WHAT IS BLACK SEED
Black seed (Nigella sativa) comes from a flowering plant which grows in Southwest Asia and the Middle East. Its fruit is large and contains numerous small black seeds.
Currently the main sources of black seed are primarily India, Turkey and Egypt.
Depending on geographical regions, black seed is known by different names including black coriander, charnushka (or czarnuszka), kalonji, black onion, black caraway or black cumin. However, it shouldn’t be confused with black sesame, true cumin (Cuminum cyminum), or especially black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum) as black seed comes from a completely different plant not even related to them.
Historical accounts of black seed use date back as far as the times of Tutankhamun, famous Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who lived in 1332–1323 BC. The black seed oil was found in his tomb. Queen Cleopatra used black cumin oil to maintain beautiful skin and hair. Also Hippocrates, known as the "Father of Medicine" was recommending it for various ailments, especially digestive complaints.
NUTRITIONAL CONTENT & ACTIVE INGREDIENTS
Black seed holds a complex mixture of various ingredients with the four major ones known as Thymoquinone (TQ), Thymohydroquinone (THQ), Alpha Hederine, and Nigellon.
It is a rich source of unsaturated fatty acids Omega 6 & 9, Vitamins & Minerals, including Copper, Iron, Phosphorus and Zinc.
Black seed also contains Thymol, Nigellone, Saponins, Carvacrol, T-anethole, 4-terpineol, Carvone, Limonene, Citronellol, Alkaloids, and some Omega 3 fatty acids in the form of alpha linolenic acid.
5 ml (1 teaspoon) of cold-pressed Black seed oil contains approximately:
Linoleic Acid (Omega 6) - 2500mg
Oleic Acid (Omega 9) - 1100mg
Alpha-Linoleic Acid (Omega 3) - 10mg
Looking at the content you may think that Black seed oil can’t be so healthy because it is high in Omega 6 polyunsaturated linoleic acid which is also the key pro-inflammatory fatty acid in bad commercial refined oils such as sunflower oil, soya oil, corn oil, vegetable oil and margarines.
IS HIGH CONTENT OF OMEGA 6 IN BLACK SEED OIL A BAD THING?
The same fatty acid in Black seed oil is healthy due to the following reasons:
- Unlike the refined commercial oils, Black seed oil is cold-pressed and raw (not heated) and therefore will not generate free radicals.
- Consumption of linoleic acid with commercial bad oils is very high and therefore harmful (they are abundant in many very popular foods) but the daily intake of Black seed oil should be only 1-2 teaspoons a day.
- Linoleic acid is still an essential fatty acid which we need every day but in small amount (we need more omega 3 than omega 6).
- Part of Linoleic acid is even converted in our body to gamma linolenic acid (found especially in star flower oil and evening primrose oil) which is very beneficial for our nervous system, immune system, hormonal balance, blood glucose and cholesterol levels (>), blood pressure, and have anti-inflammatory properties (>).
- Unfortunately part of linoleic acid (omega 6) is also converted to arachidonic acid – which is known to trigger inflammation (including in the brain, thus contributing to depression and other problems) but only if its levels are high. Since Black seed oil is consumed in small amounts it is only beneficial and not harmless. The key source of arachidonic acid is meat dairy and significant amounts are also converted from mentioned above bad oils.
Published in 2013 excellent review on therapeutic potential of Nigella sativa, summarised possible health benefits of this herb in the following way: "The original research articles published so far have confirmed the pharmacological potential of N. sativa seeds, its oil and extracts and some of its active principles, particularly TQ and alpha-hederin, possess remarkable in vitro and in vivo pharmacological activities against a large variety of diseases and found to be relatively safe." (>)
Thymoquinone acts as a free radical scavenger and helps preserve in the body the most powerful antioxidant enzymes glutathione peroxidase and glutathione-S-transferase, known as key detoxifiers which protect body cells and liver against damage caused by various toxins.
Apart from thymoquinone several other compounds found in Nigella sativa, such as carvacrol, t-anethole and 4-terpineol, are responsible for its potent antioxidant properties (>).
