New York, NY (July 31, 2006) - Cream rich in an omega-6 fatty acid helps ease itchy skin, according to a new report in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, the official publication of the National Kidney Foundation.
A group of researchers based in Taiwan found that people undergoing dialysis to treat kidney failure who developed very itchy skin -- a condition called pruritus -- improved significantly after using a cream containing gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
These findings suggest that GLA-rich substances — such as evening primrose oil, borage oil, black currant oil, and hemp seed oil — may help ease one of the most bothersome side effects of kidney disease, says David Warnock, MD, President of the National Kidney Foundation and director of the Division of Nephrology at University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Pruritus is a common skin condition that makes people feel itchy and want to scratch their skin constantly. It's often not clear what causes the itch, and the condition can be maddening, creating anxiety, disrupting sleep and even causing depression.
Unfortunately, up to 8 out of 10 people undergoing dialysis develop pruritus, and there's no easy solution. Patients try acupuncture, UVB phototherapy, steroid creams, among other therapies, but often report the treatments don't work or even make the itching worse.
During the study, the researchers asked 17 people undergoing dialysis with pruritus that hadn't gone away with treatment to either try a placebo cream followed by a GLA-rich cream, or start with the GLA cream followed by a placebo. Each treatment period lasted two weeks.
The researchers found that the GLA-rich cream eased the itch significantly better than the placebo cream, soothing pruritus by an average of 40-50%.
One woman developed a skin rash after using the cream, but no participants reported nausea, diarrhea, or any other side effects linked to the GLA cream.
It's unclear why GLA-rich cream works, the authors note, suggesting it may reduce inflammation, or somehow affect the immune system.
"The bottom line here is that GLA-rich creams work," says Dr. Warnock. "I recommend that patients treated with dialysis who have persistently itchy skin ask their doctors if this treatment is appropriate for them."
The National Kidney Foundation is dedicated to preventing kidney and urinary tract diseases, improving the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases and increasing the availability of all organs for transplantation. For more information, visit www.kidney.org.