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Thoughts at Large: Controversies in Clinical Nutrition and Functional Medicine Issue # 11 BLACK CUMIN SEED OIL: PASSING FAD OR AN IMPORTANT ADDITION TO THE FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE REPERTOIRE.


About one year ago I first started hearing about a new oil-based supplement called black cumin seed oil.

Interestingly, my first thought was that practitioners, because they were bored with fish oil, were now gravitating towards the "hot new item" even though the clinical impact of black cumin seed oil is essentially the same. However, as I continued to hear from more and more clinicians about black cumin seed oil, it become obvious to me that there was more to the story than just a novelty supplement that can be used as a substitute for the old, standby, fish oil. Therefore, I started to look for research on black cumin seed oil and was pleasantly surprised to find a significant amount that pointed out, while black cumin seed oil has clinical properties similar to fish oil in terms of an anti-inflammatory effect, it also has clinical properties that go way beyond those of fish oil.

In this report I would like to give you an overview of the many fascinating papers I have read during the past few months on the chemistry and clinical application of what appears to be a welcome addition to our options for addressing the chief complaints of today's ever more difficult to assist chronically ill patients.

This review, though, will focus on what is generally considered to be the main active ingredient in black cumin seed oil, thymoquinone.


As you will see, the whole seed of black cumin has been used as a traditional herbal remedy for hundreds if not thousands of years. In "The neuroprotective effects of thymoquinone: A review" by Farkondeh et al (Farkhondeh T et al. Dose-Response, April-June 2018, pp. 1-11) the following is stated:

"Nigella sativa (of the family Ranumculaceae) is commonly called black cumin, fennel flower, or nutmeg flower. Kalonji seeds and Ajaji, black caraway seed, and habbatu sawda are other names of N. sativa. 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.'"

In "Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) and black cumin (Nigella sativa) seeds: traditional uses, chemical constituents, and nutraceutical effects" by Srinivasan (Srinivasan K. Food Quality and Safety, published online ahead of print, 2018), the following historical information is provided:

"In India, cumin seeds have been used for thousands of years as a traditional ingredient of innumerable dishes including kormas and soups and also in the form of an ingredient of several other spice blends. Besides food use, it has also many applications in traditional medicine. In the Ayurvedic system of medicine in India, cumin seeds have immense medicinal value, particularly for digestive disorders. They are used in chronic diarrhea and dyspepsia."

What parts of the world is black cumin naturally found? Srinivasan states:

"Black seed (also known as black cumin; Nigella sativa) is an annual flowering plant belonging to the family ranunculaceae and is a native of Southern Europe, North Africa, and Southwest Asia. Black cumin is cultivated in the Middle Eastern Mediterranean region, Southern Europe, Northern India, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia."


Black cumin seeds contain several different constituents. Srinivasan notes:

"Cumin seeds are nutritionally rich; they provide high amounts of fat (especially monounsaturated fat), protein, and dietary fibre. Vitamins B and E and several dietary minerals, especially iron, are also considerable in cumin seeds."

However, as suggested above, we are not so much interested in the nutritional aspects of black cumin as we are interested in the nutraceutical properties of the oil. Therefore, the constituents of black cumin need to be addressed from another perspective, as noted by Khader and Eckl in their paper "Thymoquinone: an emerging natural drug with a wide range of medical applications" (Khader M & Eckl PM. Iran J Basic Med Sei, Vol. 17, pp. 950-957, 2014):

'N. sativa seeds contain fixed oil, proteins, alkaloids, saponins, and essential oil."

Black cumin seed oil is the "essential oil" of the black cumin seed. Why are we most interested in the "essential oil" portion of the seed? Because it is high in the substance mentioned above, thymoquinone. As noted by Amin and Hosseinzadeh in their paper "Black cumin (Nigel/a sativa) and its active constituent, thymoquinone: An overview on the analgesic and antiinflammatory effects" (Amin B & Hosseinzadeh H. Planta Med, Vol. 82, pp. 8-16, 2016), the "essential oil" of the black cumin seed contains 18.4-24% thymoquinone.


As an introduction to this discussion, consider the following from the Farkhondeh et al paper: "The black cumin oil consists of main medicinal components such as tocopherols, phytosterols, polyunsaturated fatty acids, thymoquinone (TQ), p-cymene, carvacrol, t-anethole, and 4-terpineol. Thymoquinone (2-isopropyl-5-methyl benzo-l,4-quinone), the main ingredient of the N. sativa seeds, has been found in many medicinal plants such as several genera of the Lamiaceae family (Monarda) and the Cupressaceae family (Juniperus)."

What can specifically be stated about thymoquinone? The authors continue:

"Thymoquinone is the main ingredient of the plant, which is effective for treatment of various diseases such as neurodegenerative disorders, coronary artery diseases, and respiratory and urinary system diseases. Thymoquinone has also be indicated to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antibacterial, anti-mutagenic, and antigenotoxic activities."

