Borage seed oil found to mitigate effects of radiation therapy on the liver

Also known as starflower, borage (Borago officinalis) is an herbaceous flowering plant most known for being the source of borage oil. Like many other plant-based oils, borage oil contains a powerful anti-inflammatory compound known as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA); however, borage oil is unique in that its GLA content is remarkably high.

With this in mind, a team of Saudi Arabian and Egyptian researchers set out to determine the efficacy of borage oil against gamma radiation-induced hepatotoxicity, a potential side effect of radiation therapy.

First, the investigators obtained fresh borage oil by crushing and cold pressing borage seeds. Next, they brought in 60 rats that were divided into five groups containing 12 rats each. The groups were comprised of the following:

  • The first group, which was designated as the control group.
  • The second group or irradiated group, wherein the rats were all exposed to a single, sub-lethal dose of whole-body gamma radiation.
  • The third group or borage group, none of which were irradiated and were instead given borage oil through an oral gavage.
  • The fourth group, which was composed of rats that were administered the same amount of borage oil as the third group for two weeks following irradiation.
  • The fifth group, wherein the rats received borage oil daily a week prior to irradiation and continued to receive this treatment until the experiment concluded.

All of the rats were placed on the standard AIN-93 diet and were given water whenever needed. Six of the rats were euthanized the seventh day after irradiation. The remaining six were also euthanized on 15th and final day of the experiment. In addition to collecting blood samples from all the rats, the researchers took liver samples as well.

One aspect of the study was to determine the fatty acids composition of borage oil. They noted that it was made up largely of unsaturated fatty acids, with most of it consisting of unsaturated linoleic acid, GLA, and oleic acid. Other identified compounds included lauric acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, and arachidic acid.

As for the effects of borage oil on irradiation, the researchers discovered that it improved the serum levels of alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), and gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT). All of these serve as indicators of potential liver disease or damage, according to Among the rats from the fourth group, their ALT, AST, ALP, and GGT levels had all dipped considerably. But the researchers found the most significant improvement in the fifth group, leading them to state that borage oil was most effective before and after irradiation.

Both groups continued to show positive results when tested for glutathione (GSH) and lipid peroxide. The irradiated rats who received no treatment displayed markedly lower serum and hepatic activities but higher lipid peroxide (malondialdehyde) (MDA) levels. These were reversed in the rats of the fourth and fifth groups.

“The protective effect of BO on liver in this study can be related to its function of scavenging free radicals and to its high content of GLA,” the researchers wrote. They explained that borage oil by itself already had a potent protective effect thanks to its fatty acid composition, but the presence of GLA in copious amounts greatly enhanced it. (Related: Borage oil has incredible anti-inflammatory properties and is great for your skin.)

“The mechanisms of [borage oil] that provide protection against gamma-irradiation-induced toxicity may be explained by its antioxidant activity, inhibition of MDA, and prevention against GSH depletion due to its high content of GLA. Therefore, [borage oil] may be used as a beneficial supplement for patients during radiotherapy treatment,” they noted in their conclusion.

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