Nigella sativa (black cumin) is a hot “new” herb (pun intended) that has actually been used for thousands of years.
Black seed is known as the curative black cumin in the Bible and is described as the
Melanthion of Hippocrates and Discroides and as the Gith of Pliny.
It is considered as a medicinal herb with some religious usage, calling it the “remedy for all diseases except death” (Prophetic Hadith) and Habatul Baraka “the Blessed Seed”.
Black cumin seed constituents look as follow.
The black cumin oil consists of main components such as tocopherols, phytosterols, thymoquinone (TQ), ρ-cymene, carvacrol, t-anethole, and 4-terpineol.
Black cumin seeds have many health benefits, including potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiparasitic, anticancer, hypoglycemic, antihypertensive, antiasthmatic, etc.
It’s been shown to be helpful for asthma, bronchitis, inflammation, eczema, fever, influenza, hypertension, cough, headache, dizziness, diabetes, kidney and liver dysfunctions, nervous disorders, rheumatism, cancer and related inflammatory diseases, gastrointestinal problems, and overall for general wellbeing.
Let’s dive into a few of these.
As a disclaimer, many of the studies are either done in vitro or in animals using specifically thymoquinone (TQ), whereas most human studies use black cumin seed powder or oil.
Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, gut protective, etc.
TQ has anti-bacterial activity against some pathological bacterial strains, including Escherichia coli, Streptococcus faecalis, Staphylococcus aureus, Peudomonas aeruginosa, and Bacillus subtilis (R).
TQ potentiates the anti-biotic properties of anti-biotics, or at least tetracycline according to this study. TQ reduced the tetracycline MICs (minimum inhibitory concentrations) value at least 4-fold (R).
Furthermore, TQ has anti-TB effects. TQ possesses anti-tuberculosis activity against clinical isolates of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (R).
TQ is also great for oral health as it reduces alveolar bone loss due to periodontitis (R).
TQ is even helpful for prostate health. Acute bacterial prostatitis induced by P. aeruginosa are reduced by TQ administration (R)
This human study confirmed that nigella sativa (NS), used together with anti-biotics were very effective.
Salem et al stated that in a four-week course, the efficacy of NS powder (2 g/day) administered together with omeprazole to eradicate an H. pylori infection in non-ulcer dyspeptic patients was relatively the same as that of triple therapy [triple therapy includes clarithromycin, amoxicillin, and omeprazole], although 1 g/day or 3 g/day of NS powder given together with omeprazole was not as effective, indicating that the optimal dose of NS was 2 g/day .Reference
Lastly, it’s been shown that TQ downregulates the expression of TLR4 (R). Activation of TLR4 by endotoxins create lots of inflammation, which often leads to autoimmune conditions. Deletion of TLR4 (specifically MyD88) in animals prevent the development of autoimmune conditions.
TQ supplementation is effective against the strong biofilm formers S. aureus, Streptococcus salivarius and Streptococcus oralis and other biofilm formers, such as Enterococcus faecalis, Gemella haemolysans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Streptococcus mitis decreased (R).
TQ has antifungal activity against Candida albicans, Candida tropicalis, and Candida krusei as well as the pathogenic fungal strains on the skin, such as Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Microsporum canis and Microsporum gypseum (R).
TQ improves mucin secretion, which aids in preventing pathogens from entering into the body through the gastrointestinal lining (R).
TQ protects against the ulcerating effect of alcohol and diminishes most of the biochemical adverse effects induced by alcohol in gastric mucosa (R).
Two ways TQ protects the gut is by having general anti-histamine and anti-serotonin effects. As a side note, excess serotonin promotes leaky gut and gut inflammation (R). Read more on the effects of serotonin on the body here.
In humans, black cumin is very effective against viruses, such as HIV and hepatitis C virus.
A man with HIV was given black cumin oil, 10 mL twice/day for six months, which resulted in the reduction of the viral load to an undetectable level in 3 months, an elevation of the CD4 count, an alleviation of the symptoms, and a sustained sero-reversion (R). Pretty potent.
