Black seed oil is the result of pressing and processing the dark seeds of the black cumin, or kalonji, plant. Used for thousands of years throughout much of the Middle East and surrounding areas to treat a variety of ailments, this oil has recently gained acceptance in the western world. The oil’s main active ingredient — thymoquinone, or TQ — has been shown to provide dramatic results in treating anxiety, arthritis, kidney disease, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer.
- What Is Black Seed Oil?
- Black Seed Oil Health Benefits
- Black Seed Oil Boosts the Immune System
- Black Seed Oil Treats Anxiety and Depression
- Black Seed Oil Prevents and Treats Kidney Disease and Kidney Stones
- Black Seed Oil Reduces Arthritis Inflammation and Pain
- Thymoquinone Helps Fight Cancer
- Black Seed Oil Treats Diabetes and High Blood Pressure
- Black Seed Oil Can Contribute to Weight Loss
- How to Take Black Seed Oil
What Is Black Seed Oil?
Nigella sativa, or N. sativa, is an annual flowering plant in the Ranunculaceae family of plants. Nigella sativa is native to Syria, but has been acclimated to other areas, including much of Southern Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. The plant produces fruit with small black seeds — the seeds from which black seed oil is derived.
The Nigella sativa seed is commonly called simply black seed, but goes by several other names as well, including black cumin, kalonji, black caraway, Roman coriander, and fennel flower.
When black seeds are pressed and processed, the result is an extremely potent herbal oil. Just as the seed itself goes by numerous names, the oil goes by those same names (black seed oil, black cumin oil, kalonji oil, and so forth).
The extracted oil has been used for over 2,000 years throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia. Its medicinal healing powers were considered so broad — its been used to treat arthritis, allergies, diabetes, intestinal worms, asthma, and more — it came to be known in traditional medicine practices as the blessed seed.
After thousands of years of use elsewhere, black seed oil has finally started to gain popularity in the west — it’s now a commonly used nutritional supplement in both America and Europe.
Black Seed Oil Health Benefits
Black seed oil naturally contains over 100 bioactive (having an effect on living organisms) compounds that may be beneficial to health. Among these compounds are oleic acid, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins including B1, B2, B3, C, D, and E, calcium, copper, iron, phosphorous, and zinc.
Of the numerous nutrients in black seed oil, one significantly stands out — and it’s one you most likely never heard of. Thymoquinone, or simply TQ, is considered the main active chemical in black seed oil. It is also a compound that hasn’t been detected in any other plant.
Thymoquinone is a phytochemical compound — a chemical from a plant that affects health, but isn’t considered an essential nutrient. An essential nutrient is one that the body requires for normal functioning, but can’t be made by the body (it needs to come from your diet). You’ll be reading much more about thymoquinone, or TQ, throughout this article.
Black Seed Oil Boosts the Immune System
Black seed oil provides numerous immune benefits to both of the body’s two types of immune system responses. The innate response is the immune system’s first line of defense against pathogens — microorganisms such as bacteria and virus that can cause disease. It’s a fast-acting, “one size fits all” approach that stops some, but not all, pathogens. The adaptive response is the immune system’s second line of defense. It’s a slower, more methodical approach to recognizing and defeating the pathogens that the innate response misses.
It’s been shown that black seed oil increases the activity of macrophages. Macrophages are a type of white blood cell (WBC) that engulf and kill microorganisms. Macrophages also stimulate the action of other immune cells, including T-lymphocytes (or T-cells) that participate in controlling the immune response.
Much of the immune system is located in the gut, and black seed oil is used for treating several “gut-related” digestive tract conditions such as constipation, dysentery, diarrhea, colic, and gas.
Black Seed Oil Treats Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are often related health issues, and black seed oil has been used to successfully treat both concerns.
Anxiety is a normal emotional response to fear-inducing or stressful situations. However, frequently feeling anxious over small, petty annoyances or situations may indicate an anxiety disorder. The medical and psychiatric professions are quick to prescribe pharmaceuticals for such disorders, but powerful prescription medications should always be considered a last resort. For many people, black seed oil is a natural means to get relief from anxiety.
Studies have demonstrated that the thymoquinone (TQ) in black seed oil exhibits an anxiolytic, or anti-anxiety, effect. Black seed oil can also increase tryptophan levels in both the brain and plasma, which results in increased production of serotonin. This regulating of hormone levels balances mood and decreases anxiety.
Depression can be a serious mood disorder that interferes with normal thinking and functioning, and can negatively affect all aspects of daily living including eating, working, socializing, and sleeping.
The body’s system for regulating addictive and reward behaviors, and pain, is called the endogenous opioid system. This system consists of endogenous opioids such as endorphins, which are produced in the brain, and opioid receptors, which are located on neuron (brain cell) walls and serve to interact with opioids.
