Thymoquinone, the major constituent of nigella seeds, has been called an emerging natural drugwith a wide range of medical applications (1).
Nigella seeds are also called black seeds or black cumin seeds. They have been used by ancient healers and modern day medical practitioners, and everyone in between. The seeds are scientifically called Nigella sativa. Even the oil (called black seed oil) has many therapeutic applications. In this article, we’ll discuss the science-backed benefits of the seeds – benefits you would love to know.
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What Makes Nigella Seeds So Good?
Thymoquinone – an active ingredient in nigella seeds.
Researchers have been investigating thymoquinone since the 1960s, and it is known for its powerful antioxidant, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties (2).
Other active ingredients in nigella seeds, thymol and thymohydroquinone, possess antimicrobial and anti-tumor properties (4).
Nigella seeds also have a place in Arabic folk medicine as a potent treatment for many diseases – some of which include jaundice, skin ailments, gastrointestinal issues, rheumatism, asthma, bronchitis, and even fever (4).
There are a host of health issues the seeds help you deal with. In other words, it is unbelievable (almost) how much these seeds can do for you.
What Are The Benefits Of Nigella Seeds?
1. Help Lower Cholesterol Levels
Nigella seeds can have a significant impact on plasma lipid concentrations, thereby lowering total cholesterol levels. The seeds can also lower triglyceride1 levels (5).
Studies conducted on hypercholesterolemic2 rats revealed similar findings – nigella seeds could improve the rats’ antioxidant capacity, thereby helping lower overall cholesterol levels (6).
Studies on central obese men showed promise in the use of nigella seeds for reducing total cholesterol levels. A larger dose of the seeds and a longer consumption might offer much better results (7).
Thymoquinone had also helped combat oxidative stress in type 2 diabetes patients (8).
2. May Aid Weight Loss
Supplementation with nigella could produce a moderate reduction in body weight. It also improved BMI values and reduced waist circumference (9). Though high-quality studies are limited, and more research is warranted, this is an encouraging step. Also, use of the seeds hadn’t resulted in any side effects. So, using the seeds for weight loss should do no harm.
Studies also indicate that nigella can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and cancer – which are ailments whose risk increases with obesity. Though it may appear safe to assume that nigella can benefit weight loss, more research in this regard can be beneficial (10).
3. Offer Protection From Cancer
The volatile oil from nigella seeds had significantly reduced the sizes and incidences of tumors in the lungs and colon of male Wistar rats3 (12).
In yet another study, nigella seeds were found to induce apoptotic4 cancer cell death in human colorectal cancer cells. This effect, as per the study, can be attributed to the thymoquinone in nigella seeds (13).
Nigella seeds were also found to prevent cancers of the breast, liver, skin, prostate, and cervix (15).
4. Nigella Seeds Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
Intake of 2 grams of nigella seeds per day might help regulate blood sugar levels in diabetes patients (16). The seeds, at the mentioned dosage, had resulted in significant reductions in fasting blood glucose levels.
An Iranian study had also shown the beneficial effects of nigella seeds on glucose homeostasis5 (17). Though present findings support the use of nigella seeds in managing diabetes complications, further research is necessary.
In another study, nigella seeds reduced the levels of glycosylated hemoglobin6 (19). The seeds can cut this risk in patients.
5. Help Maintain Blood Pressure
Regular use of nigella seed extract may lower blood pressure in patients with mild hypertension, as per a study (20). Extracts of the seeds had lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings.
Even the oil of the seeds can help in this regard. Thymoquinone and thymol in the seeds can contribute to their blood pressure-lowering activity. The compounds work by reducing cardiac oxidative stress and the activity of angiotensin-converting enzyme8 (ACE), both of which help lower blood pressure levels (21).
The anti-hypertensive properties of nigella seeds can also be attributed to their diuretic effect (22). Rats treated with the seeds had shown a 4% decrease in their arterial blood pressure.
6. Can Fight Inflammation
In an American study, nigella seeds were found to fight inflammation in pancreatic cancer cells. Thymoquinone in the seeds could inhibit the effects of proinflammatory cytokines9, acting as a promising treatment for inflammation (23).
The anti-inflammatory activity of nigella seeds can also be attributed to their antioxidant properties. In studies, the antioxidant properties of the seeds helped reduce serum and tissue inflammatory markers and other inflammatory ailments like cardiac fibrosis10 (24).
Topical application of nigella seed oil was also found to relieve pain in patients with knee osteoarthritis (25). The oil was deemed more potent than acetaminophen, an analgesic drug typically used to treat arthritis pain.
In rat models, thymoquinone in nigella seeds had reduced rheumatoid arthritis pain – thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties (26).
