Efficacy and tolerability of borage oil in adults and children with atopic eczema: randomised, double blind, placebo controlled, parallel group trial

BMJ. 2003 Dec 13;327(7428):1385. doi: 10.1136/bmj.327.7428.1385.


Objective: To study the efficacy and tolerability of borage oil, which contains a high concentration of gamma linolenic acid, in children and adults with atopic eczema.

Design: Single centre, randomised, double blind, placebo controlled, parallel group trial.

Setting: Acute district general hospital in Nuneaton, England.

Participants: 151 patients, of whom 11 failed to return for assessment, leaving an evaluable population of 140 (including 69 children).

Intervention: Adults received four capsules of borage oil twice daily (920 mg gamma linolenic acid), and children received two capsules twice daily, for 12 weeks.

Main outcome measures: Change in total sign score at 12 weeks measured with the six area, six sign, atopic dermatitis (SASSAD) score (primary endpoint); symptom scores, assessed on visual analogue scales; topical corticosteroid requirement, assessed on a five point scale; global assessment of response by participants; adverse events and tolerability.

Results: The mean SASSAD score fell from 30 to 27 in the borage oil group and from 28 to 23 in the placebo group. The difference between the mean improvements in the two groups was 1.4 (95% confidence interval -2.2 to 5.0) points in favour of placebo (P = 0.45). No significant differences occurred between treatment groups in the other assessments. Subset analysis of adults and children did not indicate any difference in response. The treatments were well tolerated.

Conclusion: Gamma linolenic acid is not beneficial in atopic dermatitis.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Capsules
  • Child
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / drug therapy*
  • Dermatologic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Dermatologic Agents / adverse effects
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Plant Oils / administration & dosage*
  • Plant Oils / adverse effects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid / administration & dosage
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid / adverse effects


  • Capsules
  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Plant Oils
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid
  • borage oil