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What is borage?

Borage is a large plant with blue, star-shaped flowers found throughout Europe and North Africa. The plant's seeds, flowers and leaves are used for medicinal purposes.

Borage seed oil is best known as a rich source of gammalinolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid that the body converts to a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin E1 (PGE1). PGE1 has anti-inflammatory properties and may also act as a blood thinner.

Why do we need borage? What is it used for?

The use of borage can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, where it was used as a sedative. Throughout the Middle Ages, borage leaves soaked in wine were used to relieve the symptoms of melancholy.

Borage oil is used most commonly to treat arthritis and certain skin conditions. One small study in 1993 showed that patients with rheumatoid arthritis who took 1.4 grams of borage oil daily for 24 weeks experienced significant reductions in joint tenderness and swelling compared to those using a placebo.

Other trials have shown borage oil to reduce conditions such as skin inflammation, lesions, dryness, scaliness and itching without side-effects. More recently, a small study conducted in Great Britain found that breast cancer patients taking 2.8 grams of gammalinolenic acid extracted from borage every day in conjunction with the anti-cancer drug tamoxifen had a much quicker and more pronounced response rate than those taking tamoxifen alone.

How much borage should I take?

While a recommended daily allowance has yet to be determined, the recommended adult dose of GLA from borage for rheumatoid arthritis is 1.4 grams daily for at least two months. Other amounts can be delivered topically or orally depending on the severity of the condition.

What forms of borage are available?

Although the plant's flowers and leaves are sometimes used, the most common form of borage is borage seed oil, which is made from the seeds of the borage plant. The oil can be taken orally, or it can be applied directly to the skin.

What can happen if I take too much borage? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

To date, there are no well-known drug interactions with borage. However, borage seeds do contain small amounts of substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which are known to be toxic to liver cells. Patients consuming borage oil should take a product that is PA-free and should follow the standards set by the German Health Agency, which suggests that no more than one microgram of PA be consumed daily. In addition, women who are pregnant or lactating should not take borage or GLA capsules derived from borage oil.

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1. DeSemet P. Safety of borage seed oil. Can Pharm J 1991;124:5.
2. Leventhal LJ, et al. Treatment of arthritis with gammalinolenic acid. Ann Intern Med 1993;119:867-73.
3. Tolleson A, Frithz A. Borage oil. An effective new treatment for infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis. Br J Dermatol 1993;25:95.
4. Awang DV. Borage. Can Pharm J 1990;123:121-23.
5. Humble herb offers new weapon against cancer. Reuters May 10, 2000.


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