Thymohydroquinone, one of the key active ingredients of Nigella sativa, is now regarded as one of the most potent natural acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors which inhibit the acetylcholinesterase enzyme from breaking down acetylcholine. In this way thymohydroquinone prolongs the time the neurotransmitter acetylcholine remains active in the brain.
It means that without causing side effects Nigella sativa could replace the pharmaceutical-grade acetylcholinesterase inhibitors that are used to treat a wide range of conditions, including glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, myasthenia gravis, neurodegenerative conditions or schizophrenia! (>)
ALLERGIES & ASTHMA
Black seed oil contains nigellone, shown by research to be an impressive antihistamine agent, which can be very beneficial in helping reduce symptoms of allergies and hay fever that are associated with increased levels of histamine.
In a 2011 study published in American Journal of Otolaryngology, black seed oil was found to reduce allergic symptoms including nasal congestion, itching, runny nose, and sneezing after two weeks.
Apart from being beneficial for relieving allergies black seed oil has been traditionally used for centuries for easing respiratory problems including asthma. Nigella sativa helps asthmatic in many different ways, it lowers histamine levels (>), kills bacteria that often trigger or contribute to asthma, has anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating properties (>), and dilates contracted bronchial tubes improving breathing during asthma attack.
Numerous studies have provided evidence that black seed oil has anti-allergic and anti-asthmatic effects and that depending on the cause of asthma, black seed oil sometimes appeared to be more effective than conventional treatment. In one study, thymoquinone, the main constituent of Nigella sativa (Black seed) has shown to be superior to the drug fluticasone in an animal model of asthma (>).
Found in Nigella sativa compound nigellone has been researched and proven to have anti-spasmodic effect dilating the bronchial tubes and bringing relief to asthma sufferers.
Black seed oil also helps through its anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating properties as asthma is associated with inflammation and hypersensitivity of the immune.
Black seed was more commonly used against asthma in Europe after certain experience which took place in Germany in 1995 when certain doctor managed to cure his horse from acute asthma using Black seed. After that the doctor prescribed black seed to one of his patients who as a result also got better and eventually recovered from asthma. That is probably one of the reasons why in Germany and Austria black seed oil is commonly prescribed for asthma.
Asthma sufferers who would like to try black seed oil should start with a low dose of not more than half teaspoon once a day for about a week. Then the same amount but two times a day for another week and continue increasing the dosage in the same way up to one full teaspoon three times per day.
DIABETES & BLOOD GLUCOSE
Scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research concluded that Nigella sativa oil, “causes gradual partial regeneration of pancreatic beta-cells, increases the lowered serum insulin concentrations and decreases the elevated serum glucose.” (>) It means that Black seed is one of the few remedies that could help prevent and treat not type 2 but also type 1 diabetes in which own immune system destroys insulin producing pancreatic beta cells!
In addition, according to the same study, Nigella sativa “improves glucose tolerance as efficiently as metformin; yet it has not shown significant adverse effects and has very low toxicity.”
Research has shown that Black Seed Oil supplementation improves insulin sensitivity and helps maintain normal blood sugar levels. According to the results of a 20016 systematic review on clinical trials, “Fasting blood sugar was reduced significantly in 13 studies. In addition, Nigella sativa reduced levels of glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c)… Our systematic review revealed that N. sativa supplementation might be effective in glycemic control in humans.” (>)
In a recent animal study, it was found that black seed oil supports liver function and helps prevent both liver damage and various diseases of this organ. (>)
In preliminary studies, black seed oil was shown to inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells without causing any negative side effects.
According to research, thymoquinone (the key ingredient in black seed oil), helps induce apoptosis (cancer cell death) in leukaemia cells. Other studies have shown similar effect with regards to breast, pancreatic, cervical, and oral cancer cells as well as brain tumours. (>, >, >, >)
Animal studies found that both thymoquinone and thymohydroquinone have antitumour activity and resulted in a 52 % decrease in tumour cells. (>)
Black seed oil can be used as a natural addition to fluoride-free tooth pastes as it has the ability to kill cavity-forming bacteria (>).
