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GLA & Weight Loss

By Sandi Busch

Gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA, is an omega-6 fatty acid that’s good for you. Like the healthy fatty acids found in fish oil, the omega-3 fatty acids, GLA has an anti-inflammatory influence in your body. While there's little evidence that suggests GLA helps you lose weight, it may show more promise for keeping the weight off after it’s lost. Consult your health care provider before taking GLA supplements, especially if you’re pregnant or you take medications.

GLA Sources and Benefits

Chances are you don’t get much GLA through your diet. A trace amount of GLA is found in green leafy vegetables and some nuts. Otherwise, the primary sources are borage oil, black currant seed oil and evening primrose oil. Most people consume larger quantities of another omega-6 fatty acid -- linoleic acid --- from foods such as nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, and once digested, it’s converted into GLA. Then GLA undergoes additional changes to become dihomogamma linolenic acid, or DGLA. DGLA works to fight inflammation and regulates genes that are vital for a healthy immune system, according to a report in “Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology” in December 2006.

Weight Loss Research

GLA in the form of evening primrose oil resulted in a small amount of weight loss in people with a family history of obesity, according to a study published in 1986 and cited by NYU Langone Medical Center. In laboratory studies using rats, GLA from borage oil helped decrease the accumulation of body fat, reported a study in “Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology” in October 2000. The study noted that GLA may prevent the synthesis of brown fat cells, while enhancing the breakdown of fat in the liver. But more research is needed to verify whether GLA is effective for burning fat.

Prevent Weight Regain

Researchers from the University of California, Davis conducted a study with people who had successfully lost weight. Half the group took GLA in the form of borage oil, while the other half took similar-looking olive oil capsules. After one year, weight regain in the GLA group averaged 2 pounds, compared to nearly 9 pounds in the other group. The researchers concluded that GLA reduced the amount of weight regain following major weight loss, according to their report published in the “Journal of Nutrition” in June 2007.

Safety Considerations

Pregnant women should not take GLA supplements, especially borage oil, because it may increase the risk of premature labor, reports the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. When you buy borage oil, be sure it’s certified free of unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids, or UPAs, because they’re toxic to your liver. If you have a seizure disorder, you should avoid GLA, especially in the form of evening primrose oil, because it may increase the risk of seizures. Borage oil may interact with antidepressant medications and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, while primrose oil has the potential to interfere with anticoagulant and antipsychotic medications.

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