We often hear that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for our health, but what about omega-6? The four fatty acids in this category are not all the same and their qualities differ. One, however, has been associated with numerous health benefits for women, and it’s called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
What is gamma-linolenic acid?
Gamma-linolenic acid is one of the four types of omega-6 fatty acids—the other three are linoleic acid, arachidonic acid, and conjugated linoleic acid. Omega-6s are also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids.
GLA is most commonly found in evening primrose seeds but can be found in black currant seed oil, hemp seed oil, and borage seed oil as well. It has a long history of use in folk medicine for reducing swelling and other health concerns.
Linoleic and arachidonic acid tend to promote inflammation, but GLA can reduce it. Although there isn’t much research on the impact of GLA on inflammation in humans, one review explained the role of this omega-6 “in modulating inflammatory response, and hence its potential applications as an anti-inflammatory nutrient.” It’s known that when GLA supplements enter the body, much of it is converted into DGLA (dihomogamma linolenic acid), a substance that fights inflammation.
How GLA can help women in menopause
GLA supplements may provide women in perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause with a variety of benefits associated with symptoms that are affecting their lives. For example:
Diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy is a common problem among individuals with diabetes. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, individuals with mild diabetic neuropathy showed improvement after taking GLA supplements at a dose of 480 mg daily over one year.
Rheumatoid arthritis. Aches and pains typically increase during menopause, and the drop in estrogen can impact symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. A study in Nutrients reported that individuals with rheumatoid arthritis who took GLA plus omega-3 fatty acids experienced significant improvement in symptoms after 12 weeks of treatment.
Menopause symptoms. There is some evidence from an animal study that GLA may help alleviate menopausal symptoms. The study, which was conducted in rats that had had their ovaries removed, indicated that GLA has estrogen-like properties and thus may help with symptoms associated with declining estrogen. More research is needed, however.
Skin problems. Declining estrogen is associated with a number of skin problems such as eczema and other types of dermatitis. In one study, adults who took 4 to 6 grams of evening primrose oil daily experienced a decline in the recurrence and severity of atopic dermatitis after using the supplement for 12 weeks.
Bone health. Individuals who have low levels of both GLA and EPA (an omega-3 fatty acid) have a greater chance of experiencing bone loss than those who have greater levels of these fatty acids. In a study of 65 women with a mean age of 79 years, the use of omega-3 and GLA supplements showed an increase in bone density and a decrease in bone turnover.
How to use GLA supplements
GLA supplements are available alone or in combination with other fatty acids. When taken in combination, the supplement provides a balance of omega-3 and omega-6, as well as omega-7 and omega-9.
For optimal health, it’s important to maintain a balance between omega-3s and omega-6s. Typically individuals consume too little omega-3 and too much omega-6, with a ratio of around 20:1 or 30:1. A healthy ratio is considered to be 4:1.
The omega-6 GLA is a beneficial supplement for women in the menopause years. Its ability to fight inflammation and provide some relief for various menopausal symptoms makes it a supplement to consider.