From an emotional and psychological standpoint, when opioids bind to opioid receptors, all sorts of good things happen to a person. The binding triggers a whole series of positive chemical changes between brain cells that result in feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Dopamine — a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) that contributes to regulating mood, attention, and reward-seeking behavior — increases, leading to a decrease in depressive thoughts and feelings.
This is where black seed oil — or more specifically, the thymoquinone in black seed oil — comes in. Studies show that thymoquinone acts as an opioid receptor stimulator. The presence of thymoquinone encourages neuron opioid receptors to latch on to opioids, starting the chain of positive actions that lead to a reduction in depression.
Black Seed Oil Prevents and Treats Kidney Disease and Kidney Stones
Oxidative stress — a state brought on by an excess of cell-harming free radicals — and inflammation are two physiological events known to be involved in a number of kidney problems, including chronic kidney disease (CKD) and acute kidney injury (AKI). Kidney diseases are considered to be a global public health problem.
Recent studies present evidence that the thymoquinone in black seed oil reduces oxidative stress.
In addition to oxidative stress, inflammation is often involved in the development and progression of renal (kidney) diseases. Black seed oil, and thymoquinone in particular, is known to have anti-inflammatory effects. Thymoquinone has been demonstrated to lessen the severity of kidney problems brought on by a number of stress factors, including analgesics (such as aspirin), heavy metals, pesticides, and cancer chemotherapy drugs.
Black seed oil can be of benefit in treating kidney diseases, and it can also be of benefit in treating another kidney-related health concern — kidney stones. Kidney stones — or urinary stones or renal stones — are small, hard deposits of minerals that form in urine. They’re a serious issue, sending over a half million people to hospital emergency rooms yearly.
Studies have shown that black seed oil can play a role in both preventing and treating kidney stones. Once again it is the anti-inflammatory properties of thymoquinone that is responsible for the health benefits. Thymoquinone is so powerful that in many instances kidney stones are completely dissolved. In cases where stones are not entirely eliminated, they are typically still greatly decreased in size.
Black Seed Oil Reduces Arthritis Inflammation and Pain
An autoimmune disease is one in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. Arthritis is an example of an autoimmune disease. Arthritis is characterized by progressively worsening of joint disorders, accompanied by functional disabilities of the joints and pain.
As with many other health issues, excessive inflammation plays a role in arthritis. The immune system cells wrongly attack joints, causing inflammation along with swelling and pain. And just as thymoquinone’s anti-inflammatory properties help in the prevention and treatment of kidney diseases and kidney stones, TQ’s anti-inflammatory properties help in treating arthritis.
Studies show that when used in treating arthritis, black seed oil resulted in a “marked improvement” in both the number of swollen joints and the pain and stiffness that accompanied those joints. Black seed oil also increased the lubrication between the joints, helping to minimize joint pain.
Thymoquinone Helps Fight Cancer
When it comes to fighting cancer, once again it’s the thymoquinone in black seed oil that is responsible for the majority of treatment success. Thymoquinone has been shown to be effective in inhibiting several stages of cancer, including proliferation, migration and invasion.
Scientists in Croatia determined that the thymoquinone in black seed oil produced antitumor activity that reduced tumor cells by just over 50 percent. Thymoquinone also induces apoptosis — programmed cell death — in breast cancer cells, brain tumor cells, and leukemia cells.
Thymoquinone offers promise in the field of pancreatic cancer treatment. Researchers at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center — Jefferson Health found that black seed oil is capable of killing pancreatic cancer cells. Additionally, they determined that thymoquinone inhibits the development of pancreatic cancer. So, thymoquinone can play a role in both the prevention and treatment of pancreatic cancer.
Oncogene — one of the world’s leading cancer journals — published the results of a study that found thymoquinone has the capability to kill prostate cancer cells even at advanced stages. While more research needs to be conducted, this discovery offers a possible route for treatment of advanced prostate cancer.
Black Seed Oil Treats Diabetes and High Blood Pressure
Glucose is a type of sugar that comes from food a person eats. As part of the digestive process it gets into the bloodstream where it’s called blood glucose, or blood sugar. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas, and is key to moving blood glucose into cells for storage and use as energy.
Diabetes is a very common — and serious — disease that affects the ability of the body to produce insulin and to appropriately respond to the insulin in the body. The result is a blood glucose imbalance that causes elevated blood sugar levels.
Black seed oil increases insulin production, increases sensitivity to insulin, and reduces blood glucose levels. It was determined that the thymoquinone in black seed oil has hypoglycemic properties (it has the ability to lower blood sugar levels) — which for a person with diabetes is a good thing.
Another study, this one from the British Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, confirmed that thymoquinone from black seed oil increased insulin and decreased blood glucose, and it also concluded that the black seed oil played a large role in treating complications from diabetes, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), neuropathy (feet and hand pain and numbness), and nephropathy (deterioration of kidney function).
