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What Does GLA Do for the Body and Brain?

By Clay McNight

Gamma linoleic acid, also known as GLA, is an omega-6 fatty acid with a number of potential uses, which include treating rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat important for brain function. Polyunsaturated fats, in general, help maintain the reproductive system and promote healthy skin and hair as well as regulate the metabolic system. GLA is found in plant seed oils, including evening primrose, black currant and borage, as well as in fungal oils and spirulina.

Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is a marker of many degenerative and chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. Gamma linoleic acid may be an important factor in reducing inflammatory responses, according to a December 2006 article published in "Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology." GLA can help promote the expression of certain genes that play an important role in immune function and cancer cell death. These anti-inflammatory effects are likely responsible for GLA's potential in treating rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Taking GLA supplements for one to three months may help reduce pain, swelling and morning stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center website.

Improve Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder

The human brain is nearly 60 percent fat. This means that GLA, other omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids are all essential for normal brain function and behavior. The UMMC website notes that there is evidence that taking GLA may help improve attention deficit hyperactive disorder, a very common brain-related disorder. A meta-analysis published in the February 2014 issue of "Prostaglandins, Leukorienes and Essential Fatty Acids" examined 18 studies and found that polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially GLA and eicosapentaenoic acid, could provide a modest benefit in treating ADHD symptoms.

Maintain Weight Loss

GLA may play a role in maintaining a healthy body weight. One study published in the June 2007 issue of "The Journal of Nutrition" indicates that GLA can reduce weight gain following major weight loss. In this study, formerly obese participants were administered 890 milligrams of GLA per day, as 5 grams of borage oil, or 5 grams of olive oil, for a one-year period. The study found that those who were given the GLA regained less weight than participants who did not take the GLA, suggesting that GLA may be useful in preventing weight gain in individuals prone to obesity.


GLA was once commonly used as a treatment for eczema, a skin condition, notes NYU Langone Medical Center website. However, the evidence regarding this use is mixed. One study published in the April 2013 issue of "The Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews" concluded that ingesting either borage oil or evening primrose oil did not have any effect on eczema. While the evidence regarding GLA and eczema is mixed, it may be worth talking to your doctor about this option.

Sources of GLA

GLA is found only in very small amounts in a typical diet. However, your body can produce GLA from linoleic acid, another fat that is found in many foods. Under certain circumstances, such as if an individual is elderly or has eczema, diabetes, a viral infection, high cholesterol levels, excessive saturated fat intake and certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies, the body may not be able to produce adequate amounts of GLA. In these situations, taking GLA supplements may make up for a deficiency. Keep in mind that you should consult with your doctor before taking dietary supplements.

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