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Borage Oil (Starflower Oil)

The Healing Power of Borage Oil

Borage oil (starflower), extracted from the seed of the blue, star shaped borage flower, is gaining much attention by alternative health practitioners and mainstream medicine alike for its profound medicinal properties. Whereas the oil is getting all the credit, it is actually the oil's active component, gamma linoleic acid (GLA), that has drawn the interest of researchers. The majority of the early studies done on GLA, dating back to the late 1940's, were conducted with the oil of evening primrose. For reasons cited in the title, More "Bang For the Buck", borage seed oil is now thought to be a superior source of GLA compared to evening primrose oil. Other plant forms and food concentrates that contain appreciable amounts of GLA include blackcurrant seed oil and spirulina.

Why GLA Supplementation?

A body with a healthy biochemistry has the ability to produce GLA from the most essential fat linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is found most abundantly in the omega 6 family of oils, including safflower, sunflower and corn oils. While it has been estimated that a majority of Americans and Europeans consume far too many omega 6 fatty acids in proportion to the beneficial omega 3 fatty acids (by approximately 10:1). Most biochemists agree an optimal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids should be approximately 1:1. Despite the obvious over consumption of the omega 6 oils rich in linoleic acid, some individuals lack the ability in converting linoleic acid to the much needed GLA.

Barlean's Omega Twin contains Flax Oil with Borage OilAs is the example with many of our modern day nutrient deficiencies, the adulteration of our food supply by today's processing methods has much to do with the faulty fat metabolism suffered by many. A prime example is the hydrogenation process utilized to convert liquid polyunsaturated oils into semi-solid, altered saturated fats for use as margarine and commercially processed foods. Hydrogenation is accomplished by subjecting the oils to temperatures in excess of 250 C, and bombarding them with hydrogen ions in the presence of the heavy metal nickel, which irreversibly changes the chemical structure of the fatty acid molecule from a healthful "cis" configuration to a dangerous "trans" configuration. When these products are eaten in excess they are known, in some cases, to block the enzymatic conversion of linoleic acid to GLA. In addition to the damaging effects of hydrogenation, certain essential fatty acid nutrient cofactor deficiencies may exist to further complicate this conversion. Vitamins pro-A, A, C, E, B-2, B-3, B-6, pantothenic acid, B-12 biotin and the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulfur and zinc are all involved in essential fatty acid (EFA) metabolism.

Particular interest should be given to those afflicted with diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis and alcoholism.

For a myriad of reasons, including cofactor deficiencies, these individuals lack the enzymatic ability to convert linoleic acid to GLA and must obtain a direct source of GLA for proper hormonal regulation. In addition, excessive consumption of animal fats containing arachidonic acid compete for the same metabolic pathways occupied by GLA, thus minimizing its biological action.

These potential negating effects can simply be diverted by consuming a food source or supplement containing GLA which bypasses any previously necessary enzymatic conversion and floods the metabolic pathways with beneficial GLA. Nutrient deficiency should also be addressed. Here lies the true power of GLA.

Prostaglandins, Biochemical Regulators

Whereas GLA is the power, the prostaglandins deliver the punch in this biological equation. Just as linoleic acid is normally converted to GLA, GLA is further converted into the prostaglandin E1 (PGE1). Many of the benefits derived from GLA supplementation are a result of the hormonal regulatory action of the prostaglandins. Just like the "parent" precursors they are made from, the hormone-like prostaglandins orchestrate a host of important biochemical activities. Their general regulatory effects include the control of arterial muscle tone, sodium excretion through the kidneys, blood platelet "stickiness," inflammatory response and immune function, just to name a few. The list may be endless as scientists continue to discover the regulating effects of prostaglandins. One way in which GLA has shown to decrease the probability of allergic and inflammatory conditions is by competing with arachidonic acid, which when left unchecked may potentiate a hyperimmune response.

