Evening primrose, a popular nutritional supplement, has been credited with a variety of beneficial properties.
Researchers have now found the oil may also help cancer patients recover following radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy has to be administered in doses large enough to prevent the tumours from growing. However, normal tissue is usually found within the area needing treatment. This not only limits the dose that can be given but inevitably means the surrounding tissue is likely to be damaged.
Fatima Rahbeeni, a researcher at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, has supplemented the diet of mice with evening primrose oil for two weeks before radiation therapy and four weeks after therapy. This reduced the sensitivity of normal tissue to radiation without influencing the response of the cancerous tissue to the treatment.
Evening primrose oil is an essential fatty acid, required by cells to function properly, but like vitamins, it cannot be manufactured in the body and has to be obtained from the diet.
When the fatty acids are metabolised by the body, substances called eicosanoids are produced. These seem to be important in determining the way in which normal tissue responds to the radiation damage and could explain the effect of evening primrose.