CANDIDA AND FUNGUS
Black seed oil helps fight Candida overgrowth, thrush and fungal infections in the digestive tract and on the skin. In thrush it can be used both internally and externally.
Thymoquinone in black seed oil has been found to lower cholesterol levels, help normalize blood pressure and have a protective effect on the heart.
After six weeks of given the diabetic animal subjects low doses of black seed, bad LDL cholesterol and sugar levels all came down while beneficial HDL cholesterol increased. (>)
Some research also demonstrated that the same black seed oil may be helpful in lowering high blood pressure. (>)
ANTIBACTERIAL & ANTIVIRAL
Nigella sativa contains thymol (found also in thyme essential oil), a natural monoterpene which is commonly used as a medical and general-purpose disinfectant to kill various viruses and bacteria, including TB.
According to a 2010 study Nigella sativa oil was effective in overcoming the Helicobacter pylori infections, which is known to contribute to stomach ulcers.
At the same time it appears to be able to kill MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
Nigella sativa seems to be effective in killing various multi-drug resistant bacteria known as “superbugs”. A study conducted by Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College researchers has evaluated how potent Nigella sativa oil is against some of these superbugs compared to antibiotics, such as Tetracycline, Amoxicillin, or Gatifloxacin. According to the study, “Out of 144 strains tested, most of which were resistant to a number of antibiotics, 97 were inhibited by the oil of black cumin.” (>) The researchers suggested that few things on the planet can boast this type of potency to pathogens as thymoquinone, thymohydroquinone and thymol found in black seed.
In an animal study, 20 rats with stomach ulcers were treated using Nigella sativa. As a result about 83% of rats recovered. In addition, black seed caused mo side effects and turned to be as effective as a common medication used to treat stomach ulcers (>).
Another animal study showed that black seed and its active components prevented ulcer development and protected the lining of the stomach against the effects of alcohol (>).
According to a 2010 study Nigella sativa oil was effective in overcoming the Helicobacter pylori infections, which is known to contribute to stomach ulcers (>).
A 2012 study results indicate that thymoquinone (TQ) administration can prevent and improve murine DSS-induced colitis. These findings suggest that TQ could serve as a potential therapeutic agent for the treatment of patients with inflammatory bowel disease (>)
Unlike Echinacea that require caution for those with autoimmune conditions, Nigella sativa seems to normalise human immune system supporting its function without stimulating autoimmune responses in people with oversensitive immune system. For this reason black seed oil is often recommended for people with various autoimmune problems. Due to its anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating properties black seed oil can be beneficial for people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (>) and other autoimmune inflammatory conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
There are numerous testimonials available online written by individuals who claim to be benefited by Nigella sativa.
Nigella sativa reduced autoimmune brain inflammation in rats with Multiple Sclerosis (>).
HIV & AIDS
Nigella sativa has been used with surprising results in alternative HIV protocols for years. This was a remarkable discovery, described by the researchers as follows: “Nigella sativa had been documented to possess many therapeutic functions in medicine but the least expected is sero-reversion in HIV infection which is very rare despite extensive therapy with highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART).” (>)
“Complete recovery and sero-reversion of adult HIV patient after the six months treatment with Nigella sativa.”
“Several repeats of the HIV tests remained sero-negative, aviraemia and normal CD4 count since 24 months without herbal therapy.” It means that two years after the treatment with Black seed was over there was no HIV nor antibodies against it found in the body and the helper T cell count (type of immune cells attacked by HIV) was normal!
“This case report reflects the fact that there are possible therapeutic agents in Nigella sativa that may effectively control HIV infection.”
Read more about HIV and AIDS >
ANXIETY & BRAIN FUNCTION
Also in a human 4 weeks study it decreased anxiety and improved mood and cognition in 48 adolescent male subjects. The treated participants took daily dose of 1g of black cumin in capsule form (>).
WEIGHT CONTROL & METABOLISM
It helps maintain normal body weight by improving metabolism. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2018 mentions the findings of 11 placebo-controlled clinical studies that show the ability of a Nigella sativa to help decrease body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (>).