7. Boost Immunity
Studies conducted on crossbred hens showed that supplementation with nigella seeds might boost immunity against Newcastle disease virus (27). Though we also need to look at specific human studies, this is an encouraging sign.
In yet another UK study, nigella seed oil supplementation was found to improve asthma control and enhance pulmonary function (28).
The seeds also possess powerful antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. They showed antibacterial activity against a harmful strain of bacteria called MRSA (29).
Nigella seed extract had also shown an antimicrobial effect against staphylococcal skin infection (30).
8. Promote Health Of Liver And Kidneys
The antioxidant properties of nigella seeds play a role in protecting the liver. These can fight the oxidative stress that may harm the liver. The thymoquinone in the seeds also fights free radicals and cuts the risk of them attacking human DNA – and possibly, the liver (31).
These antioxidant properties of thymoquinone are also responsible for protecting the liver from parasitic injury. Ingestion of the seed oil reduced the number of Schistosoma mansoni worms in the liver and even cut down the total number of ova present in both the liver and the intestine (32).
An Iranian study showed that nigella seeds could help cure kidney diseases, including nephrolithiasis (kidney stones) and kidney damage (33). Oral intake of nigella seed extract had significantly reduced the formation of calcium oxalate deposits.
9. Nigella Seeds Treat Infertility
An increase in free radicals in the body system can affect sperm quality. The antioxidant prowess of nigella seeds can help avert this. Studies suggest the thymoquinone in nigella seeds can improve male fertility parameters by enhancing antioxidant defense (34).
Studies show that nigella seeds can be used as a single agent to treat male infertility (35).
An Iranian study concludes that intake of 5 mL of nigella seed oil every day for two months can improve semen quality in infertile men, and that too, with no side effects (36).
10. Treat Skin Ailments
Extracts of nigella seeds were found to exhibit antipsoriatic activity. Use of the extracts had shown significant epidermal improvement. Topical application of the oil had also aided the treatment of acne vulgaris (37).
The thymoquinone in the seeds also had shown antifungal activity (38). It can help in the treatment of fungal skin infections like candida.
These are the powerful ways nigella seeds can make your life better. As you saw, there’s a ton of research backing it up. The seeds can treat most major ailments without side effects.
But how do you consume them? How do you include them in your regular diet?
How To Consume Nigella Seeds
Including the seeds in your diet is easy.
- You can coat little cubes of tuna with olive oil and sprinkle nigella seeds on them. This makes for a great appetizer.
- Mix whole nigella seeds with feta cheese, yogurt, and lemon juice – and use it as a condiment for your dishes.
- You can sprinkle the seeds on your morning breakfast or evening meal.
Quite simple, right? But hold on – nigella seeds are not for everybody. There are certain considerations.
What Are The Side Effects Of Nigella Seeds?
- Possible Issues During Pregnancy
The seeds are traditionally believed to stop the uterus from contracting, which can be a problem during pregnancy (39). Ensure you keep the consumption to normal food amounts. Please check with your doctor.
- Can Cause Bleeding Disorders
Thymoquinone in nigella seeds can slow down blood clotting (extend blood coagulation time) (40). This can aggravate bleeding disorders. If you have any bleeding disorders, please avoid the seeds.
This properly of nigella seeds can be a concern during surgery. Avoid intake at least two weeks before and after surgery.
- May Lower Blood Sugar And/Or Blood Pressure Levels Way Too Much
As the seeds can lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels, people already on these medications must exercise caution. Please check with your doctor.
Nigella seeds sure are an emerging natural drug, aren’t they? You would have heard of the goodness of most seeds – but nigella seeds are a step above.
What do you think? Have you come across any other seed variety better than Nigella sativa? Tell us by leaving a comment in the box below.
- triglycerides – the stored fat in your body, excess of which can be dangerous
- hypercholesterolemic – a state of excess blood cholesterol levels
- Wistar rats – albino rats specifically bred for laboratory purposes
- apoptotic – a type of cell death characterized by a series of molecular steps
- glucose homeostasis – a process denoting the balance of insulin and glucagon to maintain optimum blood glucose levels
- glycosylated hemoglobin – a form of hemoglobin that is bound to glucose in the blood
- atrial fibrillation – irregular and rapid heartbeat, often leading to poor blood flow
- angiotensin-converting enzyme – an enzyme that produces angiotensin II, a protein that elevates blood pressure levels; by reducing the activity of ACE, the seeds reduce the production of angiotensin II, thereby lowering blood pressure
- proinflammatory cytokines – a type of molecule excreted from immune cells that promote inflammation
- cardiac fibrosis – abnormal thickening of the heart valves
- “Thymoquinone modulates blood coagulation…”. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, US National Library of Medicine.