gamma Linolenic Acid Multicenter Trial Group.” Diabetes Care 1993 Jan; 16(1): 815.

Dobryniewski J1, Szajda SD, Waszkiewicz N, Zwierz K.[The gammalinolenic acid (GLA)the
therapeutic value]. Przegl Lek. 2007;64(2):1002.

Horrobin DF. The use of gammalinolenic acid in diabetic neuropathy. Agents Actions Suppl. 1992;37:12044.