In patients infected with hepatitis C virus, 450mg of black cumin oil given 3 times daily for 3 months resulted in considerable improvement in oxidative stress, a reduction in viral load and significant improvements in albumin, total protein, platelet and RBC levels (R).
Black cumin for Diabetes
Diabetes is a state of insulin resistance, excess glucose production (through gluconeogenesis) and lipolysis and dysfunction glucose and fat oxidation. In this state, a lot of oxidative stress is created, which damages lipids and proteins, which further worsens mitochondrial function and energy metabolism.
Thymoquinone, similar to other redox agents, supports electron transport chain function, prevents electron leak and increases the NAD:NADH ratio. Thus, it effectively support energy production and reduces oxidative stress and inflammation.
Thymoquinone has been shown to be effective for diabetes for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Supporting pancreatic beta-cell function (due to its redox potential), which normalizes the dysregulated insulin production observed in highly active anti-retroviral therapy treated HIV-1 positive patients (R).
- Decreasing gluconeogenesis by suppressing the synthesis of gluconeogenic enzymes (R).
- Enhancing glucose utilization (R).
According to this study, black cumin tea (5g/day) added to the usual oral anti-diabetic drugs, diet, and exercise for 6 months showed significant decreases in aspartate aminotransferase (AST), ALT, serum total, direct and indirect bilirubin, serum creatinine, and blood urea levels in type 2 diabetic patients, as well as improved liver and kidney functions.
Furthermore, even a 1g daily dose of black cumin seed powder is effective at lowering elevated triglyceride and total cholesterol (R).
The intake of 2 teaspoons of black cumin seeds for 6 weeks by hyperlipidemic patients decreased their LDL-C and increased their HDL-C as significantly as niacin (R).
TQ is very potent neuroprotective and has been found to be beneficial for epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and learning and memory defects.
A few reasons why it’s beneficial, is because it:
- Is a strong redox modulator and lowers free radicals, such as superoxide and peroxynitrite.
- Inhibits histamine release from peritoneal mast cells by decreasing intracellular calcium through inhibiting protein kinase C and oxidative energy.
- Improves opioid receptor-mediated effects.
- Improves GABAergic tone. It also ameliorates the decreased expression of the gamma-aminobutyric acid B1 receptor under chronic stressful conditions (R).
- Acts as a therapeutic agent to treat hyperammonemia-mediated neuroinflammation (R).
- TQ “considerably restored the levels of brain ammonia, water content, and the expressions of glutamine synthetase (GS), glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α), interleukin (IL) 1β, IL-6, p65, nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB), inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2)” (R).
- Inhibits endotoxin-induced neuroinflammation through interference with NF-κB signaling (R). People with depression have elevated brain inflammation.
- Protects the brain against toxin induce damage by increasing Nrf2 (R).
- Increases glutathione (GSH), catalase (CAT), and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activities.
- Prevents iNOS upregulation. Elevated iNOS and nitric oxide are found in depression, anxiety and other mental disorders (R).
- As a side note, combining methylene blue with TQ enhances the antianxiety effect of TQ in both unstressed and stressed mice (R). Methylene blue is also highly neuroprotective.
- Prevents neurotoxicity and Aβ1-40-induced apoptosis.
Black cumin for Weight loss
You should never expect miraculous weight loss from any supplement, but if you’re hypothyroid, have excess inflammation, have gut issues, etc., then black cumin might improve your bodily function in order for you to lose weight, if your diet is in check.
In non-calorie controlled studies, treatment with black cumin significantly reduced body weight and body mass index (BMI) despite the fact that black cumin is said to promote appetite.
A few ways it might increase fat loss, is by:
- Improving insulin sensitivity.
- Lowering oxidative stress and increasing the NAD:NADH ratio.
- Improving mitochondrial function, which leads to better oxidation of glucose and fat.
- Improving thyroid function.
