Meta-analysis of placebo-controlled studies of the efficacy of Epogam in the treatment of atopic eczema. Relationship between plasma essential fatty acid changes and clinical response

Br J Dermatol. 1989 Jul;121(1):75-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.1989.tb01403.x.


Gamma-linolenic acid in the form of a particular variety of evening primrose oil (Epogam) has been reported of value in the treatment of atopic eczema. Nine controlled trials of evening primrose oil were performed in eight centres. Four of the trials were parallel and five cross-over. Doctors and patients assessed the severity of eczema by scoring measures of inflammation, dryness, scaliness, pruritus and overall skin involvement. Individual symptom scores were combined to give a single global score at each assessment point. In the analysis of the parallel studies, both patient and doctor scores showed a highly significant improvement over baseline (P less than 0.0001) due to Epogam: for both scores the effect of Epogam was significantly better than placebo. Similar results were obtained on analysis of the cross-over trials, but in this case the difference between Epogam and placebo in the doctors' global score, although in favour of Epogam, failed to reach significance. The effects on itch were particularly striking. There was no placebo response to this symptom, whereas there was a substantial and highly significant response to Epogam (P less than 0.0001). When the improvements, or otherwise, in clinical condition were related to changes in plasma levels of dihomogammalinolenic and arachidoni acids, it was found that there was a positive correlation between an improvement in clinical score and a rise in the fatty acid levels.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / blood
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / drug therapy*
  • Dermatologic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Fatty Acids, Essential / blood*
  • Fatty Acids, Essential / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Linoleic Acids
  • Male
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Middle Aged
  • Placebos
  • Plant Oils
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Fatty Acids, Essential
  • Linoleic Acids
  • Placebos
  • Plant Oils
  • evening primrose oil
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid