Learn More About Gamma Lineolic Acid (GLA)
Scientists classify gamma-linolenic acid (also known as GLA) as 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 that the body uses to make various hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins and leukotrienes. These substances influence inflammation and pain. For that reason GLA in the right amounts may tip the body’s inflammatory state in a favorable direction, making it potentially useful for various illnesses such as arthritis and dermatitis.
What are food sources of GLA?
Very little GLA is found in the diet. To a limited extent we can find GLA naturally in the diet in human breast milk, cold-water fish, and in organ meats such as liver, but at very low concentrations. More practical supplemental sources include evening primrose oil, black currant oil, borage oil, and hemp oil, although these are seldom eaten as food.
What is GLA used for?
The body ordinarily makes all the GLA it needs from linoleic acid. In certain circumstances, however, the body may not be able to convert linoleic acid to GLA efficiently. These include advanced age, diabetes, high alcohol intake, eczema, viral infections, excessive saturated fat intake, elevated cholesterol levels, and deficiencies of vitamin B-6, zinc, magnesium, biotin, or calcium. In such cases, GLA supplements may make up for a genuine deficiency, and help in dealing with such health issues as neuropathy, arthritis, eczema, perhaps even obesity.
The high blood sugar levels associated with diabetic neuropathy can cause the gradual degeneration of nerve tissue, which in turn can cause symptoms ranging from numbness and tingling to limb amputation. There is some evidence that GLA can be helpful, if the supplement is taken long-term. One placebo controlled, double-blind study involving 111 people showed that the GLA-supplemented group did markedly better than the placebo group. Good results have also been seen in other, smaller studies.. (Not that some of this research suggests that GLA can be even more effective when combined with the powerful antioxidant lipoic acid.)
Monthly hormonal swings can disrupt the body’s production of GLA, which perhaps explains the traditional use of such GLA-rich nutrients as borage oil and evening primrose oil for PMS and menopause-related hot flashes. Studies suggest that daily use of GLA can offer relief from such irritating symptoms as cramps, breast tenderness, water retention and grouchiness, and might promote hormonal production support.
In one promising study, scientists randomly assigned 56 patients with rheumatoid arthritis to take 2,800 milligrams a day of either GLA or a sunflower oil placebo for six months. The patients that took GLA were more than six times more likely to have significant improvement in their symptoms, especially tender joints. The placebo group showed no significant improvement. In fact, they were more than three times more likely to have their symptoms worsen. For another six-month period, all of the patients in the study received GLA, and all showed improvement in their symptoms. For those who received GLA throughout the study, that improvement was progressive, and a number of patients in this group reduced their reliance on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or prednisone.
One study involving the use of GLA for atopic dermatitis, a kind of eczema, Researchers divided eczema patients into two groups, one receiving received GLA twice a day, with the second receiving a placebo. After 12 weeks, patients in the GLA group reported significantly less itching and redness. They were also able to reduce the use of drugs commonly used to treat the disease.
University of California researchers contend that GLA supplements can help benefitpeople who were formerly obese but lost considerable weight. They base this on their study conducted on fifty formerly overweight volunteers divided into two groups. For a year the first group took 900 mg of GLA from borage oil each day, while the control group instead received the same amount of olive oil. While both the GLA and placebo groups showed some weight regain, by far the lowest regain was observed among those given GLA. This and other work has led some scientists to speculate that GLA supplementation increases the activity of brown fat, a type of adipose tissue that promotes the burning of calories. If true, that would make it a thermogenic agent that might aid in the reduction of unwanted body fat. More work is definitely needed in this area.
How is GLA taken?
Gamma linolenic acid is available in liquid and capsule form, usually as a natural ingredient in black currant oil, borage oil, or evening primrose oil. The amount of GLA contained in the different types of supplements varies, with black currant oil containing the lowest amount, evening primrose oil the medium-range amount, and borage oil the greatest amount. Dosages of GLA as a supplement are generally in the range of 500 mg to 3,000 mg per day.
Is GLA safe?
At this time GLA appears to be quite safe (it is even found in mother’s milk), but as always, those on prescription drugs or with serious medical issues should consult with a knowledgeable health professional before using this or any other supplement.
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