- 2g daily of black cumin powder supplementation has been shown to reduce serum concentrations of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and anti-thyroid peroxidase (anti-TPO) antibodies while increasing serum T3 concentrations after 8 weeks (R).
It does so by:
- Inhibiting ACE2 and normalizing the angiotensin system (R, R).
- Lowering oxidative stress, thus “re-coupling” eNOS. Free radicals such as superoxide uncouple eNOS from creating nitric oxide, to creating more superoxide.
- Activating ATP-sensitive potassium channels and non-competitively blocking serotonin, alpha1 and endothelin receptors (R).
Hormonal effects of Black Cumin
There is a lot more research that needs to be done on the hormonal effects of black cumin, but here is what we know for now:
- Nigella sativa inhibits the decrease in free testosterone in men (R).
- TQ, through its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, protects the testes against toxic metals, such as cadmium and lead (R, R).
- The administration of both crushed seeds and oil of black cumin significantly reduces the prolactin in humans (R).
- Black cumin, at doses of 2g daily, increase LH, FSH and testosterone by 33%, 47%, 29%, respectively, in Iraqi men (R, R)
- Black cumin supplementation in rats significantly increases plasma levels of testosterone and LH. In regards to testosterone concentrations, black cumin increased testosterone in a dose dependent manner (R).
Additional noteworthy benefits of Black Cumin
Synergistic with turmeric (R)
- Painkilling. “Sangi et al introduced NS administration as an effective non-opiate treatment for opioid dependence . They found that NS treatment offers some advantages in contrast with opiate treatments, such as relieving the withdrawal effects, maintaining the physiological parameters, and improving appetite” (R).
- Skin disorders. Topical application is effective against skin disorders, such as vitiligo, eczema, etc., and also speeds up wound healing (R, R, R).
- Potent anti-inflammatory. Black cumin lowers CRP, but most effectively in people with CRP levels of 3.
- Effective against autoimmune conditions, such as Rheumatoid arthritis.
- According to this study, taking 500mg black cumin oil capsules twice a day notably alleviated Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, which could be attributed to the modulatory effect on the immune system (R).
- Anti-cancer properties. Thymoquinone is being extensively studied as a treatment for cancer and TQ has been shown to exert its chemopreventive and anticancer effects by inhibiting all of the major pathways involved in the manifestation of cancer hallmarks and their enabling characteristics (R). A few reasons why it’s effective is because it:
- Acts as an anti-oxidant in normal tissue, but as a pro-oxidant in cancer cells, because of its redox cycling.
- Suppresses HIF-1α-mediated glycolysis and suppresses lactate production (R).
- Reduces pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase (PDK) almost back to normal. PDK is an inhibitor of pyruvate dehydrogenase, which is the rate-limited step in glucose oxidation.
- Improves the electron transport chain function.
- Improves TCA cycle function.
- Inhibits VEGF and angiogenesis.
- Inhibits proliferation and promotes cancer cell death through a host of different mechanisms.
Black cumin seeds and especially thymoquinone is very interesting and does have a lot of benefits. Does everyone have to take it? Definitely not, but I do think that it can help a lot of people recover metabolically from gut issues, excess oxidative stress and inflammatory-related conditions, or even just from hypometabolism.
Although a lot more research is needed, I think thymoquinone can synergize nicely with other quinones or redox agents, such as emodin, menaquinone (vitamin K2), naphthoquinone, CoQ10, PQQ, methylene blue, etc.
A good pro-metabolic and anti-inflammatory stack would be:
- 1 tsp black cumin powder with a fatty meal (thymoquinone is very lipophilic)
- 1 serving Lapodin sublingually or topically (emodin has poor oral bioavailability and a short half-life).
- 1/2 to full serving Panquinone (contains naphthoquinone)
- 200mg CoQ10
- 5mg vitamin K2 (MK-4)
- 1-2mg methylene blue
It would be best to take this stack with breakfast containing some sort of fatty food (such as eggs) and lots of carbs, such as from milk with honey/maple syrup and/or fruit juice.
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