Poor cholesterol levels and high blood pressure are often related, and are often causes of diabetes as well. Black seed oil is loaded with both polyunsaturated fatty acids (such as omega-3 and omega-6) and monounsaturated fatty acids (such as oleic) — fats that are considered healthy. These fatty acids help keep cholesterol levels in check, and also contribute to regulating blood pressure.
Black Seed Oil Can Contribute to Weight Loss
You just read that black seed oil is good for treating diabetes because the thymoquinone in the oil increases insulin and manages insulin levels. That keeps glucose levels in check. That’s good for diabetes control, but it’s also a plus for those looking to lose weight. Maintaining proper glucose levels reduces cravings for sweets and reduces the desire for between-meal snacking. Balanced glucose can also speed up metabolism, which enhances the body’s ability to burn fat.
We’ve discussed inflammation and its role in arthritis pain, but inflammation plays a part in many other health issues. In fact, inflammation is an underlying factor common to most major degenerative diseases, including cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Inflammation can also contribute to both weight gain and difficulties in losing weight.
Thymoquinone decreases inflammation, according to a study in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine.
How to Take Black Seed Oil
Black seed oil is a mild, easy-to-take supplement that’s quite safe and relatively side effect free.
Black Seed Oil Supplements
Black seed oil can be purchased as oil in a bottle, and taken “straight” by the spoonful. The oil does have a strong, intense flavor that most people find disagreeable, though, so the preferred way to take supplements is to buy the oil as softgel capsules. That way you simply pop a capsule as you would any vitamin, and you’re good to go — it’s easy, convenient, and you don’t taste the oil itself.
Bottles of black seed oil — whether as an oil or as capsules — often aren’t marked with an expiration date. Once opened, expect the oil to last up to two years — much longer than necessary as the supplement is usually sold in one or two month worth of servings.
An important consideration when buying black seed oil is the percentage of thymoquinone in the supplement, as thymoquinone is the most beneficial bioactive component in black seeds. Some manufacturers label their products as “3x the Thymoquinone,” and the percentage turns out to be 1.5%. That’s because many products have as little as 0.5% thymoquinone. A thymoquinone content of 2% is another common amount in supplements.
Sabinsa is a New Jersey, USA based manufacturer and supplier of herbal extracts. Their Nigellin® product is a black seed extract that is standardized to a minimum of 5% thymoquinone — a far higher level of thymoquinone than most black seed extract products. Sabinsa supplies its Nigellin® black seed extract to other nutrition companies for use in their black seed oil supplements.
Pure Nootropics is one such company that uses Nigellin®. Their Nigellin® (Nigella sativa) Black Seed Oil Extract Capsules product is guaranteed to have a thymoquinone content of at least 5%. Pure Nootropics has only high-quality nootropics and supplements that are lab-tested and lab-verified for safety and purity at third-party labs to ensure transparency.
Black Seed Oil Dosage
No “official” dose of black seed oil has been established. Serving size will be listed on the bottle of the particular supplement you purchase, and can be anywhere from a low of 100 mg to a high of 2000 mg daily, with a daily dosage of 200 mg being popular.
You can take black seed oil at any time of the day — there’s no “right” or “best” time to take it. You can also take it before, during, or after a meal — it’s mild enough that you should have no problems taking it on an empty stomach.
Black Seed Oil Side Effects
In terms of side effects black seed oil is considered quite benign — side effects are virtually non-existent. In very few cases a person may experience some constipation or mild nausea. In such as instance simply cut back your daily dosage and the symptoms should quickly disappear.
In the matter of thymoquinone side effects, that’s not really an issue. Thymoquinone is a component of black seed oil, not a separate supplement — so if you are one of the very few people who experience any side effects from black seed oil, it’s immaterial what part of the oil is the cause.
Black Seed Oil and Pregnancy
Black seed oil has been demonstrated to be very safe, with few or no side effects, so there’s little reason to be concerned about taking this supplement while pregnant. However, there is very little information about research on black seed oil consumption during pregnancy. So for this reason alone it makes sense for pregnant women to not take black seed oil — if only out of an abundance of caution.
Black Seed Oil Drug Interactions
To date there are no well-documented instances of black seed oil negatively interacting with any prescription drugs.
If you are a very cautious person, and on medication to lower your blood pressure, you should be aware that black seed oil can also contribute to lowering your blood pressure. Black seed oil doesn’t dramatically lower blood pressure, though, so the likelihood of the combination of medication and oil resulting in hypotension (excessively low blood pressure) is quite remote.
The black cumin, or kalonji, plant has been used in Middle East traditional medicine for thousands of years. The dark seeds of the plant are pressed to create an oil that when orally consumed provides a number of health benefits.
While black seed oil consists of several active compounds, it’s thymoquinone, or TQ, that is by far the most powerful and healing. This compound has been shown to deliver positive results in treating diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis, depression, and some types of cancer. Some people report modest weight loss when taking black seed oil on a daily basis.