Healing Power

As a result of the powerful regulating effects derived from the conversion of GLA to healthful prostaglandins, borage oil and other GLA supplements have shown to be beneficial in the treatment and relief of many classic and modern day health problems. The diseases of diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis are thought to be helped by bringing about a balance in an otherwise faulty fatty acid metabolism. According to a study released in the journal Diabetes Care, supplementation with GLA has shown promise in the reversal of diabetic neuropathy (a condition where the nerves degenerate and symptoms of pain and numbness follow). The study concluded that all diabetics should be considered for a dietary protocol of GLA. Other conditions shown to benefit include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, skin conditions, arthritis, allergies, weight loss, improved behavior of hyperactive children and increased strength of hair and nails. Cited in the book, Super Nutrition For Menopause, written by the renowned nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, is one of the most popular applications of GLA supplementation in the relief of menstrual pain. Sufferers use a maintenance dose up to the seventh day prior to menstruation, then double that dose for the duration of their menstruation. Dietary restrictions of meat, dairy and eggs during this time has also shown to compliment this regiment. Many would agree with Ms. Gittleman's credo in allowing mother nature to cure our ails before relying on synthetic drugs which often come with side effects.

More Bang For the Buck

Now comes the challenge of acquiring a GLA supplement suited to meet your needs. With the help of the information below you may maximize your desired result while at the same time stretching your dollars. Let's take a look at the facts. We will limit our narrative to the three most popular forms of GLA supplementation:

1) borage oil,

2) evening primrose oil and

3) black currant seed oil.

Potency is an important factor, as the higher the GLA content per gram, the more likelihood of greater biological activity. Borage oil contains 24% GLA, or 240 mg per 1000 mg capsule. Black currant seed oil contains 18%, or 180 mg per 1000 mg capsule and evening primrose oil contains 10% GLA, or 100 mg per 1000 mg capsule. While black currant seed may appear to run a close second to borage and have a slight edge over evening primrose, it contains a potent GLA inhibitor and should be considered last on your list. Equally, if not more important than potency, is purity. Make it practice not to purchase any oil product unless full disclosure of the method of extraction is printed on the label. If it is not, you may assume that the oil has been extracted in one of the following ways. Unfortunately, the popular use of the chemical hexane to extract oils is not required for disclosure. This method employs submerging cracked seed in a gasoline like substance (hexane) and then slowly allowing it to evaporate off yielding a 90% oil recovery. This is the most common method used to extract evening primrose oil because of the incredibly small, hard seed and low oil content. The second creative ploy is the claim that the oil has simply been extracted by a new high-tech method called Supercritical Fluid Extraction (SCFE). This process "pregrinds" the seeds then subjects them to pressures of 6000-10000 psi in the presence of the gas CO-2. Under such intense pressure CO-2 gas becomes a liquid in which the seeds are submerged, ultimately yielding a 95% oil recovery. Look for oils that are labeled as "expeller pressed" without the damaging effects of light, heat and oxygen. The products should be contained in opaque (light resistant) bottles to protect them from the damaging effects of light. Optimally, you should find them in the refrigerated section of your local health food store. Due to the higher percentage of oil contained in the borage seed, as compared to evening primrose and black current, borage is typically priced well below the others making it the most potent and economical choice. All things considered an expeller pressed borage oil, contained in an opaque plastic bottle, may provide you the absolute best source of unadulterated GLA supplementation.

One company that provides such a product and always fulfills the quality requirements listed is Barlean's Organic Oils.

References:

1. Fats and Oils, Udo Erasmus (Alive: Vancouver, 1986)
2. Fat Nutrition and Health, R. Erdmann (Thorsons, England, 1990)
3. Reversing Diabetes, J. Whitaker (Warner, USA, 1987)
4. Healing Fats, Killing Fats, Udo Erasmus (1990)
5. Beyond Pritkin, A.L. Gittleman (Ban-tam, USA, 1988)
6. Super Nutrition for Menopause, A.L. Gittleman
7. The Omega-3 Phenomenon, D. Ruden & C. Felix (Avon, 1987)
8. Evening Primrose Oil, J. Graham (Healing Arts, 1984)
9. Treatment of Diabetic Neuropathy With Gamma-Linolenic Acid, H. Keen & J. Payen (Diabe-tes Care 16 (1): 8-15, 1993)
10. Townsend Letter for Doctors, Phytotherapy Review and Commentary, Evening Primrose Oil for Diabetic Neuropathy, D. Brown (1993)

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