SKIN & HAIR
Used externally, black seed oil promotes smooth and glowing skin and lustrous hair by supporting hair growth. It may also hydrate hair, soften skin and act as a moisturiser helping people with dry skin and scalp.
Some studies suggest that Nigella sativa may be a very useful reduce scars and to prevent their formation on wounds.
Topically black seed oil is also used in acne, eczema and thrush.
According to Iranian researchers, Black seed can be as effective as the skin cream Betamethasone in decreasing severity of eczema. (>)
Researchers found that black seed oil improved sperm count, sperm motility and semen volume in men. (>) According to a scientific review of studies that took place between 2000 and 2014, Nigella sativa can “positively influence sperm parameters, semen, reproductive organs and sexual hormones.” (>)
It also helps women to recover from PCOS (caused by insulin resistance), the most frequent cause of infertility in women.
Read more about INFERTILITY >
Some glaucoma sufferers claim black seed help them to minimise symptoms by reducing pressure in the eye (often key cause of the condition).
Here is an example of testimonial posted by Khadar (Seattle, Wa) on 04/17/2016: “I had a glaucoma pressure over 18-20, which is not bad, but enough to bother me. What I found is Black seed oil and dried seeds which helped me really well.” (>)
Black seed oil also helps glaucoma sufferers by increasing acetylcholine levels (>).
Rea more about GLAUCOMA >
ECZEMA & PSORIASIS
Black seed oil is also used for skin problems like eczema and psoriasis. It helps soothe inflammation and improve the speed and which skin heals.
Black cumin seeds and oil are carminative, which means they can support digestion and decrease digestive problems including gas, bloating, and stomach pain (>).
Black seed oil is often recommended and successfully used for intestinal parasites especially when combined with other natural remedies such as Wormwood (>).
Nigella sativa was able to prevent seizures and convulsions (in several animal studies) and had anti-epileptic activity in children through its neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, calming & stress-relieving effect (>).
OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS
Black seed oil is helpful for the maintenance of a healthy nervous system. It stimulates immune system (by increasing immunoglobulin production), helps fight infections, can be useful in managing headaches, sinusitis and bronchitis. It helps decrease body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.
RECOMMENDED DAILY INTAKE
Internally take one teaspoon (5ml) of the oil one to not more than three times a day with meals. Can also be used in salad dressing.
For external use, it can be used alone or mixed with equal amount of other cold-pressed oils such as raw coconut oil or castor oil and applied to the skin as part of a daily skincare routine and to hair as an excellent hair tonic.
It’s possible that black seed oil can increase the effects of certain medications including beta-blockers such as metoprolol (Lopressor) and the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin) as black seed oil may slow blood clotting and together with warfarin it may increase the risk of bleeding.
Since there is insufficient scientific data available concerning safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding talk to your doctor before using black seed oil if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are currently taking any medication or having a medical condition.
In people with oversensitive immune system black seed may cause an allergic rash when taken by mouth or applied to the skin.
Therefore, before using black cumin essential oil topically, it’s a good idea to perform a patch test to make sure you don’t have a negative reaction to the oil. In order to perform a patch test, put some oil on a plaster, apply to your wrist and leave for 24-48 hours. If after that time you develop inflammation, irritation and rush it means you are allergic to the applied substance.
QUALITY & STORAGE
As with any natural oil, buying a Black seed oil check the shelf life (the fresher it is the better) and make sure it is 100% pure cold-pressed oil without any other oils or additives, stored in a dimmed container and fortified with added antioxidant such as vitamin E to prevent its oxidation and rancidity. HealthAid Black Seed Oil is a good example which meets all the mentioned above criteria >
As with all oils, make sure to store your black seed oil away from heat and light. Store it in a fridge and use in 1 to not more than 2-3 months.
Written by Slawomir Gromadzki, MPH
- A review on therapeutic potential of Nigella sativa: A miracle herb https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3642442/
- Lei X, Liu M, Yang Z, Ji M, Guo X, Dong W. (2012) Thymoquinone Prevents and ameliorates dextran sulfate sodium-induced colitis in mice. Dig Dis Sci. 2012;57(9):2296–2303.
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