Amin and Hosseinzadeh provide still more information on the clinical utility of thymoquinone:

N. sativa and its main active constituent TQ have been attributed to numerous pharmacological activities. Up to now, cytotoxic, antioxidant, immune enhancement, gastroprotective, hepatoprotective, antitussive, hypolipidemia, and cardioprotective effects, increased milk production, hypoglycemic, hypotensive, and antimicrobial effects have been demonstrated.

In addition, beneficial effects of N. sativa and thymoquinone on convulsions, depression, men's infertility, memory improvement, nociception, and inflammation have been discussed."


As was noted above, much has been published about properties of black cumin seed oil/thymoquinone that might have benefit clinically with our chronically ill patients. However, in this section, I wanted to feature five papers that highlight some applications that are particularly relevant to the clinical presentations we see most often in today's chronically ill patient.

Anti-microbial effects

As we all know, one of our chief concerns today is gut health where microfloral imbalances or presence of outright pathogens are becoming increasingly prevalent. Because of this, we are continually searching for excellent natural anti-microbial substances. Of course, there are many, such as oil of Oregano, berberine, etc.

We can now add black cumin seed oil/thymoquinone to that list, as noted by Forouzanfar et al in their paper "Black cumin (Nigella sativa) and its constituent (thymoquinone): a review on antimicrobial effects" (Forouzanfar F et al. Iran J Basic Med, Vol. 17, pp. 929-938, 2014):

"Focus on antimicrobial effects, different extracts of N. sativa as well as TQ, have a broad antimicrobial spectrum including Gram-negative, Gram-positive bacteria, viruses, parasites, Schistosoma and fungi."

Impact on biofilms

As we try to more effectively address microbial imbalances in our patients, it has become increasingly apparent that one of the roadblocks to effective treatment is the biofilm that many microorganisms form to protect themselves against the effects of our anti-microbial regimens. Therefore, increasingly, substances that tend to break down biofilms have become part of our supplemental repertoire. To that repertoire you can add thymoquinone, as noted by Chaieb et al in their paper "Antibacterial activity of thymoquinone, an active principle of Nigella sativa and its potency to prevent bacterial biofilm formation" (Chaieb K et al. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Vol. 11, No. 29, 2011):

"Our results revealed that TQ efficiently kills staphylococci in suspension and prevents biofilm formation. This effect on biofilm formation was confirmed by microscopic analysis of strains grown on the surface of glass slide covers."


Much of the basic research from which most of the above quotes were derived comes from in vitro and animal research. Therefore, it is always satisfying to read research on the impact of substances such as black cumin and thymoquinone with actual patients. In this section I will feature three papers. The first evaluated the use of black cumin seed oil with rheumatoid arthritis patients.

In "Effects of Nigella sativa oil extract on inflammatory cytokine response and oxidative stress status in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial" by Hadi et al (Hadi V et al. Avicenna J Phytomed, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 34-43, January-February 2016), 42 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were evaluated. The intervention group received two 500 mg capsules of black cumin seed oil daily for eight weeks. Based on the results of this study, the authors concluded the following:

"This study indicates that Nigella sativa could improve inflammation and reduce oxidative stress in patients with RA. It is suggested that Nigella sativa may be a beneficial adjunct therapy in this population of patients."

The final two papers consider the impact of black cumin seeds with Hashimoto's thyroiditis patients. In "Powdered black cumin seeds strongly improves serum lipids, atherogenic index of plasma and modulates anthropometric features in patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis" by Farhangi et al (Farhangi MA et al. Lipids in Health and Disease, Vol. 17, No. 59, 2018), the following is concluded:

"Giving attention to the potent beneficial effects of powdered black cumin seeds in improving serum lipid profile and anthropometric features in patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, this medicinal plant could be considered as a beneficial herbal supplement alongside with the disease-specific medications including Levothyroxine in management of Hashimoto's thyroiditis-related metabolic abnormalities."

Then, in "The effects of Nigella sativa on thyroid function, serum vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) - 1, nesfatin-1 and anthropometric features in patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis: a randomized controlled trial by Farhangi et al (Farhangi MA et al. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Vol. 16, No. 471, 2016), the following is noted:

"Our data showed a potent beneficial effect of powdered Nigella sativa in improving thyroid status and anthropometric variables in patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Moreover, Nigella sativa significantly reduced serum VEGF concentrations in these patients. Considering observed health-promoting effects of this medicinal plant in ameliorating the disease severity, it can be regarded as a useful therapeutic approach in management of Hashimoto's thyroiditis."


As we are all well aware, it is not getting any easier to address the chief complaints of today's increasingly complicated chronically ill patients. Therefore, given this increased complexity, one of the best ways we can successfully intervene with these patients is to start with a wide variety of therapeutic options from which to pick and choose.

Based on feedback from more and more of you over the last year or so plus information from papers like those I have reviewed above, it is clear to me that black cumin seed oil deserves to be added to your therapeutic repertoire.

by: Jeffrey Moss, ODS, CNS, DACBN
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Author:Moss, Jeffrey
Publication:Original Internist
Article Type:Report
Date:Mar 1, 2019
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